Use Market Research to Help Your Business

Do you feel as informed about your customers and their needs, or about your industry and recent market trends as you want to be? It’s easy to stay up-to-date when you work with a qualified professional to do market research for your business.

Market research can provide you with valuable information to help drive the strategic direction of your business, and your business will reap the benefits:

  • Uncover new opportunities in the marketplace (e.g. additional sales or new markets)
  • Identify potential weaknesses of your business model, product or service
  • Measure your progress over time
  • Differentiate your product or service from your competitors
  • Understand who your customers view as your competition
  • Tailor offers to your customers

But before you start a market research project, here is a quick overview on how to structure the project to maximize your investment:

State Your Objective

What is your objective for the research? This will determine the type and quantity of research you will need to conduct. Make sure you have a well-defined objective before beginning your project.

Identify Your Research Method

Answer the question of whether you want Primary or Secondary research. How would you like the information to be collected and analyzed?

Primary research involves the collection of new data such as a survey of your customers. Secondary research involves information that has already been collected such as census data, or industry studies.

Also – look into the differences between Qualitative and Quantitative research and which works best for you.

Qualitative research is great for generating ideas because it involves in-depth interactions with a person or group of people. You can conduct interviews and focus groups allowing to ask open-ended questions and follow up to get the detailed responses you need for your research.

Quantitative research is great when you need reliable statistics because its based on numbers and percentages. You can put together a questionnaire and survey your target market to find out what they like or dislike about your product or service and get the results you’re looking for. 

Audience

Who is the target audience that you will be gathering research on? Who is the audience for the final deliverable, i.e., investors, employees or yourself?

Timeline

How soon do you need this research? Your timeline may impact your research method or vice versa. For example, if you need the research this week, qualitative research may be a good option. If your time horizon is weeks or months, a quantitative approach would work.

Budget

What is your budget? Primary research is generally more time consuming and more expensive than secondary research.

Other Considerations

Be sure to share any other information that you might currently have on your target audience or on the topics that you would like researched. This will not only help you define your research project, but will give your provider a good starting point.

Ready to Get Started?

Follow these steps to get your market research project completed on Elance.

1. Complete the project description with the following:

  • A detailed description of what you need to be researched and how it will be used
  • The type of research method you would like or you can have the service provider recommend the best approach 
  • How you want the research results delivered, electronic or hard copy

2. Once you start receiving bids, carefully review the provider’s qualifications and portfolio.

3. Choose a service provider and begin working on the project. The typical Market Research project will require the following steps.

  • Information gathering on the part of the provider
  • Initial draft of the questionnaire or a plan describing how the research will be conducted 
  • Information gathering
  • Compiling and analysis of the data
  • Final report on the results
Advertisements

Tips for Incubating your Small Business Idea While Still Working Full-Time

Other times, they actually launch the business and run it on the side while still employed. They may continue to run it as a side business for a period of months or even years. Only later do they leave their jobs.

No matter how you do it, I’ve got 6 practical tips for starting a business while you’re still employed:

1. Consider Your Employer Your Banker

I am a huge fan of bootstrapping a business, i.e., using personal money to fund growth. One form of using personal funds is to set aside a portion of your salary to fund your business. That means you need to protect your funding source — your job — until you are ready to cut the cord.

Remain a productive employee. Also, make it a point to know your employer’s policies on moonlighting. You don’t want to find yourself out of work prematurely, because your employer caught wind of your new venture and disapproved.

Employers are all over the map on whether they support employees’ entrepreneurial side ventures. Some employers do. Others are vehemently opposed. Still others don’t mind as long as you are not competing with them and you are a good worker.

If your employer prohibits moonlighting, then you may have no choice but to keep your business percolating in the idea stage until you have saved enough money to pursue it on a full-time basis.

2. Write a Business Plan

Sure, much of your plan will turn out to be incorrect (same goes for most startup business plans). But it’s not the plan that’s important … it’s the planning .

You’ll need to think through issues such as how many sales you will need to become profitable; anticipated expenses; and staffing required. Writing a business plan forces you to address such issues. If it turns out that your business idea is not feasible, better to find out before you quit your day job.

3. Get your Spouse’s Buy-In

Your husband or wife needs to be committed to your startup. If it isn’t a shared dream, or if your spouse is resentful of the time you are spending away from family, you’re adding stress on your relationship.

Plus, a startup often takes some initial outlay of money for technical product development, business filings, marketing, a website, etc. And it may mean years of sacrifices until the business takes off. These are fundamental money matters that your spouse needs to agree on.

To secure buy-in from your spouse, talk frequently about your dream. Paint a picture in words. Get him or her involved, too. Nothing creates buy-in better than being actively involved in business decisions.

4. Choose the Right Business

If you are planning on running your business on the side for several months or years while still employed – it’s especially important to start the right kind of business. You’ll need a business where you can set your own hours. You may also need a business that allows you to hire outside service providers or contractors who are literally working on your business while you are at your job.

Here are some examples of businesses that can be operated on the side indefinitely for years, or eventually taken into full-time businesses:

  • Software development
  • Web design
  • Freelance writing
  • Online businesses
  • Graphics design
  • Consulting
  • eBay business
  • Event planner
  • Any hobby that you can turn into a business

5. Set Aside Dedicated Schedule for Your Startup

In my experience, the biggest challenge you will have during the incubation is sticking with it and finding the time. After the initial flush of giddy energy, it’s hard to stay motivated to build a business. It’s even harder when you are tired and stressed after a full day’s work.

Many entrepreneurs who have successfully started a side business do it by setting aside dedicated hours each day for their startup. I’ve known budding entrepreneurs speak about going home to “start the second shift.” That’s exactly how you have to think of it. Commit to spending X hours per weekday and/or on weekends on your business. Stick to a regular schedule – it makes it easier.

6. Turn Your Employer Into Your First Customer

Think of your employer as your first big sales target (assuming your product or service is relevant to your employer). Many a business has gotten off to a great start when the owner’s former employer became the first customer.

Securing a large customer early on gives your business credibility in the form of a referenceable customer. It also helps you ramp up sales and bring in the necessary cash flow early on.

That’s why it is so crucial to perform well on the job and maintain good relations with your employer throughout the incubation period. When you are ready to go out on your own, you’ll be glad to have your former employer’s support.

Now – off to your startup, and good luck!

Kick-Start Your Sales Team

Do you want to increase sales? Yes? Well, you’re not alone. In all likelihood, you’re limited by the amount of time you can spend finding, targeting, and building relationships with prospective customers. Give yourself – or your sales team – a boost by hiring a freelancer to do your legwork so you can connect with your customers.

You can start by making a list of all your current sales-related activities. Then, list all the things you’d like to do… if you just had the time. Chances are, a number of those tasks can be completed by an Elance provider.

To help spark your brainstorming session, here are just some of the ways a freelancer can support your sales team and help you grow your business:

Research your market.

Market research can help you understand and act on the dynamics of your local or global market, on market trends, and on customer satisfaction with the products and services in your area. In short, market research will help you understand who and where your customers are, and how to meet their needs. Before you devote critical resources to opening a new sales territory, expanding your services, or promoting a new product, make sure a market exists. What you “know” may or may not be supported by the data a skilled researcher can uncover.

Create a lead database.

A freelancer can help source partners or affiliates, drive traffic to your website, collect information from prospective clients, and research, identify, and pull together contact information for key decision-makers within your industry. Pass on a description of the criteria that make a prospect more likely to buy your products or services to help the provider prioritize your leads. Instead of searching for qualified potential customers, you’ll spend your valuable time making contact and building a new business relationship.

Hand-write thank you notes.

A personal touch goes a long way. That means more to you: A pre-printed form letter or a personalized hand-written follow-up or thank you note?

Create a winning presentation or proposal.

Whether you land a new client may hinge on the quality of your proposal. A provider who can help you communicate complex ideas using an effective presentation can make a difference. You provide the information – they’ll provide the presentation. Or, have a freelancer develop professional presentation and proposal templates that you can pour customer-specific data into.

Answer e-mails and calls.

If your marketing campaigns generate customer inquiries, someone must respond as soon as possible – and if it’s a phone call, someone must be there to answer it. But – should that person be you? A freelancer can field the initial queries, answering general questions and provide information based on the materials you provide. You can then follow up with hot prospects and provide detailed information where necessary.

Perform a competitive analysis.

To grow your sales, you need answers to questions like:

  • Who are my main competitors?
  • What are the similarities and differences between their products/services and mine?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of my competitors’ products and services?
  • How do their prices compare to mine?
  • How should I best plan to compete: Offer better quality services, lower prices, more support, and/or easier access to services?
  • What should I do to create a competitive advantage in my marketplace?

The answers to these questions will help you better understand how to promote and how to run your business. Experienced researchers use offline and online sources to help you define strategies and market positioning that help you stand out from the crowd.