Practical Market Research Resources for Entrepreneurs

By Noah Parsons

Most every organization will benefit from even the most elementary market research. If it does not provide new information, it will confirm what is known.

When you’re starting your business, you need to have a deep understanding of your customers. In fact, knowing your customers inside and out is probably the most important key to success.

Your customers are the people who desperately need your product or service. You need to know who they are, why they want your solution, what they like and dislike, and even what they had for breakfast. Knowing all of this will help you find more customers and build a better product that your customers will clamor to buy and tell their friends and colleagues about.

This is where market research comes in.

What is market research?

Market research is the process of gaining information about your target market—a fancy way of saying “getting to know your customers.” Ideally, you find specific information about your target market and the key factors that influence their buying decisions.

As you get started, you’ll need to determine what form of market research is going to work best for you. Make that decision based on the value you will receive, versus the time and effort you need to invest to find the information you need.

Market research is often confused with an elaborate process conducted by fancy consultants that takes a tremendous amount of time and money. That’s certainly not true. You can, and should, do most of your own market research and it doesn’t even have to be that hard.

After I explain the types of market research, I’ll give you all the resources you need to do your own market research.

Types of market research

1. Primary market research

Primary market research is research that you conduct yourself, rather than information that you find already published. Primary market research is information that you gather by talking directly with your potential customers.

Here are a few ways to gather primary market research:

  • Hold focus groups: Gather a small group of people together for a discussion with an assigned leader.
  • Send out customer surveys: Distribute these both to existing customers and potential customers. Sending out a survey via sites like Survey Monkey is a great way to collect this type of information from current or potential customers of your business.
  • Assess your competition: Look at their solutions, technologies, and what niche they occupy.
  • One-on-one interviews: Find potential customers and talk with them about their problems and your solutions to those problems. Ideally, conduct these interviews in your customer’s workplace, or wherever they will be when they might consider shopping for your solution.

2. Secondary market research

Market research may also come from secondary sources. This is information others have acquired and already published which you may find relevant.

Access to this secondary market research data may be yours for the asking and cost you only an email, letter, or phone call. Much of it is entirely free and easily available online.

Here are a few ways to gather secondary market research:

  • Trade associations: Trade associations are organizations that serve specific industries. There’s almost certainly one for your industry. Once you find it, contact them and ask them for information about their industry and markets in the industry.
  • Government information: The U.S. government has a treasure trove of information to wade through. The data is all free, but may take a little bit of time to find.
  • Third-party research sites: For reasonable fees, there are market research companies that will sell you pre-written industry reports that provide information on industries and their target markets.

Where to find information

Here are our favorite resources for doing market research:

Industry summaries:

  • SBDCNet Business Snapshots: You’ll find a great collection of industry profiles that describe how industries are growing and changing, who their customers are, and what typical startup costs are. You should also check out their list of market research resources, sorted by industry.
  • Hoovers Industry Research: While not a free resource, the industry summary data provided here can be helpful if you need in-depth industry reports.
  • BizStats: This site will let you search for useful industry-specific financials so you can see what companies like yours spend on marketing, healthcare, and other key areas.

Business location market research tools:

  • ZoomProspector: This tool can help you find the ideal location for your business, or find new locations like where you already are for expansion and growth.
  • MyBestSegments: This tool from Nielsen is a great resource for finding out what demographic and psychographic groups live in a given zip code or where the highest concentration of a given segment lives. While the most detailed data is not free, you can get a lot of great insights from the free version.
  • SizeUp: This is a useful mapping tool to help determine where your target customers are. It’s very useful to help you determine the ideal location for your business.

Survey tools:

  • Survey Monkey: Should you need to poll a group for business purposes, Survey Monkey is free and reliable. Simply build the survey and send it out to your audience.
  • Google Consumer Surveys: You don’t need to have a contact list to send out a survey on this site. With Google Surveys, you can target users from around the web and get instant feedback on your business idea.
  • TypeForm: Whether you need a simple form or a survey, TypeForm does it beautifully. It’s especially good on mobile.

Trade and industry associations:

Many industries are blessed with an active trade association that serves as a vital source of industry-specific information. Such associations regularly publish directories for their members, and the better ones publish statistical information that track industry sales, profits, ratios, economic trends, and other valuable data.

Market trends:

  • Google Trends: Use Google Trends to discover what people are searching on and how search volume on important topics is changing over time.