Is your big new idea a winner or a loser, and how do you know? Oh sure, you have good instincts, and maybe your spouse has told you that you better run with this one, but the smart entrepreneur knows that gut instincts and a small sample are not the kind of research you can, literally or figuratively, take to the bank. Your idea may be a winner, but it might not. The important thing is that you do market research: carefully analyze your idea and the market, and make sure you are not the only one who thinks that it will work. A hunch simply will not do. You need hard facts.
Now, back in the day, it used to cost a fortune to research a business idea. Typically, a business would hire a firm to do market research. The research company might do a telephone poll, conduct some live panels, or even do a bigger survey. But whatever the deal, it was not inexpensive.
Fortunately, as with everything else it has touched, the Internet has also changed business research and market surveys, and for the better. Of course Google makes looking anything up no more difficult than a few well-thought-out key phrases and a couple of clicks. But come on, that is the low hanging fruit when it comes to business and market research done these days that won’t break the bank. Here are six ways to do market research on the cheap:
There are a few ways to used LinkedIn for your research:
- Groups: Some of the LinkedIn groups can be very active, and if you participate in them regularly, you are opening your business up to a lot of new potential advisors. By posting your query to your group, you are likely to get a swarm of sharp people who are willing to give you their take and how valuable is that?
- Create a poll: The LinkedIn polls application is a great tool for asking questions and getting answers.
Twitter and Facebook
The same idea is true for Twitter and Facebook. You can post a post or ask a question to your followers or fans and get their instant feedback. If you make it a contest (e.g., someone wins a $25 gift card) you will definitely get a lot of answers.
Beyond social media, here are some other good ideas:
Your industry’s trade association probably has a lot of market research that it has conducted in support of its membership. By contacting your trade association and explaining what you are doing and looking for, you likely can access a lot of that already-completed research, and for free (if you are a member.) You should also check out their publications and see what other sort of free resources they have available.
Trade shows are great in this regard for two reasons:
- You are able, in one place, top gather a lot of general information from the different booths. That may prove useful
- More importantly, under one roof are a lot of the major players in your industry. By finding the right ones and spending some time with them, you will be obtaining a plethora of intellectual capital
Example: When the two out of work journalists had an idea for a new board game, they took two expired press passes to the Toronto Toy Show and pretended to interview toy manufacturers. They later said they learned more about the toy industry in those four hours than anything else they did, and it led directly to the game they invented – Trivial Pursuit.
Go to school
Business school that is. Business school students need projects and internships. By giving them a good research project you can help them help you.
Find a business in a nearby town that does what you want to do and ask the owner out for lunch. Because you don’t live nearby you likely won’t be seen as a competitor, and because people love to talk about themselves, you should get some very valuable, real-word information.
So the idea is to learn what you need to learn so that you too can live the words of Laura Ashley: “We don’t want to push our ideas on to customers, we simply want to make what they want.”
By Steve Strauss
Senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible, Steve is your host here at TheSelfEmployed.com.