Tips for Small Business Market Research Success

If you are looking to become your own boss you'll want to start with a solid foundation to make sure that there is a real market opportunity. Otherwise you could set yourself up for failure. It's important to get all the upfront work done while you're still earning your paycheck.
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If you are looking to become your own boss you'll want to start with a solid foundation to make sure that there is a real market opportunity. Otherwise you could set yourself up for failure. It's important to get all the upfront work done while you're still earning your paycheck. It's a good idea to hash out your business model while your are still at your day job. For a portion of this process, you're going to need to do market research to be sure your business concept is realistic. Your market research is going to help you make that call to launch your business.

Professional market research is very expensive. Corporations may have budgets in the six figures to spend on market research, but that's not an option for you. However, you do have access to alternative tools that will help you research your market and hone your idea. If you use market research from the outset of your journey and keep using it as you refine your idea and develop your business plan, you will have a better sense of who will buy your product and what features they're looking for.

There are many ways to approach doing your own market research and a variety of online services that can help you gather the data for relatively small fees. However, it is important to do some preliminary work before you start spending money or grappling with cumbersome datasets. Here are six tips to ensure that the route you take will bring you success.

1. Identify your target market.

You have a great idea for a business and you're raring to go, but before you get much further, you must know who your potential customers are. Create an exhaustive profile of your targeted customer. You may be tempted to assume that everyone will want your product, but at this stage is it highly beneficial to tightly focus on a specific niche. This will help you later as you flesh out the potential of your business concept.

2. Ask good questions.

Just as in life, the answers we get are influenced by the questions we ask. If you begin your research with open-ended questions, you will quickly be overwhelmed by the tsunami of data that you will need to sort. Start with simple questions that can be answered with a yes or no, then expand from there. Such as would you buy this product? Would you pay XX amount for this product? Do you think the packaging is appealing? Etc.

3. Tap your network.

Once you've done some of preliminary research and have established your direction, test your ideas on trustworthy people in your network. It might be tempting to send out a blast on Facebook, but this is really the time to reach out personally to people you know and ask them for a few minutes of their time so that you can run some ideas by them. This firsthand face-to-face dialogue will ideally help you refine your concept further and gain some personal support.

4. Go online.

Now that you've begun to go deeper with your research, you can go online to broaden your exploration. You can use your industry keywords in hashtags on Twitter or in forums to have conversations with actual people. There are also many services you can use to conduct surveys or help you to sift through piles of information for a small fee.

5. Determine how you will use the information.

Information is useless if it is only gathered and never considered. Now you must determine how you will use this information. If you are dedicated to your idea, but have determined your market is oversaturated, how can you reposition your product or service? The information is neutral. It is how you respond to it or deploy that gives it value. Remember, it doesn't matter what you think; it only matters what your (potential) customers think.

6. Stick with it.

Don't get stuck thinking that market research ends once you get your business up and running; that's just not true. Use it to help figure out if your idea will succeed in the marketplace in the beginning and then incorporate it regularly into your day-to-day operations. This is going to be one of the key factors to long-term success.

Melinda F. Emerson, SmallBizLady is America's #1 small business expert. She is an author, speaker and small business coach whose areas of expertise include small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She writes a weekly column for the New York Times, publishes a resource blog, which is syndicated through The Huffington Post. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Twitter called #SmallBizChat for small business owners. As a brand, she reaches 1.5 million entrepreneurs a week on the internet. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. Forbes Magazine named Melinda Emerson one of the #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. Melinda has been featured on MSNBC, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, and in Fortune, The Washington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Black Enterprise. She is the bestselling author of "Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works," and the ebook How to Become a Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.

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