Market Research for the Small Business Owner

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Do you know and understand why your existing customers buy from/work with you? If you know the answer to this, you’re probably already using that information to your advantage so you can find more customers! If you don’t, we have some ideas here for you about conducting marketing research for your small business.

First, some people ask why bother doing this…they feel like it’s a waste of money. If you want to:

  • Find new customers;
  • Solve problems;
  • Grow your business; and/or
  • Look for opportunities,

going through a marketing research exercise will be a small investment of both your time and money in the end.

Keep in mind, market research can be as basic or advanced as you want it to be. You can start with a basic plan, but the more information you learn and the more you want to implement, the more advanced your market research plan will become. This may happen over a period of months or maybe even years. Here are some basic steps to get started:

  1. What do you want to learn from this research? Develop a set of goals that will help you when analyzing the information. Without a set of well thought out goals, your results will be vague and lack direction.
  2. What existing information can you use? There is probably some information, whether it be about your competitors or about your customers, that you can use. There are also probably some “knowns” that you don’t need to search for, but beware of using information that is subjective rather than facts.
  3. What research needs to be done? You’ll need a variety of sources when gathering your research (stay clear of only using those sources you find online). Should you interview your current customers? Send out an e-mail survey maybe? What about focus-groups? Whatever you decide, make sure some of your research comes from face-to-face conversations and some is anonymous online. Document where the information comes from. You’ll later look for trends among the sources.
  4. Ready to dive in? It’s time to execute the research! Talk to people, send e-mails, mail surveys…use a variety of tools to find your answers. Keep in mind that while you’ll want to ask some open ended questions (to get new ideas), asking questions that will give you a scale or numerical answer will make it easier on you when analyzing the data. Survey Monkey is a great online resource for sending free surveys and questionnaires. Sizeup is a great online resource for helping you to conduct some initial research that will help you develop questions for your surveys. If you’re looking for some inexpensive help, try contacting the MBA program at a local University. If they don’t have some students that would be willing to work on this for you as a class project, they’ll probably have some ideas for you on locating others that can help.evaluation
  5. What did you learn? Now that all the facts are in, it’s time to analyze the results! You’ll definitely want to use some spreadsheets that will help you visually see the results. We know data entry is painful, but inputting information in a spreadsheet can save you hours later when analyzing.

All we can say at this point is the numbers don’t lie! Small business owners are often surprised by what they learn. We suggest developing a marketing strategy based on your research results and see what happens. It’s not often that the results don’t jive with what you learned from your market research.

When you’re ready to put together you’re marketing plan, check out our blog, Marketing Planning Made Easy.