On the power of crowdsourcing

Sometimes it seems like there is no way that your business can take off in such an over-populated world, where we can only seem to focus on something for about 30 seconds at a time. Just as we use tools to distract us though, modern life has also provided us with the means to break into markets and resources that, 10 years ago, we could never have dreamed of. Crowdsourcing is just one of those ways.

Crowdsourcing – “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people” (Wikipedia) – is perhaps one of the most powerful tools young entrepreneurs have at there disposal. Whether you need ideas, information, market research, or even money, there are more and more tools out there to help you get a foothold in the market.

So what steps could you take to launch your idea? That’s right, get ready for another listicle…!

1. MARKET RESEARCH – is there a need for my business?

Before we move onto to the newer, shinier, more innovative ways of tapping into crowdsourcing, its worth remembering the basics. Even something as seemingly mundane as SurveyMonkey, coupled with the right attitude to its distribution, can be a powerful (and free!) market research tool.

Be aware of those short attention spans though – make sure that the questions you ask are concise and leave no room for interpretation. Also think about exactly what it is you need from the survey. Really put thought into every question, and if it won’t add value, take it out.

2. FINANCE – how do I get funding?

Crowd-funding is a growing, though still relatively new, concept. Kickstarter is perhaps the most famous example of a crowd-funding platform, particularly since its recent jump across the pond from its native US, and I’ve long been a great fan of the concept.

For those unfamiliar, its essentially a way for projects to be crowd-funded rather than backed by an individual. From the developer’s point of view, they get the money they need without the bureaucratic strings attached to a single backer. And from the consumer’s point of view, they donate a small amount of money and get an ‘untainted’ product – they give money because they trust the developer, and so they are (hopefully) happy with the result. The great thing from a consumer’s point of view is that there is no risk. If the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t reach a pre-determined target, no one pays any money.

If you get a crowd big enough, the scope is huge. There are countless extreme examples, such as the ‘Exploding Kittens’ card game which ultimately raised nearly $90k over the course of the giving, or the Pebble Time watch which hit its (not inconsiderable) $1 million in the first 49 minutes. Some of these have more of a cult following than others, and some have more marketing muscle than you might have access to. But the principle is the same – if you have a project and you can get people to believe in it, then the sky’s the limit.

3. ADVERTISING – how should I spread the word?

So you’ve done the research, you’ve got the funding, and you’re pretty much ready to go. But how do you announce your big launch to the world?

Well we’ve already been through how crowd-sourcing and social media can help with research and money. Advertising doesn’t seem too much of a stretch, surely? I was recently introduced to Thunderclap – a great way of sharing a message across social media. You set a deadline and ask people to support your cause. If enough people have supported it by that time, then everyone involved automatically posts on their Facebook and/or Twitter page at the exact same time, creating a ‘Thunderclap’ of whatever message you like.

Its a great little gimmick to get people talking – and the best part isn’t even the Thunderclap at the end. If you’re clever about the target you set – ambitious but not out of reach – then in recruiting people to join the campaign you’re also marketing at the same time. Its a win-win!

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you can get away with using the internet as your sole aide in starting a business. You will need to also do some work ‘offline’ – customer surveys face to face, talks with professional advertising companies. The degree to which you do this will depend on the type and scale of your business. But the internet, and crowdsourcing, is a pretty exciting way to get started!