When you're starting a new business I know how tempting it is to do the fun things first. But before you set up a Facebook page or get your business cards printed it really is worth doing some good market research. We've talked about how to work out if your business ideas are viable already so this next stage is about setting you up for success. It should help you to be more strategic, relevant and most importantly to figure out what will make you different?!
Here are the four areas I focused on when researching my business ideas and industries:
1. WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU HAVE?
The first step is writing down all the questions YOU have about starting up your business or implementing the idea. Don't worry how small they seem, just get written down anything you're not sure about right now. For example, what price should I charge, how will people find me or do I need to set up new social media accounts for this project?
Getting down these questions will help you really focus the rest of your research and it will allow you to push through how overwhelming it feels to be in a place where you don't really know what direction to take yet!
Once you've done this then go back through each question and try to identify where you might be able to find out the answers? Do you have family or friends who could help you? Do you need to ask your clients or potential clients directly? Are there books, online courses or websites out there to help you figure it out?
I find this helps me form a plan of action to really get going before I'm ready to dig into the finer details. It should also give you an early indication of how much work is involved!
2. WHO ARE YOUR COMPETITORS AND WHAT ARE THEY OFFERING?
This is an essential part of any market research. Start by making a list of the leading 3-5 businesses in your niche. These should be businesses a few years ahead of you, your biggest competitors or market leaders!
- What specific products or services are they are offering and how do they deliver these to customers?
- What prices do they charge?
- What you think they do really well? What makes them stand out?
- What would you change if it were your business? Is there anything missing?
- Imagine you are a 'mystery shopper' and look at their websites, join their mailing lists and follow them on social media to see how they interact with their customers
Now repeat this for 3-5 other, smaller businesses which are in a similar position to yours e.g. those who are only a year or two ahead of you, who are also fairly new or who are similar in size and ask yourself the same questions as you did above.
What can you learn from doing this exercise?
3. TALK TO YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS
First of all you need to identify who your ideal customer is? The basics like gender, age, where they live and what they do for a living are all essential but I like to dig deeper! What challenges are they facing at the moment? What will help them trust you? What other brands do they like? What social media platforms do they use? etc, etc...
Once you know who you're talking to specifically you can start asking them more questions! You can do this for free online using a website like surveymonkey.com, through social media or if you have actual contacts invite them for coffee or give them a call (scary I know but can be so helpful!)
My big tip with this is to make notes on the language that people use when answering your questions so that you can use their words in your website copy or sales materials later down the line. Reading their own words and challenges will help your products or services to really resonate with customers and they'll identify with you so much more.
If you do an online survey make sure you utilise as many of your contacts as possible, you can ask family (as long as they aren't being too bias!), friends, existing clients, people on your mailing list, share it on social media and email it to contacts in your inbox. Make sure your survey is fairly quick and easy to complete for people and use the opportunity to ask them if they'd like to join your mailing list if they aren't on it already!
4. LEARN ABOUT YOUR MARKET PLACE
You also want to familiarise yourself with your market if you aren't already. Read and engage with blogs, websites, communities and magazines in your field. Follow influential people on social media and figure out what your niche is talking about at the moment, what their challenges are and how you want to interact with your customers, competitors, industry experts.
It's also a great way to spot potential selling opportunities e.g. by taking notes on when there are local fayres, networking opportunities or conferences you could attend. It's good to get out there and start making friends as soon as possible, even if you're business isn't ready yet as you may meet some really useful contacts. For example getting to know other complimentary businesses to yours who may be able to refer their customers to you is a great future marketing tool!
All of this research should help you to work out how your business will fit into the market place, how to position your product or service and to collect realistic information for your business plan. It should also answer your questions on how you can make your business different from what is already being offered by your competitors.
Have you started your market research yet? Which of these areas do you think will be most important for you to focus on?