We’ve previously debunked all of the reasons you are telling yourself that you don’t have the time or money to embark on market research. Consider a few budget-friendly market research methods that you CAN and SHOULD use to define and validate your target market.
These are primary research tactics to validate that you are pursuing the appropriate market, and with a product or service that effectively addresses the pain point that you are trying to solve. These suggestions are not methodologies to define the size of your total or addressable market.
Even if it feels like everyone is telling you to go from idea to launch in 24 hours, consider completing these strategies prior to your public launch (even public beta). It’s OK to take some time as long as you are making the best of it. Doing research will help you in the long run. So instead of a startup weekend, you might have a startup month or two. It’s ok. The entrepreneurial ecosystem Gods won’t judge you. Well, not too much anyway.
1) Electronic surveys – With numerous free-to-inexpensive online survey tools available, you could foreseeably generate some cheap initial market research in a matter of minutes. Check out SurveyMonkey, Pollfish, and even Twitter Surveys are excellent tools for gathering qualitative feedback in volume on your product, as well as valuable quantitative data on actual propensity to use it and whether they will pay. Our opinion is that the best surveys are no more than 10 questions long and take less than 5 minutes to fill out. As you attempt to identify your best customer market, you could send the same survey out to three targeted industry groups and require participants to self-identify. The comparison data between the groups and which ones need your offerings the most and/or are willing to pay the highest price for your product or service will be extremely interesting to you and potential investors.
2) Focus groups – Because of the amount of time and resources required to successfully host a focus group, you are not going to obtain large quantities of data here. However, if facilitated correctly, and with the right constituents, the organic, verbal feedback you receive could be invaluable. Think about a focus group this way: even small information sessions can serve as informal focus groups and provide valuable insights. Discussions at an event, exit surveys, and follow-up questions can all give you the same information that a formal focus group might provide.
3) Industry conferences / personal interviews – It’s time to speak to as many industry professionals as you can to determine if there is true demand for your product outside of your personal connections in the space. So how do you find these professionals, aside from purchasing an expensive list? Pack your bags and head to some trade shows. Better yet, head to a few trade shows in a few different industries. No travel budget you say? You may find that there are some local professional chapters with monthly meetings that you could attend.
This is a great primary market research technique – it is essentially the equivalent of a survey + focus group in one. Load a tablet with a demo of your product, prepare a 30-second elevator speech, and memorize four questions you want to ask each person you meet. Bring college interns with you and walk up and down the aisles pitching to attendees and asking questions. Then document their answers, one by one. If you are lucky, you could speak to more than 100 professionals in one day. That’s real market research to bring back to your product team, your sales team, your future customers and your investors.
Hopefully these few ideas help you to brainstorm even more ways to gather market research on a bootstrap budget. A couple of additional tips to remember as you embark on this worthwhile endeavor
The quality of your results will only be as good as the quality of the tool used to gather it. If you ask the wrong questions, you could steer your company in the wrong direction based on the results.
Be selective in who you invite to participate in your market research. Your initial customers may be friends, family, and close connections. They are only piloting your product because they love you. Not because their company actually needs your product. If you want valid market find professionals outside of your network to participate.
Next steps? Put a plan together to embark on a few strategies to gather market research over the next 3-4 weeks. Resist the urge to steer your company toward the next shiny ball. Ask the hard questions. And then listen to the answers. You may find that your product is beyond perfection and your initial hunch at a target market was spot on. Or you might not. No matter what you find, you will feel more confident taking next steps to grow your business.