How to use market research to improve your business

Who are my customers? What do they want? Why have they bought my product? Gathering vital evidence by conducting thorough and well-considered research can benefit businesses of all sizes and, if used correctly can be a essential resource for startups and businessess looking to maximise their PR and media exposure.

Evidence is a critical component in every owner’s or manager’s toolkit. Yet, too often, gut feeling is relied on instead of informed decisions shaped by good research.

This is particularly the case with smaller businesses and those just starting out; it can be difficult to gain access to funds for research, and stretched budgets are a real challenge. However, conducting some well-targeted, thorough research in the early stages of running a business can actually save you money in the long term.

Not understanding your customers will cost you much more. It is also one of the most important times to have good, solid evidence – essentially, you are entering uncharted waters and don’t have the benefit of past experience to base decisions on.

Research can provide invaluable insight into your new territories and markets, highlighting how you should be adapting your strategy and approach to succeed. It can be used to show you how best to secure finance, how to work out your next steps and stand apart from your competitors. The knowledge that you have the evidence to base decisions on and inform your strategy can be of real help to a fledgling business or entrepreneur.

Using research doesn’t always mean commissioning a big project with an even bigger fee. You may have more information at your fingertips than you realise, and you need help analysing it. The key is using competent and qualified research professionals, as they will know how to keep costs down for startups while still delivering research that meets your objectives. It is also worth taking the time to do some of your own research.

There is a wealth of data available if you take the time to look. The UK census contains a range of useful demographic information which can prove a useful aid. As your business grows, you will generate customer data; it is worth getting help on how to capture and maintain this to give you a really good basis for the future.

When commissioning research from an expert, it’s important to have a specific and well-considered brief to get the most for your money.

Richard Alvin, managing director of Trends Research, the SME research specialist division within the Capital Business Media group said: “It is absolutely essential that before you commission any research you think about what exactly you need to find out. Then aim to evaluate which suppliers have relevant experience, offer value for money and will demonstrate a return on investment. Always consider how you wish to use the research and what outcome you want – the results of your research could well surprise you, and will certainly benefit you as you set up your business. Plus remember that the data sample needs to have weight, you should look to have a sample size of no-less than 1,000 respondents if you are looking to gain PR coverage from your research”.

Here are five top tips on writing a good brief for a researcher, or research supplier:

Plan, plan, plan

Start with the end in mind – what do you want out of the research? What do you intend to do with the results? Be prepared, as the results could surprise you.

Be clear on time and money

Ensure you are clear on delivery time-scales and leave the agency enough time to respond. The clearer you are on available budget, the better their brief will be.

Help them get to know your business

Bring the researcher up to speed on your business ideas, strategy and objectives. They will then be better able to advise on what research you need when you tell them what you hope they will find out.

Establish the relationship

The better the working relationship, the more you will get out of the research. Be clear on delivery expectations and time-scales, and how you would like the client-researcher conversation to work. Do you want formal presentations, or a series of meetings?

Use a researcher you can trust

You need to be able to rely on the results, so use an accredited researcher or agency. The Research Buyer’s Guide, published by MRS, is the best place to star.