Finding customer/market, industry and competitive information is easier than you think!

As FCEDC’s Director of Entrepreneurship and Business Intelligence, I had the wonderful opportunity to be the featured speaker at the July 2013 Inventors and Entrepreneurs (I&E) Club that meets every second Tuesday of the month in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The purpose of the I&E Club is to educate, nurture and network area inventors and entrepreneurs. It’s an organized yet informal way to get people connected with each other and to resources, ultimately enhancing the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation locally. Below are my tips for conducting your own research for a business or expansion plan.

The root of a plant or tree is the foundation that nourishes and helps it grow. Market research or business intelligence is that “root” or foundation for effective strategy, marketing, and business growth whether you’re starting a new business or if you’re a small business wanting to reach that next level of growth.  A business owner needs data to develop a workable business or expansion plan. Research or business intelligence can uncover actionable information about new customer markets, industry trends, competitors, suppliers and more. 

Market research or business intelligence can help reduce risk, gain funding or capitalization, and increase competitiveness. For example:  When someone is opening a new business or an existing business is entering a new customer market and both are armed with key information about the market size, demographics, potential growth, and competitive landscape, they can better assess the risk and make an informed decision as to whether it is a good idea or not. This data could also help a company or new business get financing from prospective capital providers.  It shows that the business has done its homework or due diligence so all parties can use this key information to assess the risk. Examining business intelligence information proactively could also give a business a competitive edge in the new global economy by unlocking potential growth opportunities. 

Basically there are three steps to conducting research; and it’s easier than you might think when you know what to research, where to find the data, and what to do with it when you find it.

STEP 1:  What do you research?  It starts with the right research questions.  Whether you are writing a business plan for a new business or searching for new markets or more customers for your existing business, you need to answer the who, what, where, when, why and how.

STEP 2:  Where do you find information?  It is typically mined or obtained from published information or secondary sources such as business intelligence databases (collection of data stored electronically), geographic information systems (GIS-mapping software), trade or business associations/journals/magazines, government websites, and even social media.  Most of this information can be found on the web or at your local public and university or college libraries. Or, information can be collected through primary sources by actually interviewing or surveying customers/potential customers or industry experts in the field. Simple consumer or competitor observations also count as primary research.

STEP 3: What should you do with the data? Once the data is collected, the next steps include: evaluating the data in terms of how current it is and does it come from a reliable source, using a variety of facts/figures and sources to back up your plan/idea, and sourcing your data appropriately (where did you get your facts/figures).

FCEDC compiled a list of typical business research questions that start-ups and existing businesses need to answer when it’s time to do research, plus a list of free business intelligence resources to find the answers.  Check out this resource guide at: