The importance of beta testing


When we see a final work of art we often assume that it was easy to make or that was the first attempt. But often artists work in other medium (think cheap, like cardboard) to test out ideas and make early prototypes or to test out techniques.

As humans we're full of assumptions, but it's not until we actual try or do something that we can fully become clear about it. I've written about testing your ideas in the past, and I stand by that, but this post takes it a step further: you’ve got a working version of the thing you’re working on, but you want to run it by people before taking it public.

Sharing before you’re ready

Last fall I was listening some webinars from people who are course creators and run their own products and online courses. Over and over the most successful ones were saying "beta test." While I should know to do this from my experience in UX (user experience), it's also the first thing we forget.

We get set on being perfectionists and start to care more about our version of perfect rather than what is perfect for the user. We get stuck in our heads of over-thinking rather than taking action; when we do this we risk never putting our ideas out into the world. We need to get comfortable with the idea of doing things before we’re ready.

Beta testing allows us to see how it may work in the “real world” by putting it in front of people to see how they respond.

For the past 6+ months I've been working on a project that if I really think about it is AT LEAST 6 years in the making, maybe more. But it's taken me this long to put it out into the world. It was hard to find motivation to work on it. It'd tell someone about my idea and it was clear they didn't get it. Sometimes their questions would spark me to think about what I was doing even more creatively. Other times it'd cause me to step away for weeks, or even months. Total avoidance. Then I introduced it to beta testers, and they saved the day!

How to find beta testers

One day someone came to me needing what I had to offer. They were looking for the "real life" offer, but sadly I was going to be out of town. Instead of saying no, instead I proposed "Hey, do you want to be a beta tester? I've been working on an online experience. I'd be happy to give you access in exchange for some feedback."

Game changer.

Of course I loaded my email with many caveats. "It's not finished. There's so much I want to change. It's not finished." I did my best not to over explain at first. Then the feedback came in and it was positive. Imagine my shock and awe! OMG, I was actually doing this. A month or so later we hopped on a call and chatted more. A lot more came up on things I could improve and questions that made me think about my audience. All good for thought. Still more work to do.

While I was more motivated to move forward, this project often fell to the bottom of my to do list. With no actual humans on the other side, there wasn't the pressure or deadline either. I often write about being self-employed and doing things in a vaccuum that lacks a feedback loop. I thrive on feedback, but it's not as omni-present as I'd like.

Then one day someone reached out to me inquiring specifically for this offering. Yes, I had put it on my site, but I never talked about it or promoted it. It was more of a place holder and a version of me planting the seed for when it did exist.

She wanted to pay and all I could say was, "OMG, if you will test this for me, I'll give it to you for FREE!" Sometimes it can be your lucky day if you're proactive and inquire about something that peaks your interest!

Then her responses came in and was a version of: "This is amazing! I love it! I'm so excited for my trip now. Don't change a thing." And of course she insisted on paying. I tried to assure her she was doing even more for me by providing feedback.

Then another internet contact was coming to Paris. She's always been super supportive of my work and I asked her if she would be interested in being a beta tester. She was also game. And also thrilled.

Another wanted to book a tour, but also was a willing tester. She was so awesome that she even was happy to send me a list of typos she came across as she went through it. She asked first, and while it could be easy to be defensive, it was something I let myself be open to in order to improve my offering. I assured her she didn’t have to do this, but I was very appreciative too.

I will also add that I had a few other beta testers I gave access to. It seemed perfect for them, they were busy, and they didn’t have time. There can’t be any guilt or pressure here. You have to realize it’s the nature of the beast, and is not at all a reflection of you. Instead, focus your energies on those who are responsive, and keep moving forward.

Tips for finding beta testers

  • Work with eager participants (don’t pressure anyone)

  • Listen for those moments when people express needing the thing you offer (this may be in IRL, via email, eaves dropping in FB groups)

  • Manage expectations (what do you expect from them) and realize not everyone will be game or have time

  • Pay Attention. There are opportunities all around us if you open your eyes and start noticing.

  • There’s not one way to find testers, so be open to possibllities.

Processing feedback

While feedback can be tricky, the way the emails came in I know they weren't sugar coating it. Their version of perfect was different than mine. This project is something I could have over-thought and perfected for another few years, but that would miss the point. I had a hunch that people need what I’m providing.

Even if their initial responses were positive, I found that as we continued our back and forth exchanges I learned new nuggets of insight that I could use to keep improving my product and making small tweaks that could make it even stronger. Other times I was also able to justify why I didn’t do something a certain way.

Over time I can to realize that I can’t serve others if I never put what I’m working on out into the world. Besides, when it's on the internet and you own the platform, nothing is carved in stone. The thing is even when you have beta testers, it’s still not a 100% guarantee of success, so you still have to get it out there.

Thanks to these beta testers I decided it was time to go live. I gave myself less than 2 weeks because July 1 seemed like the right time. I could do as much as I can leading up to the launch. And the rest would run it's course. In some ways my offering will always be in beta I believe. And marketing will be an ongoing effort.

Collect testimonials

The perk of working with beta testers is that it means if all goes well, you already have some killer testimonials to integrate into your offering when it goes live. In the business world this is called “social proof” and it’s what helps get you sales.

The other great thing is collecting testimonials often helps you think about your offering in ways that are far more powerful than what you could write yourself. In other words, it’s another boost of confidence to get going and get live.

Thank you to all my beta testers for your feedback and enthusiasm! Without further ado, introducing – the virtual offering inspired by my Paris tours!