Reverse Marketing: The 100 People Project

(Photo courtesy of Chris Guillebeau)

(Photo courtesy of Chris Guillebeau)

Last week I took my first trip to Portland (loooove Portland!) for the inaugural Pioneer Nation, a conference for creative entrepreneurs put on by the legendary Chris Guillebeau, of The $100 Startup book fame (and a host of other fantastic things). Of the many many MANY high-value things I took away from this event, I want to share the most awesome, game-changing one here: it's called The 100 People Project.

My hilarious, smart and savvy friend Shenee Howard took the stage at Pioneer Nation to trace the story of her wild business-building journey over the past several years (it's fantastic — head on over to her website if you want to read the full version). And, in the middle of her talk, Shenee mentioned something she did early on in her business, when she was trying to do a million things at once (hello entrepreneurship!) and was still a bit fuzzy on how to bring clarity and focus to her business. She embarked on an idea she called The 100 People Project, and before too long, this little brainstorm ended up taking on a life of its own. It became a pivotal "reverse marketing" strategy that enabled her business to really take off. (Note: Shenee's in the process of creating an official 100 People Project guide and materials; I'll post a link to it here when it's available.)

Here's essentially what she did:

1. Find 100 people, and talk to them for 15 minutes each. Shenee started with people she knew, friends and family; and then branched out with referrals and social media to find more of the kind of people she thought would make great clients. She scheduled time slots on the same day each week over the course of a few months, and then gave people options for when they could book their 15-minute slot.

2. Tell them what you're good at, and ask them what they need help with. The format of these 15-minute conversations is dead simple, personal, and can be tweaked to find out whatever it is you need to know from your customers and clients about how to serve them better. By talking to your people and simply asking them what they need, what they'd really love to see, and what problems they're having in the area your business intersects with, you're getting the inside track on how you can help them. It's market research at its most basic, but many of us haven't taken the time to do this (and certainly haven't systematized it!). 

3. Make a spreadsheet to record notes of each conversation. You'll gain immense insight into your target audience with these conversations, but don't just trust yourself to remember the good stuff. Write it down! This will also help you see patterns and crossovers in what people need and want, and what you're great at (your sweet spot!).

Over the course of her own 100 People Project, Shenee gained enormous clarity and insight into the things that people in her target audience wanted and needed that she was naturally great at, and she also got a chance to build her skills and test out ideas as she talked to more and more people. Double win! As her clarity increased, she was able to steer her business toward exactly what her people needed. 

I'm in love with this idea, and mulling over how to implement it myself. How about you? Does this strike a chord? Or, have you ever done something similar? Leave a comment below, I want to hear about it!

Update: Here's Shenee's official 100 People Project page: