Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Helen Clark, an associate of Research Optimus.
Market research is pretty much mandatory in today’s business world. The landscape has seen a shift; businesses have unprecedented access to a vast amount of information. Those who learn how to utilize this information are discovering new levels of success. Even small businesses have access to this vast network of information. The problem is that while large corporations might have six-figure budgets to invest in research, small businesses have limitations. Don’t let those limitations stop you! Here are ten tips for finding ways to perform market research inexpensively.
Always Have a Questionnaire Ready
Make sure that you take the time to develop a questionnaire so that it’s crisp and objective. Then have it ready to hand out to people. Creating in-house surveys is an affordable way to gather data from real customers, so it’s important that you tap into this source of information. Almost every successful company has a system for getting their customers to fill out questionnaires. Look at your receipt next time you go shopping, and you’ll see for yourself. In order to create your questionnaire, you’ll need to define the objective, develop questions, and then find a way to convince people to fill it out. Companies normally offer discount codes to those who fill out their quick surveys.
Create an Online Marketing Survey
This is probably the most affordable option available for polling consumers who have never used your business. Polls are one form of online surveys. They are generally taken on social media or across blogs. Aside from polls though, there are websites like Survey Monkey and Easy Polls that will host your surveys for a small fee. They allow you to target specific demographics so the information will match your needs. Surveys help you discover ways to make your products better and to provide services that your competitors do not.
Develop a CRM System
Most businesses focus on gathering data from numerous outside sources but forget about the data they already have. If you don’t already have one, you need to develop a CRM system so that you are gathering real data from your current customers. This system is very cheap to install and implement, but that’s not even the best part. It gives you high-quality information about your current consumers.
Analyze the Competition
By knowing your competition’s strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to make slight changes that differentiate your business. Everything you have done up to this point should provide you with a wealth of information about your competition. This step is more about analyzing that data. Try to forecast what your competition will do in the future. Determine ways to offer products/services that offset the weaknesses of your competition. For example, Apple products are wonderful, but their weakness is cost. They are expensive. Therefore, other businesses offer more affordable products to pull in customers who are unable to afford the high costs of Apple products.
News and Trade Journals
This is a secondary source of research that is used by a lot of businesses. Subscribe to magazines within your niche. Read online journals. Anytime one of your competitors makes a change, you will see it in news and trade journals. Trust me when I say that there’s always a reason behind a successful company making changes. It could be a shift in the market. Maybe they have forecast a future trend that they want to set up for? Keeping up with business news allows you to use their movement as a sign, so all you’ll have to do at that point is determine what that sign means.
Consider Hiring Interns for Research
There are several tasks that an intern can help with when it comes to research. The most obvious is that they can browse the internet, researching your niche and creating a detailed report for you. Interns can also visit places to personally deliver questionnaires to the market. Every questionnaire you get back is more data entered into the system.
Transform Events into Research Venues
Do you attend conferences and trade shows? If so, then this serves as a wonderful opportunity to get to know your target market. A little face-on-face time can go a long way. If you do not attend conferences and trade shows, then consider adding them to your schedule.
Use Social Media to CrowdSource Research
Facebook is an amazing platform to engage with your target market. You can ask simple questions and let your followers answer them. This will lead to conversations that you can read. The sheer amount of information you can get here is incredible. For example, make it a weekly thing to post a question. Then give it a few days to brew, go back in and read all of the comments and create a report.
Use Information That’s Already There
You’ll be surprised at how many studies you can find online that have already been conducted by companies in your niche. Don’t ignore these; use them to your advantage. You can either hire a virtual assistant or allow an intern to do this work for you. I don’t recommend doing this yourself because it’s a real drain on time.
Hire a Research Firm
Your final option is to hire a market research firm to take care of this for you. This is by far the easiest solution, but it does cost money. However, when you figure in the time it would take you to follow through with the nine steps in this post, that cost is justified. Plus, the information you receive will be of much higher quality.
If you do choose to hire a research firm, consider using our services at Research Optimus.
The overall goal of market research is to either confirm a hypothesis you might have about your market or to gain insight so you can predict future trends. Small businesses must be able to separate themselves from everyone else. This can only be done if you can figure out what it is that consumers want that is not being offered by your competition. Then you simply build your product/service around that idea.
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