Guidelines for conducting market research for small businesses

Market research is the bedrock of successful business - and not just for launch. Keeping tabs on customers is useful at every stage of business, says Katie Tucker

Are you looking to supercharge an existing product or service? Sharpen your marketing copy? On the hunt for new lines of revenue? Market research delivers the insight you need to make your next best business decision.

Using professional market research services is a great option for your high-risk projects. Or for those times when you need extra support and direction. But there are plenty of things you can start doing today to keep market research and understanding customers front of mind.

>See also: Why market research is so important for a start-up business

#1 – Listen to customers

Really listen. Hang out where they hang out. Make note of what they care about. What they’re talking about. What they’re struggling with. What language they are using. Social media is a great place to start. Think Instagram. Facebook. LinkedIn. Look for groups and communities around your business area. Don’t forget sites such as Quora and Reddit. They provide unfiltered insights into people’s lives and the questions they’re asking. Answer the Public is another great social listening tool to uncover what your audience is searching for online.

Top tip: Schedule in 30 mins a week to spy and listen. Set up notifications for keywords and social media group updates to keep things manageable. Make note of anything relevant.

#2 – Talk to customers

Talking to your customers is by far the market research method that generates the best insights. And one so often overlooked by small businesses. Scheduling regular 1:1 customer interviews ensures you keep abreast of your customers’ needs. Look for people in your customer base or target audience and ask them for 30 mins of their time. Identify what it is you want to find out and tailor your questions accordingly.

Top tip: Schedule in 3-5, 1:1 calls (30 mins) on a quarterly basis. Use your existing customer base and wider personal and professional network to find people in your target market. Avoid friends and family. They often tell us what we want to hear.

>See also: How to do your market research on a shoestring budget

#3 – Ask great questions

Whether you’re planning on launching a survey or preparing for a 1:1 with a customer, your insights will only be as good as the questions you ask. For 1:1 interviews keep questions open ended, avoid leading questions and leave plenty of room for customers to share stories. Use question starters such as tell me about the last time youor talk me through how you go about doing

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when testing out new ideas is asking their audience outright whether they’d buy their planned new product/service.

Humans are notoriously bad at predicting future behaviour and often tell you want you want to hear.

Instead, explore present and past customer behaviours around your focus area, always a better proxy for what they’re likely to spend money on in the future.

Top tip: Offering a small incentive (discount, voucher…) in exchange for their time can go a long way. Always write a discussion guide to keep the conversation on track. Ask if you can record the conversation so you can focus on them and not writing notes.

#4 – Don’t forget desk research

There is a wealth of customer research available online. From micro-trends in self-employment accounting to shifts in customer online spending habits, chances are there is a report out there for your area of business.

Big budget consultancies publish quarterly and yearly trend reports across a myriad of areas you can access for free.

Don’t forget trade bodies and associations. For example, Enterprise Nation, FSB and British Library Business Centre regularly publish useful insights. Small also host a suite of interesting guides.

Top tip: to save time, set up Google news alerts with your business keywords (e.g., consumer +trends + report + ethical clothing) to receive new insights straight into your inbox.

#5 – Go pro when it comes to market research

When you need some help conducting your market research or support drafting those all so important questions, seek out some professional help. Scour your own network for market research experts. Ask for recommendations from peers. Alternatively, browse trade directories from industry bodies such as the Market Research Society.

Top tip: Before choosing a professional, ensure they are experienced in supporting business of your size. A micro-entrepreneur will not have the same needs as a 50+ employee business. Also have a research goal in mind. Ask yourself: what is it I need to find out to make the next right decision for by business?

Katie Tucker is a product management and customer discovery consultant at Product Jungle. She also runs small business workshops and offers bespoke consultancy services. For regular tips on how to keep customers front of mind in your business, sign up to the Product Jungle newsletter

You can also follow Katie on Instagram @productjungle

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Katie Tucker

Katie Tucker is an experienced product leader, writer and public speaker. She is founder of consultancy Product Jungle.

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