Q: What's the best way to determine the market for my business and whether it's in demand?
A: Whether you're just starting a business or have run one for years, ongoing research is vital both to determine the market for a new product or service and to stay abreast of changes that affect your market and target audience. Research will help you identify who your best prospects will be, what they need and expect from you, the way they get their information about your type of product or service, how and when they buy it, and what they're willing to pay.
There are two types of research-primary and secondary. Secondary data-information you get from an outside source-is the easiest and least expensive to obtain. You can purchase studies from research firms and locate published information in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. Make a habit of reviewing the publications your targeted prospects read for information on what you offer. Don't forget to scan the ads as well as the editorial content for new competitive products and services. Search the Internet regularly for published studies and articles that relate to the buying habits, preferences and changing demographics of your target audience. You'll find a database of secondary research at http://www.dialog.com. And join Internet discussion groups frequented by your types of prospects to stay up-to-date on trends and issues.
Primary research refers to studies you undertake directly, including focus groups, telephone surveys, polls of consumers at malls, surveys of current customers, Internet surveys and geographic market analyses to evaluate potential retail locations. The costs can range from several hundred dollars to send a postcard survey to current customers or to pay for the price of hors d'oeuvres and soft drinks for an informal roundtable focus group, to tens of thousands of dollars for a national telephone survey. To find a qualified research firm by location or specialty, visit http://www.quirks.com. -Kim T. Gordon