Where do you get all this information? Generally, it’s best to start with secondary research to give you a big-picture look at your target market. Here are some secondary sources:
• Industry trade associations generally conduct and maintain current market research.
• The U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder has statistics on consumers; the Census Bureau also compiles statistics on U.S. businesses.
• If you’re planning to do business globally, visit Export.gov for country-specific market research.
• Are you targeting businesses as customers? Visit Hoover’s and ThomasNet.
The SBA website links to a wide range of resources for market research on both individuals and businesses.
Once secondary research has given you a general overview of your target market, dig deeper by conducting your own primary research. You’ll need to find a representative sample of your target market, which you can do by mining your own connections, renting email lists or contacting organizations to see if their members are willing to take part. Here are four primary research methods to try:
1. Surveys: You can conduct phone surveys, surveys by mail or online surveys. SurveyMonkey, Zoho Surveys and QuestionPro are free survey apps that let you create, conduct and analyze the results of your own surveys online.
2. Interviews: Interviews can be done by phone or in person. They’re often an effective way to capture target customers who don’t spend a lot of time online, but they are more time-consuming than online surveys.
3. Focus Groups: In a focus group, individuals participate in a group discussion about some aspect of your business in exchange for remuneration. You’ll need someone to lead the focus group discussion and someone to record the results. While focus groups can yield good insights, be wary of extrapolating from a small group to your entire customer base.
4. Test Marketing: Doing a “test run” of your product or service by selling to a limited group of target customers is a good way to work out the kinks in your business model. However, you may need to follow up and ask your test customers questions to determine what influenced the test marketing’s success (or failure).
Take the time to do your market research, because understanding your market is key to your startup’s success.
The above item was originally published at SCORE.org.