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We all know that market research is an excellent idea in theory – it helps us to communicate more effectively with our audience, to identify new opportunities and to minimise risk. However the price tag attached to market research can put small businesses off.

So we ask the question – is it possible to do market research yourself, or do you need to pay for it?

alien pushing a shopping trolley full of market research

Why and when do you need to do market research?

  • To find out how people react to your brand
  • You are developing or launching a new product and you want to assess risk and optimisation
  • Improving communication between your brand and your customers
  • Improving upon your weaknesses
  • Refining what you offer to meet the needs of your clients

In a nutshell, market research is all about finding out what your customers want so that you can fulfil that need. Sometimes, you will find that what your customers want is something that you actually do and market research just helps you to realise how important that service is and to advertise it more prominently.

It’s about making a small and easy change that makes a big difference.

How to do DIY market research for your small business

The essence of market research is very simple – it’s about asking people what they think, listening, and analysing the results.

Focus group

A focus group is a solid way to gather opinions, and can be an easy DIY bit of research to do. You can ask current customers to participate, or just your friends and family. Ideally you’d want to tailor the demographics or profile of the people attending depending on your needs, but this is more difficult to do effectively. If you can get someone else to run the session that is definitely a good idea as you want people to answer honestly.

Customer surveys

A DIY customer survey, while quite easy, can take a long time to get back. You can deliver them in person (after you’ve just completed a job or service), post them or email them. It will take time to distribute copies to enough people, and it could be even longer for them to get back to you.

Social media – direct interaction

If you have an active social media presence you can try asking questions directly to your community. This is a very quick and easy way to get an instant answer, and you don’t lose much if no one answers.

A/B testing

For some kinds of market research (such as whether one offer is better to promote than another), you can engage in some simple A/B testing. Try it one way on half of your audience, and the other on the second half and compare results.

Things to be careful about

  • Don’t take your results too seriously – see it as research to backup your instincts. If something really surprises you then get professional advice as you may be overlooking a key factor
  • Make sure you ask the right questions in the right way – you need to ask open questions to get a pure response. The way you will naturally phrase a question will be to get the answer you want, so be aware of that.
  • Unless you’re doing a focus group, you need to make sure that a good proportion of your customers are involved (really as many people as possible)

One of the simplest things you can do to have a good feel on what your clients and customers think is to encourage an atmosphere of approachability. Make sure that your customers aren’t afraid to say what they think. Develop strong relationships.

However, at the end of the day you have to accept that all DIY market research is limited. It is a professional skill which takes a lot of know-how to do properly, and if you have a serious question to ask it is definitely worth paying for your small business market research to be done professionally.

Why you need to pay for professional market research for your small business

If you can afford it, there is no doubt at all that a professional service is what you should get. While DIY options are better than nothing, you do risk missing something or getting false results which will lead you in the wrong direction.

Professional market researchers understand the benefits of different kinds of research, how to phrase questions the right way to get unbiased answers and how to analyse them correctly. They also have the contacts to source large, diverse groups of people who you would struggle to contact.

What kinds of market research can you pay for?

  • Desk research – this involves research online using existing studies and analysing them in relation to your company/needs. This is the cheapest form of market research.
  • Commissioning research – commissioning research can vary wildly in price but the big advantage is that you will get something professionally tailored to give you a definitive answer.
  • Observational research – this is particularly useful for retail brands, and involves a researcher observing behaviour in your store and analysing it.

If you are interested in looking into getting some professional market research done a good place to start is The ICG group of expert independent researchers which provides a lot of information about the types of market research and help you find the right professional for the job.

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