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How to do market research without a budget

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Graphic showing people walking in a street with a tablet superimposed showing a decline in sales

How do you get into the mind of your customers when the budget's tight, or you're still waiting for customers to come knocking? Market research reports can be costly, and if you only have a few customers, a survey might not be practical. Here are four ways I keep on top of what's happening in my areas of interest without breaking the bank

Read your customers' trade press.

You know how you're reading the trade press for your industry? Do the same for your customers. Find their must-read publications (digital or print) and look for the trends, issues, and topics they're talking about. Letters pages and columnists I've found particularly useful, although there are nuggets of gold buried in features written by customers.

Lurk on Reddit.

Reddit's a place where people gather to ask for help and share advice. The former's helpful to see the kind of problems potential customers are facing, and the latter for ideas on how to position your solution. Be wary of diving in to "sell" your products though - Redditors don't like that.

(This works with other social networks, as long as you're willing to dig through a lot of dross and arguing).

Stalk product reviews

Reviews written by customers are worth their weight in gold. You'll find insight into what they like and dislike about competing products, things they'd wished were better, and whether they think the price is right (or not). Look for both the negative and positive. Sometimes picking something a competitor does well and doing it better is a vote winner.

Remember to do the same for your potential customers. What issues are they facing with their products and services that you could help solve.

Read the market research reports anyway

Didn't I say these are expensive? They are, but the press releases often contain valuable nuggets you can use for planning, such as market sizes, growth, and headline issues that might lie ahead. Again, don't just focus on your industry; look at what your customers might be reading too.

These aren't things you do just once for the business plan and that's it. Keep doing it and build your knowledge. You'll find it easier to put yourself in the customer's shoes, and when it is time to commission research, you should have a rough idea of what you're looking for and the assumptions you'll want to test.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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