Q:I'm on a budget. Can I afford to do market research?
A: You can't afford not to. Whether you're starting a business or releasing a new product, you have to know if there's a need for your product or service. If you're running a business and plan on releasing a product or service that customers have clamored for, then obviously, you've done some market research. In the case that you already know there's a need for what your business is going to do, you might want to collect thoughts from your existing customers about how much they'd pay for your new product or service, and what they really want out of it.
If you are starting a business but aren't certain there's a need for what you're offering, try contacting people or companies you think may be potential customers. If you come across as earnest, competent and capable, most people are going to want to help you by spending a few minutes talking to you, and you may find that some of these people will, indeed, someday become clients. You should also consider talking to the people at the top of your industry, whether at the chamber of commerce or at industry associations. You could attend a trade show and just talk to anyone you can find about the need for a business like yours, provided you're sure you're not going to give away any of your own trade secrets.
Keep in mind that the chamber of commerce sometimes has its own market research it can share with you. For instance, if you plan on opening a restaurant and are considering renting or buying a property on a street corner, you may find that your chamber of commerce can tell you how much traffic goes by the property on a given day.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.