Photo by Shaun Menary

Hands-on experience is hard to come by when information is ubiquitous and cheap. It’s too tempting to keyword search your audience. Too easy to pull up competitor websites, buy market data, read conference reports, or run a lit review. Defining who your audience is with these facts and figures is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces of information that come second-hand from another person’s experience.

You’re A Journalist Before You’re An Entrepreneur
You must be in the field, interacting with your audience directly to learn about their problems. In fact, if you’re in the position of being a social entrepreneur, you are not your ideal audience or the one that will benefit from the service you’re creating. This is cause for getting off your computer and going to where the problem exists.

“Learning is experience. Everything else is information.” –Albert Einstein

You can’t solve a social problem on your own. It can’t work that way. The solution has to be owned by the people you’re serving. You’re not coming up with the solution first and getting buy-in second. Rather, it’s just the opposite. You will buy into the solution those you serve offer up.

A Tourist In Your Customer’s World
Once the day is done, you may go back to a very different life than the ones you’re trying to help. Try to immerse yourself in the experience of the person experiencing the problem you’re trying to solve. When you visit a city and want a more local experience, you don’t just stay in a hotel and go see the sights, you stay at an Airbnb or couchsurf.

You might never be able to truly understand the daily struggles of those you want to help, but you want to do your best to experience as much of it as you can. Only then will you have a feel for it, beyond the numbers that an analyst could ever use to describe the experience. There’s a nuance that only direct experience can provide.

“The danger is not in asking “why”, but believing you have the only answer.” –Anonymous

This is not to say that secondary information is not important, only that it comes second. If you start there, then you can easily fall into the illusion of believing your idea is right for the audience. Only the people who will use it can tell you that. After first-hand experience, the data will also make much more sense.

Go find a problem that you care about and work with those dealing with it to solve it. The solution will emerge from a balance of skill sets and mindsets between you and your audience.

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Editorial Collaborator, Akshay Kapur, joins Conscious to provide tips and advice that speak to entrepreneurs everywhere who face struggles dealing with time, money, balance, health, relationships, and more. Read his interview here. Discover his series here.