Building an Email List

You’ve read a bunch of articles on how to validate a business idea. You understand the importance of talking to your initial target customers, learning about their problems, and creating a Minimum Viable Product.

Yet you continue to wait for the perfect idea because you have no clue how to actually execute what you’ve read. Or (just as bad) you incorrectly assume you’ve validated your idea, and spend your time on the wrong things.

But what if you could leverage proven validation strategies from successful founders? Real life case studies with actionable advice you can follow.

Validate Your Business

That’s exactly what I’ll show you how to do in this article. You’ll learn:

  • How to validate your business ideas by building an email list
  • How to find out what problems your subscribers have
  • And how to deliver a solution people will actually pay for.

Let’s get started…

(Read all the way to the bottom to get 5 more strategies the pros use to make money BEFORE even having a product)

Step 1: Find Your Target Audience By Being Your Own Customer

Traffic doesn’t matter if the visitors aren’t targeted or don’t convert. Before you even have a business, you need to have an idea of the type of customers you want to target.

One of the best ways to start a business is to solve your own problem and to be your own customer. By targeting an audience that shares similar traits as you, you’re marketing to yourself and will then have an idea of the needs & wants of your target audience.

For example: I was an aspiring entrepreneur looking to start a low-cost business to gain experience. I didn’t have a programming background, didn’t know how to create a website, and had no previous entrepreneurial experience.

By targeting myself, I had a good idea of who I’m targeting, everything that they believe, what type of lifestyle they lead, goals and dreams, challenges and fears.

Step 2: Stalk Your Target Audience To Find Out Their Interests

At this stage, you’re not trying to find out what your audience is willing to pay for. You’re just trying to find out what they’re interested in, so you can bring traffic to your website. To do this, I recommend doing market research on Quora.

Quora is a platform where people ask questions. What better way to find out how to help your audience than being fed questions they have on the top of their minds? All you have to do is search for topics in which your target audience would be interested.

Business Ideas

For example: By searching for “business ideas”, I could see the specific questions that my target audience is asking. You can then dig deeper into each question and see which type of answers are the most popular.

Do this several times and you’ll start to notice similar types of questions that are being asked. Those are the type of questions you’ll want to address because that’s what your target audience is interested in.

Step 3: Build Your 80/20 Website

The most important thing to remember is that you’ll want to do the bare minimum and take an 80/20 approach to building your website. There’s no point in spending hundreds of dollars on a professional website until you’ve validated your business.

To build an 80/20 website, I first set up a domain on HostGator and installed WordPress. I then downloaded the SumoMe WordPress Plugin to create a landing page with Welcome Mat that took about 30 minutes and looked like this:

Landing Page Example

Once you have the general design of the site created, you need to make sure your website has an effective headline that makes it clear to visitors exactly what your website is offering. Use words that clearly explain the benefits your audience will receive by being on your website.

Once your website is up and running, it’s time to drive traffic to it and get your first set of email subscribers.

Step 4: Get Your First 100 Email Subscribers

Many people have a tendency to try and keep their website “secret” to their friends. But if you were opening a restaurant, you’d tell all your friends and family to drop by. You should do the same for your website.

To get your first 100 email subscribers, you’ll want to leverage your personal network. They might not be your target audience, but they may have friends that are.

First 100 Subscribers

For example: I sent a message to 223 people on my Facebook network that looked like this.

Facebook Message

As a result, 64% of the people I reached out to joined my email list, and many of them referred other friends who joined as well.

Another benefit of leveraging your personal network is that you’ll gain some initial feedback on the type of words and problems your target audience has.

Here’s an example of some feedback I received:

Facebook Feedback

Based on the feedback, I learned that some of my target audience were tired of their typical “9-5 desk job” and were having problems with gaining the “courage” to quit their job. I would use these learnings for ideas for articles, and also by leveraging the same language my audience uses in my sales copy.

After signing up your personal network, you’ll need to get specific feedback from people you don’t know. You’ll need to start marketing your website to acquire your first 1,000 email subscribers.

Step 5: Get Your First 1,000 Email Subscribers

Why 1,000 email subscribers?

Well, 1,000 subscribers is enough to notice common trends in the type of problems your target audience is experiencing.

There are many ways to actually grow your email list. The right method depends on your industry, and it’s up to you to run experiments.

I decided to create evergreen content to attract my target audience to my website. I would promote the content on Quora by answering relevant questions, and include a link to my site:

2016 Business Ideas

Once visitors were on my website, I collected their emails by using pop-ups. Pop-ups are still a very effective way to collect emails. From just one article, I was able to collect 147 emails (conversion rate 6%). Here’s an example of my pop-up:

Popup Example

By repeating the same process, I was able to grow my email list to 1,000 subscribers within a month. I now had a large enough audience to engage with to find out their main problems.

Step 6: Find Your Audience’s Biggest Problem

Once you have 1,000 subscribers, it’s time to find out what your target audience’s biggest problem is. And what’s the best way to do this?

Ask them.

Send an email to your subscribers asking them what their biggest problem is. Here’s what my email looks like:

Survey Email Sample

I would then get responses like this:

Survey Email Responses

Based on the responses from your subscribers, you’ll start to notice common trends and problems your target audience is experiencing. From these trends, you should be able to create a product hypothesis to help solve their problems.

Step 7: Create A Product That Solves Your Audience’s Problem

The subscribers who reply to your email are going to be your most engaged users. These are the people who are most likely to purchase a product from you.

Before you actually spend the time to create the product, you’ll want to validate it by sending your subscribers a survey. For example, Bryan Harris would send a survey with details of his product to his subscribers to validate his online course:

Survey Form

The key question he was looking for was “do you want to buy the course?”

If a subscriber answered “yes,” he would follow it up with a link to a sales page with an early bird discount.

The results? He gained 39 pre-orders before even having a product ready.


Bryan only sent the email to 225 subscribers. You don’t need a massive email list to validate your business. By applying the same approach, you too can validate your business before spending too much time and money on an idea.

Remember, the best form of validation is when people are compelled enough to pay you money, even when you don’t have a product ready yet. Only once you’ve tested your product hypothesis and validated it with pre-orders, should you begin to spend more resources on making the product and getting more traffic to your site.

Get More Case Studies On How To Validate Your Business

This is just one method to validate your business without having to create a product first. It might not work for your specific business, it’s up to you to gauge if this strategy will work for your individual circumstances.

For more inspiration on how to validate different types of businesses (e-commerce, online course, subscription sites, and more), SumoMe has created a collection of five additional case-studies of how you can validate your business by making money before you even have an actual product.

Get the free report with 5 more strategies the pros use to make money BEFORE you even have a product

Wilson Hung writes actionable step-by-step guides for SumoMe. Join our Sumo community of over 450,000 subscribers to learn how to grow your website and build your email list. Click here for 5 more strategies the pros use to make money before even having a product.