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Before you jump head first to start your own business, it might be prudent to do some primary research on your potential customer first. You can either do it yourself or approach your local chamber of commerce for recommendations on research firms that can do the task for you. They typically charge thousands of dollars and is money well-spent. However, if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, you can use these 4 ways to get your research done yourself.

1. Focus group

Focus group consists of a small group of potential customers, typically less than 20 people. They will be asked their opinions in a group settings. Of course, you should choose participants from your target market or audience. You should expect to pay them from $50 to $100 for their participation. Typical questions includes:

  • Would you buy this product?
  • How much would you pay for said product?
  • Would you recommend this product to your friends?
  • How would you improve this product and its marketing/packaging?
  • Where would you find a product like this?

Before you formulate the questions you should have a set of objectives to work backwards from. Logically objectives like determining prices and packaging from your target audience should influence the kind of questions to ask. You will need a good moderator or facilitator that can help you understand the group dynamic and draw out comments from the quieter participants or redirect the discussion if it goes off-tangent.

2. Social media monitoring and survey

Social media monitoring or listening tools allow you to tune in to conversations about your product or your competition. As social media conversations are unsolicited, this presents the most unbiased view from potential customers. If you are entering a market where there are already existing products, social media listening tool will give you valuable insights on how you should address your competitors’ shortcomings in their product engineering and marketing. Social media also gives you a platform to do survey as well. If you have existing Facebook fans, you can quickly poll them and get their opinion on up coming products and activities. Often you will find response to be quick and proactive.

3. Telephone interview

In this age of web pages and social networks, phone interviews are still very effective for the busy people who often shy away from modern online medium. It is inexpensive and provide you better interaction with your potential customers. Keep your questions simple and to the point as most people do not like spending too much time in a call. Research companies will often provide affordable calling services if you do not have enough bandwidth to do it yourself.

4. Email interview

The trick to doing effective email interview is giving clear and concise instructions on how to respond. Also, it is good to acknowledge and thank your participants in advance. Typically the issue is more about obtaining an updated email list to send your questions out with or phone numbers to call. You can either buy a good database from an email-marketing agency or contact your trade associations.

A more primitive approach would be to cold-call from a phone directory like yellow pages. At the end, the most important thing is to use the feedback and comments to influence the engineering and marketing of your products. Customer research when done right can have tremendous impact on the effectiveness of your marketing and success of your business.