March 3, 2016

Market Research Tips for Small Businesses on a Budget


In order to provide your customers with the products and services that they really want, you first have to know what that is exactly. That’s what market research is all about. There’s no use in spending big on marketing if you aren’t sure what it is that you want to achieve.

Understanding your customers’ needs is crucial when it comes to the success of your small business. And while you might not have the budget to hire agencies to do the legwork for you, there are plenty of cheap ways to perform quality market research on your own.

Here’s what you can do to gain insight into the customer thought process without having to spend a lot of money.

Find Free Market Studies

One thing you should know by now when it comes to obtaining valuable information pertinent to running your business successfully is that the Internet is your friend. There are an abundance of free market studies that can not only give you industry-specific data, but also statistics related to various regions or demographics that could come in handy.

It’s all about learning something about your current and potential customers that you didn’t know earlier. And while most of the market research databases are not free, there are ways to find free studies and reports.

For example, you can head over to a portal like and search their database. If you find something that looks interesting, search the exact name of the study in Google and see if a free version comes up. There’s a good chance that it will.


Perform Surveys

Interaction is incredibly important when it comes to market research, and interaction with your customers should be paramount. That’s why performing surveys is a great idea. The way to go about it really depends on the type of business you are running.

If you are a restaurant or retailer, you need a more personal approach. If you are software company, then online surveys would obviously be the best way to go. Whatever the instance, it’s always a good idea to offer incentives as well.

The best way to get people to participate is to offer them free stuff or discounts. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, just enough for your customers to be willing to take the time to help you out.

There are best practices that you should follow when performing customer surveys. First and foremost, you should keep your questions focused and short. It’s also a good idea to mix up the types of questions you are asking. To cover a larger range of issues, it’s a good idea to have some multiple choice and some open-ended questions as well.

For example, if you are running a restaurant, you can ask multiple choice questions regarding food and beverage pricing and the quality of service your staff provides. At the end, you can throw in open-ended questions regarding items they would like to see on the menu, for example.

If you want to venture outside of your customer base for more market research via surveys, you can use a platform like Audience by Survey Monkey. These types of services will charge a few dollars per response, but it shouldn’t be a problem to make some room in your budget for something like this if you wish to do try out this route as well, considering they already provide you with a built-in audience tailored for your industry.

Use Social Media

Business owners seem to regularly try to discredit social media as a viable research tool. But how can it not be a good tool for performing market research when your customers and target audience are literally right in front of you, basically asking to be engaged?

The biggest issue is actually building up your social media following to at point at which it makes sense to use your followers to ask questions and get answers. But if you have a decent amount of engaged followers on your Facebook and Twitter accounts, then you should be taking advantage of this opportunity.

One way to perform market research is by posting content. It can be either content related to your industry that you’ve found on the Web or your own content. See what types of issues your followers respond to the most and what issues and discussions best elicit engagement.

Social media is also a great place to get simple questions answered quickly and honestly by the people whose opinions matter most to you.

Do they find the new feature you’ve added to your software useful? What’s their favorite breakfast dish that your restaurant offers? What brands would they like to see more of in your retail store?

Asking these types of questions on social media not only helps you get important feedback, it also shows your customers and general audience that you care about their experiences.


Join Industry Associations

If you’ve been successfully running a small business for some time now, then you’ve probably being thinking about whether or not you should join an industry association. These associations are made up of companies that operate within the same industry  who unite in an effort to promote and represent the best interests of the collective.

Joining one of these organizations is a good idea for many reasons. It allows you to be in contact with competitors and peers, who you will be able to learn from constantly. These associations also strive to not only drive industry growth, but also promote the value of the industry to both the public and even potential investors.

But how can they help you with market research? Well, outside the fact that you are in constant contact with people from your industry, which can’t hurt, these associations often sponsor a lot of research and industry analysis. As a member, naturally, you would have access to these findings.


Each of these options should provide you with a solid start when it comes to surveying your customer base and target demographics. As the owner of a budding small business, there are certainly better ways to spend your money than hiring marketing agencies to provide you with data that you are actually able to get yourself with a little hard work.

In the end, the main objective is to determine what your customers want and to then work on making your business appear more attractive to them than your competitors appear. Grassroots market research tactics like the ones listed above put you in a position to better understand and engage your customers while your business is still in its early stages of development.