How to do your own market research

Small business owners often find it difficult to seek out the help they need to get started with market research, or to ramp up the market research that they currently do.

Large market research agencies are generally only interested in businesses that are willing to spend thousands of pounds on a project and if you are a market research novice, it can be tricky to know exactly where to start. It might even feel so overwhelming that you deem it not worth bothering with. But, market research is an essential ingredient in improving and developing your business.

We asked Alice Broomhall – London-based market research consultant – to share her top tips on how to do your own market research without breaking the bank!

1. Research, research, research

Spend time researching other businesses offering similar products or services to you. Become a ‘mystery shopper’ – look at competitor websites, shops, leaflets, and call their call centres or offices. Join their email mailing lists.

  • How easy is it for a potential customer to find what they want?
  • How does their product quality, product information, customer service, delivery service, branding etc compare to yours?
  • Do this regularly. Who are the new players on the market? Which competitors are continually updating their website / products etc?

2. Talk to your customers

Get into a dialogue with your customers. Use email, free research tools such as Survey Monkey, and social media to ask for feedback on your products and services.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions, or to invite constructive criticism. They don’t have to answer and you may be surprised how easy it is to address any criticisms.
  • A discount or prize draw is a good incentive. And telling your customers what changes you will make as a result of their feedback is a great way to make them feel closer to your brand.

3. Keep talking

It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to regularly run your own mini focus groups to evaluate new ideas or check how well your existing services are meeting target customer needs.

Get a group of family, friends, friends-of-friends etc together at home, or in the pub, and run through a list of planned questions. Try to be as impartial as you can.

4. Get close to your customers

Once you’ve established the target market for your business, find a handful of people that fit the profile (or use your existing customer base) and ask if you can visit them at home (or setting most relevant to your business area). Talk to them about how your product / service fits into their life, how they use it, and what benefits they get (or don’t get) from it. Watch how and where they use your product / service, and how long they spend using it.

Seeing your customers in their own environment can give you real insights into what their needs are and how you can develop your business further.

Some final tips:

  • Whatever market research you decide to do, make sure that you keep organised notes (with dates!) to help you identify trends in your customer satisfaction, or the market as a whole, over time.
  • Record conversations and interviews where possible. It is difficult to remember everything your respondents say, especially when you’re thinking about what to ask next.
  • If using email or online survey software, keep your questions short, impartial, and use plenty of open ended (free text) questions. Unless you are likely to get hundreds of responses, a written response “What did you like most and least about your last purchase?” will give you more useful information than just a tick in a box “How satisfied were you with your last purchase on a scale of 1 to 5?”.
  • If you are unsure about how to ask the right questions to the right people, there are cost effective ways that a market research professional can help you. Online resources such as this Government video  and websites including Small Business and Marketing Donut are also crammed full of useful information.

Alice Broomhall is a freelance market research consultant specialising in helping start-ups and small businesses understand their customers and develop their services. Before going solo she spent twelve years working for large, international market research agencies, covering everything from helping banks to develop new business banking services, to testing car insurance advertisements, to evaluating how parents choose toys for their children. She loves being out in the park with her two daughters and in her spare time, likes to buy and renovate properties.