Market Research For Small Businesses?

Before I set up my magazine business, I spent nine years as a freelance marketing consultant with much of this time spent working on market research projects.

Market research splits into two areas: quantitative – which is all about data and statistics and qualitative – which is focussed on gaining knowledge and opinions from experts in the field and it was in this latter area where I focussed most of my time.

Now you may be thinking that market research is only for “big business” but we all need information, both specific details e.g. about our customers and their requirements in order that we can 1) structure our businesses to provide the service / product they want / need and 2) plan our marketing strategies where understanding who our customers are is fundamental to success; and also more wide ranging business issues to help us plan for our business in the long term.

Key to building a greater understanding of our customers are questions like:

  • Who are they?

So, if you are B2C you might want to know: age, financial demographic, where they live, occupation etc.

If B2B then: size of business, number of employees, nature of business, location, how long established etc.

  • Why did they contact you initially?
  • What was the first service / product they bought?
  • Are they one off or repeat customers?
  • What other products / services do they buy from you now?
  • How long did it take between first enquiry and sale?

… and so on

As you can see these are not complicated questions. In fact, it is information you (or someone in your business) will probably already know, so you simply need a system to record all this data so you can access it and analyse it more easily.

If you use a CRM system set up some additional tags / custom fields so that when you enter the basic customer info for the first time you fill in these boxes as well (I use Capsule). If you don’t have a CRM system then just use a spreadsheet but try and ensure whatever method you use you can search and extract data easily.

The key here is to find a quick and easy way to record the info, not to get hung up on setting up a complex system that you won’t use.

So, think about the sort of info you want to capture and perhaps print it out and stick it up on the wall so you have a reminder sheet when talking to people. But do not fire a long list of questions at them – it is still a conversation. 90% of the info you want you would probably already have got anyway you just need to remember to record it – easily, simply and without any extra fuss.

A few months down the line you can start looking at and analysing the data you have captured and see what jumps out at you. It may not be “proper” quantitative market research in the classical sense but I guarantee you will find out something useful from it.  

The other type of market research is qualitative and this is where networking can really help you, particularly in terms of looking at the broader business picture. In qualitative research you seek out people who are leaders in their field, whose opinions are respected by their peers and are backed up by significant and relevant experience.

When you go networking regularly you can usually identify people who are: experts in their field; run their businesses professionally; considered in what they say; have ideas and opinions they are happy to share –  and not just about their speciality because they often have a broad base of business knowledge & experience. Seek these people out and talk to them – about general business topics, ideas you would like their opinions on, marketing, networking, training, accounting, project management etc… and just soak it all in.

This is how / where you will often generate the best ideas for your business because someone will mention something and that will trigger a thought for something you can implement yourself.

So whilst small businesses may not undertake formal market research in the way big businesses do, we can still use the concepts behind both types of research to generate information and ideas to help us improve and grow our own small businesses.