Testing: The one essential task that every successful entrepreneur performs (and every struggling entrepreneur ignores)

I’ve changed my blog theme for the 3rd time in 6 months (and possibly the 3,000,000th theme since joining WordPress).

I don’t lose a wink of sleep over the changes I make. I’m less concerned about whether my blog theme looks consistent every day of the week. Rather, I’m more concerned with a far more important question:

Can I acquire and retain more customers who are more profitable?

It’s true that consistency is critical. But what’s more important to me is testing and optimizing to improve my ability to acquire and retain more customers who are more profitable.

WHY THIS MATTERS TO YOU

Okay, the number of themes I’ve used on my blog isn’t really the point of this post. It’s just a way to introduce what I want to talk about today: Every business owner needs to break apart everything in their business and test it and then they need to optimize what they’ve found based on the findings from their test.

It’s a really simple formula:

  1. Test everything in your business.
  2. Optimize everything in your business.
  3. Repeat forever.

That’s one of the top “secrets” to business success. I’ve never met a successful business owner who didn’t test. And I’ve never met a struggling business owner who tested religiously. I can say almost unequivocally that testing leads to success.

When you test, you identify what works and what doesn’t. Then you optimize that particular element of your business and you implement it and test it again.

Actually, we already do this in other aspects of our life without realizing it: When you meet someone who could be a potential romantic partner, but things don’t work out, you might realize that you introduced them to your weird quirks a little too early in the relationship. That was a type of test and you learned your lesson from it. Next time, you won’t reveal until much later in the relationship that your hobby is to carve Star Trek characters out of butter.

WHAT YOU SHOULD TEST

When I say “test everything”, I’m not exaggerating. Break apart your business and test it all: Test the big stuff like your brand, your target market, your marketing content, your deliverables, and your methodologies; and test the little stuff like your email footer, the days and times that you post on your blog; and whether you follow-up with a prospect 1 day or 2 days after your first contact with them.

I used my blog theme as an example, but I test everything. In fact, the element of my business that I test the most is my sales proposal. Since the very first day I hung out my “freelance writer” shingle, I have diligently recorded massive amounts of data about my sales proposal. As a result, it’s a finely tuned sales-generating machine that has earned me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Here’s how to identify some of the most important things to test: Start with your sales funnel. Break your sales funnel into stages and then into steps (which I’ve covered in blog posts like Sales Funnel 101: How does a sales funnel work and Identifying the steps in your sales funnel).

Then test each step.

Here’s an example of a really simple sales funnel with a few steps in each stage. In black are the current sales funnel stages and steps. And I’ve used a green font-color to identify some ideas about how you can test that step:

Audience

  1. Article marketing leads to Twitter follow. (Test other methods to lead to a Twitter follow, such as press releases or promoted tweets. Or, point your article marketing to something else, like directly to your website.)

Leads

  1. Twitter follow leads to initial Twitter-based interaction. (Test the types of interaction you get and what kinds of interaction gets people advancing in your sales funnel. For example, will a frequent retweeter advance in your sales funnel faster than someone who replies to you?)
  2. Twitter-based interaction leads to website visit. (Test where they are clicking. For example, are they clicking on a specific tweet or are they clicking on the URL in your profile? And, if they click on the URL in your profile, try sending them to a different page on your website and see what happens.)
  3. Website visit leads to email newsletter sign-up. (Test how you ask for an email newsletter sign-up: Test different placements of the form, test different colors, test calls to action, and test a 1-step and 2-step call to action.)

Prospects

  1. Email newsletter sign-up leads to regular click-through interaction. (Test your email’s subject lines, length of body content, number of links in the content, placement of links, and PS content.)
  2. Regularly click through interaction leads to a purchase. (Test links to different kinds of information and different levels of financial commitment from free to high-end).

Customers

  1. A purchase leads to another purchase. (Test which products or services lead to additional products or services.)

Evangelists

  1. Frequent purchases lead to word of mouth referral. (Test other ways of getting people to evangelize. For example, ask for a backlink, ask for a testimonial, ask for a Linkedin Recommendation, etc.)

Okay, so that is a good example of a really simple sales funnel and some ideas about testing. You’ll note that within each step of the sales funnel, there are many things to test.

And although you should start by testing the elements in your sales funnel, don’t stop there. Test other non-sales-funnel-related aspects of your business, too. For example, test other methods of performing administrative tasks or conducting meetings.

Ultimately, what you decide to test should be informed by the goals of your business. If you sell a service to a customer (like most of my financial and real estate clients do) then everything you test should be geared toward getting more profitable customers to buy from you over and over again.

HOW TO TEST

By now, I hope you’re convinced and inspired to test. So the next question is: How do you test successfully?

I am going to blog a bit more about this in the near future (I’ve been doing some high-level planning about that topic just this weekend) but here is a quick-and-dirty way to test:

  1. Once you’ve figured out what you want to test (see above), identify the metric and/or method of testing. How will you know that your test was successful or unsuccessful? To borrow from the sales funnel example above, if you are going to test a different way of building a Twitter audience besides article marketing, you’ll want to start by identifying a metric that is useful to you. Number of Twitter followers seems to make sense but you’ll need to narrow it down further. For example, number of Twitter followers within a specific period of time. Better yet, identify the number of Twitter followers in your target market who follow you within a specific period of time.
  2. Get a benchmark. Figure out what your current success rate is today. So if you are going to measure the number of Twitter followers in your target market who follow you within a specific period of time because of your articles, you’ll need to dig into a bit of research to find that information out. But once you do, you have a place to start. For example, you might write an article and post it and then watch your Twitter following grow for that particular week. Then check the profiles of your Twitter followers to do a quick check to see if they are in your target market or not. (See my disclaimer following this list).
  3. Perform your test. Now do whatever it is that you were going to do differently as your test. In the example I’ve been using here, maybe you’ll write a press release and publish it and see how many Twitter followers you get in a week (and don’t forget to check their profiles to see if they are in your target market or not).
  4. Decide what to do next based on that information. You’ll generally have the following results based on what you’ve found: (1) The test proved that the new method was better and you decide to replace the old method with the new method. (2) The test was not clear and you need to test again. (3) The test proved that your old method remains superior.
  5. Perform a similar test at a different time to see if the season was a factor, OR perform a different test on this step in your sales funnel, OR perform a completely different test on a different element in your business.

(Disclaimer: Metrics-savvy people will easily shoot holes in my example of these metrics because they do not account for other factors, such as Twitter followers who follow you for some other reason or because of older content online. It’s true that these factors could impact your metrics but I’m just trying to give readers a quick and easy first step into testing. As you become more proficient in testing, you will find tools and techniques to help you eliminate these other factors… but the most important thing I can suggest is: Just get started by testing something in your business!).

GET STARTED!

I cannot stress enough the importance of testing in your business. In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking about some ways that you can test successfully. But my advice is: Just get started. Add a test into your weekly schedule. It doesn’t have to be a perfect test using a perfect metric. By simply starting, you’ll have already advanced your business further than other business owners who squander their time in testless oblivion.

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