Do you know how to poke and pry with a purpose?
Of course you do. Small business owners like us have all done it before. Even if you didn’t realize it, you did. We’re talking about market research.
If you’ve ever asked for a review or feedback from a customer, that’s research. Right? You’re learning something about your customer, and your business.
You might’ve done some market research before. But, are you doing market research the right way? Do you know enough about your customers and market to be successful?
Well, that’s what we’re going to help you find out.
Taking the time to understand potential customers closest to you is really important. Businesses like yours are so eager to get going, they skip taking the time to really understand the areas they serve.
Don’t worry. Whether you are just getting started, or have been in business for years, it’s never too late.
Step 1: Building your digital marketing foundation
By studying our community, you can identify opportunities to grow. How you ask? Well, by solving problems for your customers that nobody else is solving.
Market research is the First Step to Building Your Digital Marketing Foundation.
But, your research is never done. Market research is an ongoing part of running your small business. Our local communities are constantly changing.
Learning isn’t just important when we’re in school. If you want to be a profitable small business owner – instead of just a small business owner, you have to grow.
Think about how your community is changing.
If you don’t, someone else will.
And, your small business won’t live on too long.
If you do – it’ll be more challenging then it has to be. So, instead of creating a more challenging life for yourself…
…always be thinking about how you can offer the best solutions to the challenges your customers face.
Customers have new challenges. Your business changes. New competitors enter or exit the market.
That’s why continuing to research and learn is so important.
You have to know all there is to know about the community where you do business.
What is market research?
You probably have an idea of what market research is. And, we’ve already told you a bit about researching your local market.
But, we want to make sure your local marketing foundation is strong.
So, we need to make sure we’re on the same page…then the technical babble will be finished.
Entrepreneur.com defines market research as:
Market research is really just learning about the people around you.
The point of market research is simple.
The whole goal is to help you better understand the communities where you do business. And, figure out if you should even be doing business there.
Why do I care about researching my community?
Well, if you’re like us, you hate to waste money. Every dollar counts when you’re running a local business.
That’s especially true here in Westchester County and the surrounding area.
Your bills are expensive. So, you want to be able to answer some questions before you start building your small business.
You need to know if there is an opportunity for your business. But first, is there demand for your service? If so, who should you target as a customer?
As a local business, market research can help you save money on advertising. Or, even stop you from entering a business destined to fail.
Plus, if you’re the small business with the most information, you have the advantage over your competition.
When Should You Do Market Research?
So, if you’ve gotten this far, you probably know the answer to this already. It’s important to do your market research before you make your digital marketing plan. That’s the best way.
The whole point of marketing is to tell a story about your business that your target customer can relate to. But first, you need to know your customer, their challenges and what they value.
When your target customers see your online marketing, they should feel like you’re reading their mind.
First, you need to figure out who could benefit most from the services you offer.
Then, you can craft a marketing strategy that connects with your best customer. That’s how you use online marketing to speak only to those that want to hear from you.
That saves you money, a lot of it.
Before you can speak to your customers, you have to understand your local market. And, the people who live here.
Then, and only then, can you deliver a memorable message and connect with your best customers.
But, like we said, things are always changing. So, once you dig deep into your market, you should check your community out again at least a few times a year.
Don’t just think of research as a project. When you do research the right way, it’s casual. So, work some research into your day-to-day.
Ask your customers for feedback.
Now that we got that out of the way, how do you start with market research?
It’s not that hard. You don’t have to be a economist or a mathematician to do research.
Technology is amazing. There is endless data on the internet that is easy to use and simple to understand. You just need to know how to put the pieces together.
That’s why we’re here. The word data might scare you. But, data is just information in a structured format that makes it easier to find and understand.
For you, when you’re just getting started, there’s more than you need available for free.
You don’t need to perform in depth statistical analysis at first. When you’re just getting started, it’s about learning about the community as a whole.
Your analysis can become more involved over time, if you want. At first, just look at the big picture.
The important thing is that you get started learning about the people you hope to do business with.
To begin, you need to focus on some key areas. We like to break this down to two parts. But first, figure out your general service area.
What Cities Does Your Small Business Service?
For most local businesses, your audience is in a specific geographic location. If you have a product or service you sell online, your location will likely be broader.
But, as a Hudson Valley home service company, chances are most of your sales will be local.
So, that means you should focus on researching the cities and counties where you do business. If you’re not entirely sure yet, more is better than less. So, define your service area more broadly. Then, narrow it down based on what you learn.
The 2 parts of market research
When researching the cities where you do business in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess County, there’s a lot to learn. It can get overwhelming if you’re not organized. And, you need a plan.
That’s why we like to break-down market research into two parts. Or, two components.
#1 – Learn About the People
First, get your hands on as much data as you can about everyone that lives where you might want to focus your services. The data should tell you about potential customers and the community as a whole.
#2 – Start to Learn About Your Competitors
Next, identify who your competitors are. For now, just list all of the businesses that provide a service similar to yours. Or, a service that is an alternative to the services you offer.
In the next step of Building Your Digital Marketing Foundation, you’ll look closer at your competitors. That’s when we’ll dig into them more during your competitor analysis. We’ll even tell you something you probably didn’t know about your competition. But first, market research.
Market research: part 1 - the people
We already told you why you need to research the customers you hope to serve. Knowing the right questions to ask when researching the people in your community is the difference between success and failure.
Your research is only as good as the information you collect. Right?
If your information is bad, your digital marketing foundation will crumble.
Think about it. What would happen to a house you worked on, if you used bad materials? It’s not going to withstand the test of time.
What if you were a realtor, and the information you had in your listing was inaccurate? Would the house sell?
Running your own small business is no different. If you don’t do it right, your chances of success are slim.
Research local demographics
Each business is different. That’s why you should think about this yourself a bit. But, there are some questions that every small business should be asking to learn more about the people locally.
What does it mean to research local demographics?
Demographics is just a fancy way of saying the statistics about the people in your community, and the specific groups you hope to do business with.
What are the overall demographics like in my area?
What are the demographics like for people likely to need your service?
Determine the problem your product or service solves.
For some local businesses like restaurants, your potential audience is broad.
Everyone gets hungry. But, your audience can be narrowed by the type of food you offer. For other local businesses, like residential contractors, your potential audience is narrower.
If you don’t own a home, you probably won’t be responsible for home renovations.
When doing your market research, define the potential audience broadly. Later, we’ll get more specific and build your target customer profile.
Go through all of the questions you asked about your community as a whole. Then, drill down on what might be different for your customer.
What resources should you use to research demographics in the Hudson Valley?
We like to start doing our local market research, or any market research with DataUSA.io. It’s one of our favorite sources of demographic information about people.
DataUSA.io is an authoritative source of data. That means, the information they share with you comes from reputable sources. The site collects publicly available information from across the United States.
They have all the information you need to start learning about local demographics. Then, later, you can drill down on the demographics unique to your customer.
You can get most of your demographic data here.
Where else can you look for local stats?
In addition to DataUSA.io, search for other data that might be useful. There are lots of resources out there. Just make sure they are reliable. Here are a few more of our favorites places to search.
Make sure you think about the industry specific types of information that will help you understand your potential customers. There will be databases that only businesses in your industry will find relevant. Find those sources. If you need some help, let us know.
You can also check with your local library. Or, the Small Business Administration has a bunch of other resources they point you to.
Right now, as you probably know, we’re in the middle of a new publication of the US Census Data. That’s exciting.
Well….at least to us it is.
The US Census should be exciting for you too as a local business. That’s where a lot of the information on DataUSA.io comes from.
Better information means better research. That leads to a better target customer profile.
…that leads to you shaping the right message to deliver to potential customers. A great brand delivers a marketing message that resonates with your target audience. But, the story of your business has to be authentic. Don’t make it up.
We’ll talk more about your marketing message later when we learn about branding your small business.
Ask Your Potential Customers
Maybe you think you know what your audience wants. But, have you ever taken the time to stop and ask your customers?
Digital marketing is all about creating connections and standing out from the crowd.
What better way to do that than asking your community what they want. If you find customer pain points, or challenges that no other business can solve, that’s huge!
Even if you don’t, you’ll learn a lot.
So, what questions should you be asking your neighbors?
What questions should you ask?
Lots of small business owners like you don’t think about running surveys. But, many do. And, with more and more tools out there, you can get a lot of help.
There are a bunch of surveys and templates you can borrow. Or, use them as inspiration. Don’t just look to surveys other small business owners are using.
See what industry experts like Neil Patel have to say. Neil Patel is a marketing guru that focuses on larger businesses. Neil is actually one of our mentors. And, we’ve never even met him in person. That’s how powerful the internet is at connecting people.
There is so much great information out there to help you market your small business. Surveys run by bigger companies might not fit exactly in your industry. But, absorb as much information as you can.
Then, borrow a little bit from everyone.
Following these tips will help you create winning surveys that help you understand your local customers. You’re probably going to want to ask questions like these.
How should you ask?
How can you speak with your potential customers?
Well, there’s lots of ways to ask for feedback. Or, you can take advantage of customer feedback that is already out there. That means less work for you.
We bet that’s a good thing for you.
So, you can take advantage of some tools to ask your own questions. Or, you can ask some people in person that you might already know. Plus, you can also see what local customers have already told other businesses.
Use online surveys to current customers
Using a survey to do some more market research isn’t that difficult. Especially, if you know the right tools to use, and the right questions to ask.
The really great thing for you is that surveys are usually overlooked by your local competitors. That gives you the advantage.
We recommend using a tool to help you survey your community.
If you already have a contact list of customer email addresses or phone numbers, Survey Monkey is one of the best survey options out there. That means you’ve either been in business for a while.
Or, you knew enough to start collecting email addresses and phone numbers from potential customers very early on.
Survey Monkey has an awesome guide to help you come up with some survey questions. They also go deep into the different types of surveys. Instead of duplicating the work, we encourage you to check it out.
Talking to existing customers, or anyone that has provided their contact information is very important.
Use online surveys to potential customers
Now that we talked about how to use surveys of past customers to help with market research, let’s turn to potential customers. If someone hasn’t worked with your business before, there’s different types of questions to ask.
Stay more general. You probably don’t have a list of people that you haven’t worked with that are willing to take a survey. Right?
Well, maybe you do. But for those who don’t, Google Surveys is a great resource.
Google surveys let’s you create a survey. Then, you pay Google a couple of bucks per response. You can tell Google which questions you’d like to ask.
Google Surveys also lets you set qualifying questions. For example, if you only want responses from homeowners. If the person taking the survey isn’t a homeowner, you won’t be charged, and they won’t take the survey.
The cost varies based on the number of questions, and the types of questions. The last survey we ran was for 100 responses, and cost us about $350.
Now, that’s expensive. But, when you’re just starting out, the opportunity to speak directly to your potential customers can be invaluable. You don’t need a lot of responses. 100 responses might be enough to give you a bit of insight into how people think.
Ask your friends and family to be resources
If you think a survey sounds expensive, there are lots of options. Before you run any paid surveys, or paid ads to drive people to your survey, try this.
Just ask your friends and family for some help.
Post your survey on Facebook and other social media. Ask everyone you know to do you a favor. Text, call, email or scream from the rooftop. Just ask. Most of your friends and family will help. You just have to ask.
If your friends and family have worked with you before, you can ask them the questions we suggested for your current customers. If not, stick to the questions we suggest for potential customers.
It’s important your results are accurate.
So, if your friends or family haven’t worked with your business before, don’t ask them the wrong questions. There’s a great book out there, it’s called The Mom Test. It really teaches you amazing techniques for getting feedback.
All, without the person your speaking with knowing your doing research.
Credit to Eric Siu from Single Grain for the tip.
This is about learning. It’s not about making you feel good about your business. You need honest feedback.
That’s why it’s also a good idea to make surveys to family and friends anonymous. Then, people can speak their mind without worrying about making you feel bad.
Read reviews left for your competitors
This seems so simple, but most people don’t think of it. Lots of people leave online reviews.
Google, Angie’s List, Yelp, Facebook, Bing, Better Business Bureau, Yellow Pages and Homebuilder.com are just some of the places online your neighbors probably left some reviews. Some of these reviews will be for your competitors.
But, it’s a big resource, and it’s free. Take a look at what people are saying about your competition.
After you read all of the reviews you can, you’ll know more about your customer.
Try and think of some more of your own questions. But, these will help get you started. The more, the better. Things will just come to you while you’re reading the reviews.
Congratulations! You made it through the first part of market research, understanding the people. Next, let’s speak about how you should identify your competition.
Market research: part 2 – your competition
Another step that is commonly overlooked by local business owners is a competitive analysis.
When entering a new market, your competition is a step ahead.
They’ve been marketing their business and building relationships in the community for years.
Maybe, even decades.
You need a way to stand out…
Before you do that, you need to come up with a list of the home service businesses in your industry that you are competing with. Then, you’ll know what they do well, and not so well. Most important, you’ll see if there’s any room for your business.
Identifying your competitors online
You’ve done a lot of work already. You should be proud if you made it to the second part of market research.
Since you’ve already worked so hard, let’s keep this simple. For now, just do some poking around. All we want you to do is make a list of any business in the same areas you service.
The easiest way to spot the competition is a simple google search.
Think about competitors in your industry, and run different searches you’d run if you were the homeowner. Or, you can just search the Google My Business categories that most closely relate to your business.
Make a list of your competitors, whether they have good reviews, a professional website and an online presence.
Study the results…you’re going to need them.
In the 2nd Step to Building Your Digital Marketing Foundation in the Hudson Valley, you’ll be analyzing these competitors in more detail.
After you collect all the information you can about the areas you serve, take the time to digest the information you collect. If you need some help, just let us know.
Then, you can move on to a more thorough competitive analysis to wrap up your initial market research.
Are you ready to learn about conducting your competitive analysis?