It’s Not About You

People start businesses for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is this: They want to make a career out of something they love to do. Do you love antiques? Open the kind of antique shop you know you’d love yourself. Like to eat out? Start your dream restaurant. Passionate about riding horses? Take guests riding in the way you like, along the trails you like.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the kinds of businesses that so often fail. Turning your interests into a business is all well and good, but it can quickly go bad when you learn the hard way that it’s not about you. It’s always about your customers, and they may have different needs. In fact, they probably have different needs. I used to know a guy who was in culinary school. One of his assignments was to create a complete menu for his own restaurant. Now, this guy loved rich, fattening food, and his menu was packed with such dishes as “ham hocks swimming in cream sauce.” As a customer, he would have visited that restaurant every week. But to most people, it sounded pretty disgusting.

The same idea applies in the digital world. Many years ago, here’s how you decided what your website would look like: You guessed what users would want. And some people were good at that! I got to be quite successful at it myself. But in general, it didn’t lead to a very high success rate, because you’re not your customers, and it’s not about you.

Fortunately, today we have a wealth of analytical methods available to us to learn what our customers both want and need. Those methods vary wildly depending on your timeline and your budget. Some organizations will find that sophisticated user testing and focus groups will get them where they need to be. Others will succeed by using multivariate testing — weighing different versions of a digital product against each other. The businesses with the most resources tend to use a combination of techniques. But whatever method is right for you, the good news is that you no longer have to guess. You can win because the very people you need to succeed will tell you exactly how to do it. You just have to know how to ask them.