Marketing research is an essential component of the decision making process in business today. Large corporations and the government are spending millions of shillings in trying to minimize costs and maximize profits using sophisticated marketing research techniques. A spot check into websites of the leading research houses in the country will give you a picture of who their clients are. More often than not, they are the well known large organizations. Seldom does the list include small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Yet for the SMEs to compete effectively in the market place they need the same information platform just as the lager organization.

Commissioned research does not come cheap and the agencies may charge millions of shillings in fee for even a ‘small’ project. This raises the question; what is there for you if you are a small business owner, you are managing a small company or an aspiring entrepreneur who may not afford the huge fee that will contracting a research agency?

For you to have an edge in your line of business, you need to develop up-to-date knowledge on your customer, competitors activities in the market and a very sharp market intelligence gathering mechanism so as to be informed on new developments in the market. These are some of the reasons why research in business has become a necessity rather than option for any forward looking business. We can define marketing research as a systematic process of gathering information to add certainty to our decision making process.

Every day we make decisions on which new products to introduce in the market, how to improve on our existing products, which new markets to venture into, how to optimally price our products or even how to hire, retain or motivate the best talent in the market. All the above comes with certain levels of uncertainty and this is the gap a good research process seeks to fill. SMEs are disadvantaged in that they lack deep pockets to allow them allocate meaningful resources to research. Therefore, they must device efficient and cost effective means through which to get information they may need to remain competitive. 

Generally speaking, there are two types of research: qualitative and quantitative. Each  comes with its own method of data collection and analysis and seeks to serve different purposes. For now let us examine some ways you may be able to do business research on your own without incurring huge costs. Remember that whether aware of it or not, you are conducting market research all the time; when talking to customers, when you go out to seek price comparisons, when reading some business articles about new product, the list is endless. May be all you need to do is to formalize the process and in return you get some detailed and analysable wealth of information.

Here are some tips on how you can successfully carry out market research for your business and save yourself loads of cash.

Use your friends and family

In what research agency would call a focus group discussion (where respondents are invited to a certain location possibly in a hired hall and taken through a guided discussion by moderator), consider inviting a couple of friends or relatives to your resident and engage them in a discussion about your products or service.  Remember you will act as the moderator and thus you have to prepare a guide on what you need to cover before you start the discussion. One or two weekends of this may give you a lot of information – the cost being only a few drinks or snacks you may buy for your friends. You also need to take some time to read something about group moderation techniques.

Ask your customers

Get your customer contacts and randomly call (say 20-30 of them a month as care calls) and you will be surprised at the load of feedback and customer loyalty this will earn you. To get the most out of these phone calls, it is advisable you develop some sort of questionnaire to guide you during your discussion. Be careful on how you introduce yourself and the purpose of your call to encourage the customer to give you their time.

Secondary sources

There are very few challenges we face in our lives and business that are completely new to the world. Chances are some information you may need about your challenge is in existence somewhere only that you are not aware and that is why you need to consult existing sources like magazines relating to your line of business. Take time to visit your local library and even become a member to be able to borrow books. Most importantly, acquaint yourself with the internet as it happens to be one of the richest and most comprehensive sources of information today. All you need is to know how to use the search engine and to browse the websites. Besides this, consider subscribing to websites that can be useful to your type of business.

Consider buying magazines and books that relate to your line of business. Good magazines on management and business will go for kshs 200-500.

Use students in your local university/college.

Take advantage of them many university and tertiary colleges that have opened shop in many parts of the country. They have students partaking research projects as part of their curriculum requirements.  Consider encouraging students to use your business as the case study in their research projects. This is truly symbiotic engagement and both of end up benefiting. The students will have a project to undertake, while you will have the required information. This can be easily accomplished if you develop a relationship with the university or a business college near you.

There are many more cost effective and innovative ways through which you can get valuable information at a fraction of its worth but the greatest tragedy would be when you do not seek it at all. As the popular adage goes, if you think knowledge is expensive try ignorance.



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