WRITTEN BY: ROB BELCHIOR
Here at the St. Catharines Enterprise Centre we are always pleased to help those small business owners and new start-ups who reach out to us. These entrepreneurs often feel stretched thin, balancing time and budget constraints, and so market research feels like a challenge.
However, the entrepreneurs that take the time to conduct research are better able to make sound business decisions and find the path to success faster. When conducting market research, there are a few key areas to prioritize:
Understanding Your Customer
Do you know how your customer makes their buying decision for your product or service? Do you know what their typical budget is? Where do they look and what factors matter to them? What have they bought in the past and would they consider buying from you next time?
To find this out, we ask our clients to survey or interview their potential customers. Ideally, this is done prior to opening the business and is done with people who don’t know you so that no bias comes into the discussion.
Know Your Competitors
With all the choices that today’s consumers are faced with, you will need to compete for your customers. The more you know about your direct and indirect competitors, the more likely you are to gain your customers business and loyalty.
Your direct competitors are the businesses that offer the same product or service as yours. An example of this is two rival theatres competing for customers. An indirect competitor, on the other hand, is a business that offers something different that a customer might choose to buy instead. An example of an indirect competitor would be a local sports team competing against a theatre, as both are in the entertainment industry.
Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Where might they spend their budget for your products and services? Next, research those competitors extensively. Read about them, observe them, follow their social media, visit their locations, talk to people about them. This will help you identify the benefits that you can stress to your customers. This allows you to compete based on benefits, rather than on price.
Develop a plan to stay up to date on your industry. You should always be aware of the trends, the threats and opportunities, and the regulations that impact your industry.
Most industries have associations, publications and conferences where you can learn from others in similar businesses and find new suppliers. Generally, there is a cost to join an association and attend conferences. Think of it as investment in yourself and in the success of your business.
Successful businesses stay on top of industry trends and are always learning about their customers and competitors. When you know your customers and competitors you can offer true value and attract the best customers. And when you are aware of what is happening in your industry you can adjust for challenges or take the lead on new opportunities that others might miss.
Would you like some help in developing a market research strategy? Contact the St Catharines Enterprise Centre for more information at 905-688-5601 ext. 1767 or www.stcatharines.ca/smallbusiness
Rob Belchior is a Small Business Consultant at the St Catharines Enterprise Centre (SCEC). The SCEC is one of 47 Small Business Enterprise Centres across Ontario. Enterprise Centres serve small businesses by sharing information, resources and offering consulting and seminars.
This article originally appeared in Business Link Niagara.