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Do You Know What Your Audience Wants? Define your target market and stay up to date with its needs.

By Lesley Spencer Pyle

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Defining your target market and converting it into a customer base can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Part of the process involves identifying the goods and services you can offer that will attract customers and bring a return on your investment. As your business grows, it's important to stay in tune with your customers by identifying their changing needs early on, before your competitors have a chance to react.

Asking your audience whether you're meeting their needs is an important step in determining whether you're hitting the target. "Obtaining feedback from my customers is critical to the success of my business," says recipe planner Karen Patterson of Lily On the Fly . "My current customers provide the best insight as to the usefulness of my product. They also offer suggested enhancements, which has led to one of our very popular new products, 'create your own recipe card.' Feedback has also contributed to our inclusion of the average meal size and calorie counts."

Getting suggestions is important. Be careful, however, not to have a kneejerk reaction to all requests made by current or potential customers. Always evaluate feasibility with your current resources and return on investment.

Reacting to every request might cause you to spread yourself too thin and be pulled in multiple directions without a solid profit. It's hard to admit sometimes, but we can't be everything to everyone. Changes need to be in line with your current business model and address your current target market.

There are a number of ways to obtain feedback from your audience. Patterson encourages customers to generate feedback on her website about recipes included in the current kit. In addition, she says, "I use my newsletter to invite recipients to submit their own personal recipes."

Patterson has found great success through local women's focus groups--where the participants can touch and feel the contents of the kit and provide feedback on the presentation of the product. Knowing her audience and keeping up with its needs led to a 2008 Best Product award from iParenting, a parenting community site.

Your competitors can also lend insight about possible trends in the marketplace. What products or services are they dropping or adding, and how are they marketing their new lines? Staying in tune with your competitors will help you remain competitive.

Once you've made changes to your business, the next step is to get the word out. Announce it to your audience by updating your website. Personally contact them, whether in person, via the phone or by sending out a mailing acknowledging that you've listened to their feedback and are excited to introduce a new offering.

To stay in touch, it's important to keep yourself in front of your audience whenever possible and in a variety of ways by creating a monthly newsletter or by attending conferences they attend. Providing avenues for them to provide feedback will contribute to a strong company that stays on top of its current and potential customers' needs.

Lesley Spencer Pyle is the founder and president of HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com and HireMyMom.com , and she is the author of The Work-at-Home Workbook: Your Step-by-Step Guide on Selecting and Starting the Perfect Home Business for You. Pyle has been working from home for more than 13 years.

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