How to do Low-Budget Market Research for Your Start Up

I got a fantastic questions from a DIYMarketers reader this morning — here is the original email from Billy –

Not really sure how to start but would like some advise on doing market research on my small start up business. Of course I have no budget yet for marketing, but would like to talk to someone.  I live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and I don’t know anyone that does Market research, or Marketing Plans.  I’m really in the beginning stages and don’t want to move forward without completing a marketing plan and doing some market research.  I believe my target market is going to be in 55 and up age group, so don’t think the social media is going to be the best idea for marketing my services. Anyway if you have any contacts in this market maybe you could send them my way. — Billy

Billy didn’t tell me what his product or service was — but there was something that struck me about his question that I thought might be worth sharing.

It was clear to me that he had read some books that pointed out that market research was important (and it IS).  Billy also assumed that he would have to hire a market research firm to do some fancy research. (And further in the process — he MIGHT).

What struck me was that he appeared to be VERY early in this process of discovery around his new product or service.  And it might help him — and whatever future research projects he does.

So — here is my answer to Billy –

Dear Billy,

Thanks for writing — you don’t have to have a big budget to do market research.  If you are doing a start up my first recommendation is to go and see your local city chamber, they often have a group available to help start ups like yours get up and running with professional consulting and help.
Another great resource to check out is you will find all kinds of great advice there on small business and start ups.  In fact, I wrote an article there on writing a 1-page marketing plan thing might get you pointed in the right direction —
Now on to some real actionable advice
There are many free online research tools such as QuestionPro.  This is one of my favorite tools because you can do online surveys — AND — if your audience isn’t online, you can use SurveyPocket app on your ipad and collect feedback outside, while interviewing people without an internet connection!
Another important point is that you don’t have to do all kinds of fancy research – a lot of times, simply making up a discussion guide with some basic questions and maybe providing a demonstration to a group of people and asking them questions might give you just what you’re looking for.
The questions your research has to answer are very basic —
First there are a few questions you need to ask yourself —
1. How much money do I need to make
2. How much will it cost to run this business or product
3. How many do I have to sell or how many people need to buy?
Based on your answers to these questions, you’ll have some objectives that the research will help you answer.  For example, if you need to sell 100 per month and your research shows that people will mostly likely buy 5 — you’ve got some more work todo – perhaps a follow-up question on what it would take for them to buy 100?
Here are some more questions you can ask folks to help your sales and marketing efforts
1. What do people think is most valuable about my product or service?
2. What events or circumstances will trigger them to buy
3. What alternatives might they consider when looking for products and services like mine?
4. Why might they choose mine over others?
5. How much will they pay — what are the price points?
6. Where would they look to buy something like this? (speaks to distribution)
These are just a few questions that you might consider asking people one on one  or as part of a group.
No fancy research necessary – just good honest feedback.
Depending on what your product or service is — put yourself in the belly of your customers and just engage with them.  You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
OH – and one more VERY important tip for you — Go and see any of the local community colleges or universities in your area.  Go to the business administration building and connect yourself with a marketing professor or two.  These  folks are ALWAYS looking for real life businesses that their students can work with to get some practical experience.  The great thing about that is that you’ll have a bunch of eager workers who are supported by a very smart teacher.  You’ll get what you need and the students will get what they need — perfect win win for everyone
Good LUCK! — Ivana
So let’s have some fun with this — what advice would YOU give Billy!  Put it in the comment box along with your web site and name and I’ll pass it on!