• Judith Newton

DIY Market Research for Small Businesses

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

In this blog post, you're going to learn about how you can DIY your own market research. Sure it can be a little overwhelming at times like a jigsaw puzzle - lots of little pieces you have to put together to get the big picture - but trust me it's well worth the time you put into it. Market research can help you identify things like industry trends; major players in your market; your competition - who they are, what they do, how well they do it; how your products and/or services are perceived by your customers; and the changes you may need to make to meet customer expectations.

Market research gives you the information you need to identify and solve your business’ marketing problems. So if market research is so great why don't more businesses use it? Well, it can be time-consuming, it can also be expensive to outsource, and quite often businesses think they already know the answers. But do they? Or do they just think they do? My guess is the latter because the only way you can really know what your customers want is to ask them!

MARKET RESEARCH STEPS 1. Define your problem. What are you trying to solve? For example, are you trying to attract new customers; increase sales; identify companies that have similar products/service offerings to you? 2. Identify the best approach to the problem. What specifically do you want to look at? For example, customer purchasing behaviours; customer future buying intentions; other products that are trending that meet your customers’ needs. 3. Research design. What is the best way you can get answers to your research problem? · Secondary research? Primary research? Combination of the two? 4. Conduct your research. 5. Analyse your results. 6. Make recommendations.


Secondary research is when you seek out and review already published information from sources like the Internet, industry reports, media publications, for example. Secondary research can provide things like:

  • Market Analysis: A snapshot of your market size and its growth potential.

  • Industry Perspectives: Threats facing your industry.

  • Customer Profiles: Who is your customer? Demographic and psychographic profiles.

  • Competitors: How many are in your area? What makes them successful? What types of marketing are they using?

  • Product/Service Pricing: This can help you determine where your own prices should fit within the marketplace.

So how do you conduct secondary research? Try out these ideas.


  • Google

  • Google Scholar (https://scholar.google.com)

  • Online Library catalogues (Local/State)

  • Government websites – census; government statistics

  • Company reports and websites

  • Competitor websites and social media pages

  • Trade publications and organisations

  • General media

  • PR Newswire (prnewswire.com) - Offers access to nearly every press-related story. Search by Industry, keyword or competitor.

  • News organizations: Cable news, newspapers, and online news stories can keep you informed of news and trends that can impact your business.

  • Business Centres (business.qld.gov.au): gather data tailored to your specific business and location. Instructional text and videos are available to help you perform your online searches.


University libraries such as the Queensland University of Technology that allows members of the community to use items in the library. However, if you need to borrow books you'll have to register for a borrowing membership. Visit https://www.library.qut.edu.au/community/membership for more information.

State Library of Queensland also allows community members to borrow from their information collection. Items that are available to borrow include books; pamphlets; music scores; performance sets; audio-visual items including DVDs, CDs; videos; and magazines. For more information visit https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/plan-my-visit/services/borrowing/borrowing-individuals.

Primary Research is the information you need that doesn’t currently exist. It is research that is customised specifically for your business to answer specific questions you have about your business. There are a variety of techniques you can use to conduct primary research.

Mystery Shopping is where you or someone that you have asked, visit either your own business or another business and act like they are a customer of that business. Mystery shopping is used to assess things like customer service, product offerings, and complaint processes. Please remember that while you have the right to enter any place of business that is open to the public, it's important that you're discrete and respectful when doing your mystery shop.

Surveys can be paper-based or online. Online surveys are very popular as they are easy to use and a cost-effective way of conducting a survey. There are many online survey services available to assist you in creating an electronic survey (e.g. Survey Monkey) and as an added bonus some of these electronic surveys actually do the analysis for you! Here are some tips to use when writing a survey:

  • Unless really important, don’t force people to answer your questions

  • Use simple language

  • Ask clear, concise questions

  • Explain yourself if necessary so that people understand exactly what you’re asking them to comment on

  • Always allow an ‘other’ (please specify) category in your questions to record the responses you didn’t think of (e.g Your question is: What genre of movies do you like to watch? You put in a big list of movie categories like comedy, romance etc and the person actually likes arthouse movies and you don't have that category listed for that type of movie. However, if you put in the Other (please specify) category, the person can answer the question with their own unique response.

  • Don’t ask double-barreled questions (e.g. Don't ask: Is this seminar interesting and useful? Instead ask 2 questions - Is this seminar interesting? Is this seminar useful?)

  • Don’t use overlapping categories (e.g. age categories 18-25; 25-30)

  • Use a variety of question types to make your survey interesting such as multiple-choice; Likert scales; open-ended questions

  • Always include a couple of open-ended questions as its' surprising what people might actually tell you

  • Make sure your skips are logical (e.g. if you ask someone if they watch television and they answer NO, put a skip in so that the next question they go to is one that doesn't relate to television viewing

  • Always pilot test your survey before launching the real thing

Focus Groups involve talking to a small group of people who can help you answer your research question. Depending on what you're trying to find out the group could be, for example, some of your actual customers or some people who represent a different type of customer you’re trying to attract. A facilitator is present to conduct the group discussion. Please don’t conduct these yourself because there is a strong potential for bias as people may answer the questions in a way to please you. Here are some points to remember when conducting focus groups:

Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or using Zoom or Skype. Interviews are very similar to focus groups but this time it is one-on-one. Here are some tips for interviewing:

  • Check your equipment

  • Obtain permission to record/video. Please make sure you get a signed release form

  • Let the participant know the purpose of the interview

  • Build rapport, be friendly

  • Use supportive and encouraging body language

  • Checklist of questions you want to ask

  • Use open-ended to questions so the respondent can answer in their own words

  • Don’t assume answers

  • Clarify any responses you’re not sure of

  • Don’t pass judgement

  • Listen more, talk less

  • Stick to the agreed interview timeframe

A Word of Caution. Conducting primary research can take you outside your comfort zone and it may be tempting to do your research with people you already know. The problem is that friends and family are not always in your target market and even if they are, they may not be completely honest with you because they want to spare your feelings. To get the most useful and accurate information, you need to seek out the right kind of customers/potential customers to learn their needs, wants and expectations.

Well, that about it for now. I hope that this information has inspired you to put aside some of your valuable time to undertake regular market research. It definitely won’t be time wasted and the information and knowledge you gain from the process will greatly benefit your business now and in the future.

Happy researching!


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