Is your big, new idea a winner or a loser and how do you know? As a small business owner, you probably have good business instincts, 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, or it might not. The important thing is that you 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.
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 larger survey. But whatever the research approach was, it was not cheap.
As with everything else it has touched, the Internet has also changed business research and market surveys, but for the better. Google makes looking up anything no more difficult than a few well-thought-out key phrases and a couple of mouse clicks. But, that is the low hanging fruit when it comes to business research.
Beyond a preliminary Google search, there are many different ways to get business and market research done these days that won’t break the bank. Here are your best bets:
LinkedIn: There are a few ways to used LinkedIn for your research:
- Groups: Some 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 the group, you are likely to get a swarm of sharp people who are willing to give you their take.
- 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 answers.
Beyond social media, here are some other good ideas:
Trade Associations: 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: Trade shows are great in this regard for two reasons:
- You are able, in one place, to gather a lot of general information from the different (potentially useful) booths.
- More importantly, in one setting there 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.
One excellent example of using trade shows as a research tool is when two out-of-work journalists had an idea for a new board game. These journalists 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 students a good research project, you can help them help you.
Ask: 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, relevant insight.
So the idea is to learn what you need to learn so that you too can live the words of designer Laura Ashley, “We don't want to push our ideas on to customers – we simply want to make what they want.”
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.