The Building Blocks You Need to Test Out an Idea Online

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“What do I need to start building my idea online? Can you help me build a website?” – I get these questions every month from family, friends, and friends-of-friends who consider me their resident web expert. Everyone has cool projects in mind, and they want to know how to start testing ideas online.

Most of the time these queries don’t go very far, because turning an idea into reality is hard work. I’m not kidding, either – it’s insanely hard work, and often discouraging because lots of ideas work better on paper than in real life.

Of course, the best things in life aren’t easy! But don’t let that get you down. The internet makes it way better. Keep reading and I’ll tell you why.

Why Testing Ideas Online is Awesome

Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, which makes testing your idea out much less risky than it used to be. The web allows us to test an idea, adjust it, then try again. Rinse and repeat until you’ve refined your idea to something that works. Voila! Overnight success! (If you only count the last try that did the trick, anyways.)

If I haven’t scared you away by now, excellent. I’d say you’re serious about making this work. As a reward, let me walk you through the digital building blocks of testing an idea online.

By the time we’re done, you should have a clear vision of how all the pieces work together and what you need to get started.

Building Block #1: An Email List

Plain and simple, you need a way to contact the people who have expressed interest in what you’re doing.

You could collect these emails yourself and send them all using your regular email program. However, you risk violating spam laws and losing the trust of those involved unless your project is very small. Not to mention it’s a pain in the keester to manage things this way. That’s why you need a service that does this for you.

But, why does an email list work to test your idea? Think about it this way. If they won’t even trust you with their email address, I highly doubt they’re actually interested in the project you’re working on.

Building an email list is a great way to gauge whether people are actually interested.

Once you have their email address, you can build a relationship with them by being insanely useful and introduce them to your events, products, and services as they evolve over time.

Barebones: Free

If you’re running on zero dollars, my best recommendation is a Forever Free Mailchimp account.

They offer a handy getting started guide to help you out!

Professional: $30/mo+

If you have a little money to invest, I recommend ConvertKit. Their website is much simpler and more intuitive. You can already start playing with automated emails and build a strong email marketing campaign. The interface shows you exactly how, even if you’re new at it.

They even offer complementary training to get you started!

ConvertKit is what I use to manage the Without Boxes and Dialect Pro mailing lists.

Building Block #2: A Landing Page

A landing page is the digital place you send people to when they ask for more information about your project. It should:

  1. Concisely explain what you’re doing
  2. Give the person a reason to care
  3. Show them a way to get involved or express interest

Spoiler alert! At this stage, #3 should probably be signing up to your email list.

Your landing page should always, ALWAYS give the reader an action to take.

I recommend setting up a simple, one page website. That way your landing page is easy – a short, memorable domain name with a website you can grow as needed to over time.

Barebones: Free*

You can setup free websites at WordPress.com and Wix.

Both of these services offer paid upgrades. However, if you’re serious about being able to control and manage your website, I recommend buying your own domain and hosting.

I’ll tell you more about why in a second, it’s why I put an asterisk in the title of this section.

Professional: $3.95/mo+

Go professional by buying your own domain and hosting your own website.

Free often means “free for now.” It may wind up being even more expensive or impossible to upgrade your site the way you want down the line. Honestly, going professional here usually costs about the same as a latte a month, so it’s well worth it.

Here’s why: A web framework is software that helps with the development of a website. You have to pay to use some, but others are free and open-source, like WordPress. Open-source is a term we use to mean that the source code for a program is available freely for redistribution and modification.

When you pay for a service like WordPress.com, you are limited to their version of the code. When you host your own website instead, you own that copy of it, as well as any data you collect with it, and have more control over its future.

This is why I recommend getting a self-hosted version of WordPress. Many hosting companies make it easy by pre-installing it for you when you buy their plans, so you can just get started with the content right away. My personal recommendation is SiteGround. They are renowned for their customer service, and their default hosting plans include best practices for security, safety, and site performance. Those are things you’d otherwise have to worry about yourself!

SiteGround offers one free domain with their hosting plan, but if you decide to go a different route I recommend NameCheap for registering your domain.

Building Block #3: An Offer

Finally, in order to get people’s attention, you need an offer.

This could be almost anything, but should tie into your idea somehow. Your offer could range from:

  • Being the first to know of future updates.
  • An educational ebook on the topic your project is about.
  • A discount when your product or service is released.
  • A thank you video for being interested.

How extra this offer needs to be depends on how naturally enticing your project is all by itself.

A relevant offer increases the number of people investing more than cursory interest in your idea.

For example, if you are launching a coupon service, being first in line is probably incentive enough. However, if you’re testing the waters for selling a physical luxury item, people may need a little more coaxing to part with their cash.

Thankfully, most offers don’t need to cost money on your part. Plus, if you’re already signed up for a service for ConvertKit, the delivery can probably be automatic.

Barebones: Free

The most simple offer (beyond the privilege of being on your email list 😉) is a well-written thank you email.

However, it’s also easy to make a small PDF on your computer that is useful for your new subscriber. Try to think of what their motivation for signing up might be, and then make a short document that would be helpful to them.

You can do the same with video, or even create an automatic educational email series that starts after they subscribe.

Whatever you do, it should tie into the reason people gave you their email in the first place.

Professional: Pay Per Project

Honestly, when you’re just getting started I recommend doing the above on your own. If you’re really stuck, you can use sites like Upwork or Freelancer to hire someone who can help you create these types of offers.

Taking the Next Step

To review, the major building blocks to start testing ideas online are:

  1. A way to collect emails.
  2. A landing page or website that explains what you are planning to others.
  3. An offer to entice people and get them involved.

So, what’s your idea? Once these building blocks are in place, it’s on you to go out and spread the word!

Let me know if you have any questions about setting this up in the comments section below. Or, simply drop by and tell me what you’re working on – I thrive on listening to people passionately building something they believe in.


Oh… and of course, please subscribe for more interesting content like this article! You’ll get a free ebook that will help you get traffic to that website of yours.

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About Anne Dorko

Anne is always sharpening her web strategy skills, from design to content creation. She helps people like you succeed online by sharing insight from her 10 years of experience. Go get your 30 minute consultation while orientations are still free!

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