Large corporations with big budgets routinely conduct market research to see if it’s worthwhile to launch a new product or service. The good news is that gauging customer sentiment doesn’t need to be expensive. There are plenty of informal ways to figure out whether there’s potential demand for your idea and, if so, who your customer might be or what your market size might be:
Turn an industry event into a research venue. Attend a trade show or conference in your chosen field, which should give you an opportunity to talk with your target audience. Find out who will be attending and schedule face-to-face time with these people, if only for a few minutes.
Try social media to crowdsource your research. Pose a few targeted questions to your potential fan base on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. It may not be the most robust research, and your audience may be biased, but it’s a good way to get simple questions answered.
Use do-it-yourself tools, such as SurveyMonkey, to get quick and simple feedback. Or gather a few people for a real-life focus group. Start small: You don’t need to talk to thousands of people if twenty or thirty will give you a good idea what direction to head.
Consider a crowdfunding campaign. Yes, this is a fairly work-intensive way to raise early-stage funds (more on finding money for your business in Chapter 3). But it’s also a technique to gauge whether strangers and your network are interested in your product or service. The most popular sites are Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and the most successful campaigns include pitch videos.
Find what’s already out there. You may be surprised what you can learn by searching the Internet for existing studies. For example, a wealth of data exists on customers, such as how they like to be engaged, what social networks they use, and more. While the research you find may not be specific to your industry, you’re wasting money if you’re asking questions that have already been answered.
Lastly, don’t forget to log all your customer input. Any kind of feedback you’re getting—whether in person, through your emails, or via social networks—should be captured, so you can better study customer problems, habits, and lifestyles.