How to Get Free Market Research

  • October 20, 2009 by Corbett Barr
  • 7 Comments

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Market research is important in building a business. Before you jump in and start creating a product or service, it’s good to understand what potential customers needs are. A startup business is an inherently risky undertaking, but by using market research effectively, you can remove some of that risk.

What is market research exactly? Market research is about discovering what people want, need, or believe. The term “market” can be somewhat misleading. It’s probably better to think about it as “customer” research. You essentially want to collect information about what potential customers want, need or desire, and then aggregate that information into an overall “market.”

A lot of would-be entrepreneurs think they don’t need market research. These people feel like they’re naturally “in tune” with the market. They think they have a good “gut feel” for what people need or desire. It’s kind of like programmers who write software without a functional spec. This is a simple mistake that leads to the untimely demise of many small businesses.


Don’t let your ego or excitement about a particular idea stop you from doing some basic market research. With just a little effort, you might find out some valuable information that you could never have thought about on your own. Your future customers have different perspectives than you, and listening to them can uncover opportunities or make you realize something you thought previously is actually wrong. Once you get started building a product, it will be much harder to change to meet customer needs than it is in the beginning. This is a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Collecting market research doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. There are plenty of ways you can collect free market research that will set you far ahead of your competition (most people don’t bother to test a market before jumping into a new venture).

Consider your own needs

I just spent the first part of this article telling you to listen to your customers, but now I’m going to tell you to consider your own needs. What do I mean by that? Lots of great products started out as a problem that the creators had themselves. If you’re having the problem, it’s likely that other people are having it too. That is, assuming you’re doing something that other people are also trying to do.

Some businesses set out to solve a “problem” that the creators have actually never experienced themselves. They just imagine that other people are looking for a solution. If you actually have the problem yourself, it’s at least more likely that other people have the same problem. Do yourself a favor though, and validate your assumptions with a little more market research.

Ask questions on your blog

If you have a blog, it can be a great place to start a discussion and get some free market research. If you don’t have a blog, you’re missing out on the ultimate marketing tool.

All you need to do is start a conversation on your blog by exploring a topic you’re not completely familiar with. Be open and transparent about how much you know already, and then ask your readers a question to elicit their opinions on the subject. You can find out some really interesting information about peoples wants and needs in blog comments.

Ask questions over Twitter or Facebook

An even quicker place to ask questions of potential customers is over Twitter or Facebook. People love to answer questions in social media settings. You don’t need to build up the question, just ask it outright. If you don’t get any responses, you’re probably asking something that no one cares about. Try a few different questions and get a feel for it.

Read comments on other blogs

Here’s a way to get free market research that doesn’t even require writing anything. Find a popular blog in the niche you’re interested in serving, and look around for discussions that occur in the topics. Try to find discussions that happen between normally shy users (not just the comment “regulars”). If a topic provokes people who don’t normally comment to come out and say something, chances are it’s about something important.

Read forums

Forums are a great place to do market research because the users themselves get to ask the questions. If you dig around, you’ll be sure to find some unmet needs and desires. Then, just ask yourself “how would I solve this problem for these people?”

Run a survey

A survey can be a great way to ask a bunch of questions of potential customers. And you might be surprised to find out how many people will be willing to help out by completing your survey. Just offer to share the survey results with anyone who completes it. You might even be able to get other people or blogs to spread the word about your survey by offering to list other blogs as sponsors.

Offer to help people for free

OK, so this method might take a little time, but it can be worth the effort. Offer to help some people for free by conducting some 30- or 60-minute consulting calls with them. If you already offer these consulting services, you’re probably already thinking about what your clients say as market research. If you don’t offer consulting services, this can be a great way to find out what people are thinking, and what they need help with. You don’t need to give away dozens of these. Just a handful will help you gather lots of data. Consider running a contest so you can select people who offer a diverse set of backgrounds.

Keep an ear open

Once you start thinking about creating a business, you might find yourself coming up with lots of potential business ideas. It’s good to keep a problem-solver mindset. While you’re walking around with all these ideas, don’t forget to listen to the people in your normal life as well. Some of the people around you might be part of your target market, and they might offer perspectives that help you shape your future business.

photo by net_efekt

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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David Turnbull October 20, 2009 at 6:32 pm

I’m definitely an advocate of solving your own problems. It’s how I start all my blog posts and I really notice a difference in interaction compared to past projects where I try to create what I think what other people want.

And in terms of creating surveys, most people will go to SurveyMonkey.com but I’d recommend Wufoo.com – they’re form builder is so damn easy.
:)

Corbett Barr October 21, 2009 at 10:12 pm

I agree about Wufoo. It’s a great service. I used it for the Location Independent survey we ran back in June and was impressed.

Rasheed Hooda October 21, 2009 at 4:48 am

Corbett,

Great suggestions about building a business via market survey and personal problem solving. I love it, and based on previous business experience, I can now see where I failed in business is where I compromised on these two things and took it for granted that because my product is superior people will just flock to it.

Love the tips on how to do it inexpensively and effectively.

@David Thanks for the heads up on Wufoo.com

Rasheed

Carmen October 21, 2009 at 5:56 am

Great article. I would add that for any folks still in the U.S. SCORE (the Service Council of Retired Executives) is a great place to go for information, forms, help, when you’re beginning a business. These guys have been through it before and are there just to help you. In addition, they have a lot of resources on their website. And it’s all FREE!

Corbett Barr October 21, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I hadn’t heard of SCORE before, but I’ll check it out. Thanks for the tip!

bennie October 21, 2009 at 8:27 am

great post corbett. great insight and ideas

Sean October 22, 2009 at 9:35 am

Great post Corbett! I think market research (along with lack of a business plan) are where 95% of entrepreneurs fail. Like you said, they feel like they are in tune with the market and don’t need to actually pursue any further research. Big mistake. Figuring out how to conduct useful research is something that a lot of people (myself included) struggle with. Thanks for the pointers!

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