By Alyssa Gregory

Do-It-Yourself Market Research

By Alyssa Gregory

Market research is the collection and analysis of data, and it is essential for every business, product or service. Unless you do the necessary research, you’re just hoping for some luck because you have no idea if what you’re offering is needed, wanted or has the potential to sell.

While it’s often used in evaluating a new product or service, you can conduct market research for many other reasons, including:

  • Gauging the effectiveness of a new marketing technique
  • Evaluating your competition
  • Identifying potential problems that need a solution you can provide
  • Measuring client satisfaction

The problem is that market research for the small business owner or freelancer can be intimidating. How do you figure out the best methods for conducting your research, especially when you have a very small budget, if any, to dedicate to it?

Here is a look at a few ways you can conduct your own market research for little financial investment, and hopefully, gain some useful information.

Conduct an Ongoing Survey

If you have a website or blog, you have an excellent opportunity to conduct market research. In most cases, the people visiting your website and reading your blog are a part of your target audience, and exactly the people you want to hear from. You can create a poll that is a standard part of your site, or design a survey that is incorporated into an opt-in form to gather input.

Ask for Client Feedback

It’s a good idea to use client satisfaction surveys as a standard part of doing business; there is a lot that can be learned and applied to future activities. If you have time, individual interviews with clients can be an even better way to find out why they hired you, what they thought of the work process, and how they envision utilizing your services again. This is all useful data that can be used in your market research.


Participate in Online Networking

So much can be learned from your peers, and online networking is inexpensive and easy to do. The best way to gain useful market information from online networking is by engaging in meaningful interactions, then watching and listening to what others are saying.

Initiate a Test

Whether you’re gathering feedback on a new website, gauging the effectiveness of an email marketing campaign or analyzing the demand for a new product, you can learn a lot from a test. Use split testing on ads, usability testing for a website and even run a test launch to see what the response is like before committing to go full throttle.

Take Note of the Competition

Watching what your competitors are doing can be a great way to gauge what works and what doesn’t work. While you won’t want to duplicate what your competition does, you can certainly pick up a few hints about what is working for them. If your competition uses the same ads, email marketing and other techniques over and over, there’s a good chance it’s working for them and that they’ve found a demand for what they’re offering.

Market research doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming, and it’s possible to gather useful information without investing a lot of time or money. How have you conducted market research in your business?

Image credit: Lockheed

  • Dirk

    While I agree that some well-crafted market research can provide your business with valuable information, I see companies fooling themselves all the time. Ever seen questionnaires that use a “completely satisfied” to “not so satisfied” response scale? Those questions get really good responses, so the company thinks they’re doing great. About 50 years of research shows that this is a methodological artifact: unbalanced scales (= more positive than negative response options), starting from the positive end of the scale tend to solicit more positive responses than do balanced scales (an equal number of positive and negatively formulated response options) starting from the negative end (dissatisfied -> satisfied). And that’s just one example.
    Just do a little search on Don Dillman, Stanley Presser, or Mick Couper and you’ll get a load of methodological literature on the topic of questionnaire design. I’ve been doing (academic) research on web surveys for about ten years now, and time and again, I’ve met people who think online surveys are easy because you can literally set one up in 5 minutes. Just make sure those 5 minutes aren’t the start of a very bad series of business decisions!
    On the other hand, if you know what you’re doing, a survey can give you a lot of useful information. Maybe one tip: use the reverse design approach: first draw the graphs and/or tables that you would like to see at the end of the research (and that allow answering your research questions), then design the survey questions you need to get those data. (many people ask too many questions, while missing the right ones)

    • Excellent points, Dirk. You will probably appreciate the follow-up post on market research tips that’s soon to come. :-)

  • basia

    Some month ago our supplier – great multinational corporation has sent us customer satisfaction survey – just typical 10-minutes-to-fulfill one. At least promised. After filling many screens in browser, I have come to point, they ask about their competition – if they are alone in the market, or, if somebody else provides similar products. And it has started: 10 digits scale markings about level of everything: product, documentation, orders, claims, enquiries, offers, kindness and competence and speed of staff for competitor I, then for competitor II and so on… After one hour of attempt to be honest, I gave up, closed my browser and started to work. But – two weeks after, they have sent reminder about not completed survey. This time it was processed by my workmate, who observed my struggle before. She just declared, they were single supplier in the market, survey was finished within half hour and one week later a thank-you-gift arrived.

    Conclusion: they wanted to know too much in too big details, so they have not got information, but their system was satisfied.

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