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20 Important Tips for Beta Testing Your Product or Service

Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber

Keep these crucial elements in mind when you're testing a prototype with a small group.

It's often said that you can't sell a product if there's no market for it. That's why many businesses, especially technology companies, will have a small group of beta testers try out a prototype of their offering to ensure they're creating something the public will want – and that what's being offered works well once it gets into general use.

While beta tests can be incredibly useful for gathering feedback and improving your product, the group and the testing process must be carefully planned and managed in order to get the best results. To find out more, we asked a group of Young Entrepreneur Council members what a business should keep in mind when they're letting a small group try out their product or service.  These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization of the world's most successful young entrepreneurs. 

1. Observe them live

For small sample size audiences, it's nice to view your subjects interacting with the product live. What people think they observe or tell you about an experience is many times different than how they actually use the product. While their interpretation is important to understand, you can learn a lot simply by watching them interact with the product live to see where they get stuck, etc. - Andy Karuza, FenSens

2. Give participants choices

When creating any environment for beta testers, it's essential that users be given correct and incorrect pathway choices. Your testing won't be that useful if there is only a single correct way to continue the task and navigate through the test environment. Give yourself enough time to set up multiple pathways to yield the best data for the time and money you invest in testing. - Jordan Conrad, Writing Explained

3. Provide proper disclaimers

Depending on the product or service you're launching, you'll need tons of disclaimers to adhere to regulations. This is definitely the case if you're in fields like finance, law, or medicine. Since you may not have yet done a lot of legal work at the prototype stage, you'll want to do some research on the kinds of disclaimers you need to add. Better safe than sorry. - Frederik Bussler, AngelStarter

4. Look for people who aren't product evangelists

Often your beta testers are the most loyal and tech-focused users. Try and find average people who aren't overly familiar with your product or company. This will lead to more honest feedback, without the sugarcoating that can come along with testers who are already invested in the product emotionally. The response may be harder to hear, but you'll be happier with the end result. - Sean Ogle, Location Rebel

5. Follow up with your testers

Besides asking your testers their opinion about your prototype, make sure they actually use it in a real-world fashion so you can get more insight. And you should have them complete a few different tasks as well. Follow that up with specific questions about their experiences and any bugs they may have encountered. - Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

6. Use heat maps

When done the right way, prototyping not only grants access to real feedback, but it also provides insights about user behavior. Using heat maps to track user interactions with your product can be useful, especially when testing out digital products or services. I find it an easier way to record user expectations and experiences more accurately, which later helps tailor the product as needed. - Abeer Raza, TekRevol

7. Aim for statistical significance

Often times with MVPs and prototypes, entrepreneurs will get a few people to say, "I would buy this" and move forward. The goal isn't to get positive reinforcement to an idea — the goal is to see if it's a viable business. You shouldn't scale up from your prototype until you've sold at least 100 units of your product and have the cash in hand. You need statistical significance. - Karl Kangur, Above House

8. Set a realistic timetable

One thing to keep in mind during a beta test is the timetable. It doesn’t matter how well you plan, anticipate it taking at least 10 weeks given you don't add features during the test. If you do make changes mid-beta, you will probably have to start your timetable back at zero. Having a realistic expectation of the test duration is important for your sanity and product development as well. - Shaun Conrad, My Accounting Course

9. Be adaptable

You've worked hard on your prototype and have painstakingly selected the right audience. However, keep in mind the process isn't usually going to proceed as you expect it will – and that's not only OK, it can be exciting. If your planned script for the testing session isn't working well, feel free to deviate and improvise during the testing session to get the best feedback from your users. - Shu Saito, Godai

10. Keep it simple

The simpler and cleaner your prototype is, the better. If you have the ability to use fewer parts or, if your prototype is not a physical item, to make it pleasing to the eye, do it. Remember that this is a test and you want to make the best impression possible. To do so, simplify. - Zach Binder, Bell + Ivy

11. Focus on the core features first

Prototype and beta testers tend to have a lot of feature ideas. It's safe to ignore these. Focus your testers on if the offering in front of them is sufficient, not on what else they'd want it to do. Additional features are just enhancements – if the product is going to be successful, it's core features should be able to stand on their own. - Ryan D Matzner, Fueled

12. Try to limit potential bias from participants

If you are using a small sample size even minor deviations can impact the test results. If a small sample size is the only option, do your best to limit any potential bias from test group participants. Otherwise, the preconceived bias can impact the results of your test and prevent you from receiving an accurate representation of the interest in your service or product. - Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

13. Include 'average users,' not just early adopters

Beta testers are often early adopters who are more knowledgeable, experienced and tolerant of complexity than the average user. Early adopters will provide great feedback, but it's a biased sample that doesn't reflect the experiences of the target market. To combat bias, make sure your test group includes people who are representative of the average user, not just power users. - Corey Northcutt, Northcutt Enterprise SEO

14. Ask for recommendations

When testing a prototype, of course, you want to get feedback on it. Beta testers can tell you what works and what doesn't. But, make sure your testers have plenty of opportunities to give you recommendations as well, instead of just getting feedback on what you have currently. The testers may give you great ideas on how you can improve your product even more. - David Henzel, LTVPlus

15. Remain neutral

It's important to stay objective during your prototype presentation so it's easier for your audience to get onboard. You can do this by emphasizing both the positive and negative aspects of the project and fully acknowledging any mishaps or errors. Rather than defending issues, address them directly and offer solutions. - Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

16. Account for delays

Delays can happen during the product development process. It's important to let your testers know in advance that such delays are possible. If you can, give them an estimated time for when testing will be renewed. You need to account for some testers deciding to bow out if these delays interfere with their life and work events. - Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

17. Get some backup testers in case your original group backs out

Your beta testers stepping out can throw a wrench into the works. It's inconvenient and frustrating but it can happen. Make sure that you have possible backups in mind. Check if your beta testing process is too long and frustrates your testers. It's a good idea to maintain communication with them to handle any issues that can come up. - Blair Williams, MemberPress

18. Run multiple tests

After your beta test, you'll want to make appropriate bug fixes and test again. Multiple tests help you hammer out the glitches and bugs that arise during development. The more you test your product, the more likely that you'll have a market-ready product for consumers. - Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

19. Ask the right questions

If you don't even know what you're trying to get out of testing, then you shouldn't run it in the first place. It's crucial to prepare the appropriate questions so your answers bring you closer to a conclusion or solution. - Jared Atchison, WPForms

20. Remember that your beta test results will not be perfectly accurate

It is vital to remember that prototypes are not completely accurate. A prototype will give you some great data and a likely sense of where you are headed, but understand that as your product or service goes live, issues will arise. It is inevitable. Be prepared. - Rana Gujral, Behavioral Signals

Image Credit: Draginimages/Getty Images
Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber Member
Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Gerber is also a serial entrepreneur, regular TV commentator and author of the book Never Get a “Real” Job.