Research is for Small Biz People Too

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I once read an article on another business person’s website where his readers were openly criticizing him for his wide range of information sources, one of which they did not approve of.

The readers were (theoretically) business people. People who either are in business, want to be in business, want to improve their businesses, etc.  So I was a little struck that not only these people had time to complain at all, that they were complaining or criticizing someone else’s reading selection….?

While I might only be a university professor – teaching marketing – AND running my own couple of businesses, I really DO know something about the importance and relevance of research…. something all business people can always improve on.

In this day and age, few firms (and even fewer small businesses) can afford to formally do market reserach. And research means being OPEN to the outcome– open to changes in the market that maybe we don’t like. It means being willing to say “Gee I might not agree with this person but they could have a point. Let’s examine what they are saying and see if THEIR worldview/truth holds water in comparison to mine.”

Easy, easy easy research is as close as your local Barnes & Noble. Go. Buy yourself a cup of coffee. Walk the beautifully displayed magazines in your interest area (after all – they’re all conveniently arranged for you right there!) Now:

* What are the topics being covered? How are they being covered? What attention grabbing information did the magazine use to get you to pause? To pick up the magazine? To actually open it?

* What themes are emerging? After all – while a journalist might say their job is to deliver the news – the magazine’s PUBLISHER is to say they want readers so they can serve up advertising for their advertisers to those readers.  In both cases they care about one thing: competing for the best stories, the most interesting stories, and serving up those stories in new, different ways so that people will stop and read. They’ve done the leg work for you (and for the price of a cup of Joe, you’re seeing it all displayed)

* Venture out of your comfort zone: are you a tech consultant? Get out of the Computer magazines. What is Home Office Computing writing about? Fast Company? Chronicle of Higher Ed? Working Mother? Don’t these folks (home offices, universities, small entrepreneurial businesses etc) have technology too? Maybe their writings reveal a new market? A different way of positiong your products? Example: how long did we all carry around really ugly computer bags as provided by the manufacturers? Someone realized that we all don’t necessarily LIKE those ugly bulky things. (Maybe it was a fashion-forward female executive?)  Now? You can find beautiful computer bags of all shapes, sizes, utilities, and price points. But someone had to pay attention FIRST to the idea that Henry Ford isn’t ALWAYS right (any color but black? If you don’t know the saying – look it up.)

Why do I dare to suggest getting down to the local B&N rather than just surf the interenet? Because we’re still tactile people. We LIKE to touch things. We LIKE to scan stuff, flip through things. We still are stimulated by colors. Going to your local news stand, as archaic as that sounds, means you can see AT A GLANCE what a large number of magazines are talking about.

Ever pulled a bunch of clothes out of your closet (or maybe watched your significant other), lay them out on the bed to get a view of everything, before picking your clothes/outfits to go on a trip?

Same idea.

If you, as a business person, are not reading, scanning, etc at LEAST 40-50 magazines, news papers, or other real News sources monthly (minimum) (ok, yes, including web), then you aren’t working the research (specifically – environmental scanning) process.

And if you’re not working this process, you are going to be constantly caught back on your heels wishing you knew that “cloud computing” would be the next big thing. Or that “the aging poplulation isn’t going to be able to retire in the traditional sense, and might be interested in XYZ product to help them supplement their meger social security checks, rentirements, etc.

There are people who DO futures and forecasting. For a living. And then they talk about it. And more often than not – they talk about it to the press. Need an example? Check out: The da Vinci Institute.

And if you want to be able to take a peak around the corner to see what what the next big thing MIGHT be? Open your mind. Take these simple steps. Be willing to hear information you don’t like. Listen to all the information and sources of information in aggragate.

Remember the small business people who, back in 1997 time frame, said “oh this internet thing is just for kids….”? Remember folks back a few years ago who said “Facebook just for college students trying to get dates?” Remember when no normal person carried around a cell phone all the time – after all “who’d want to carry around a phone all the time?” (in a bag, or the size of a brick, etc. etc.)?

Who indeed?

Action Steps:

  • What simple things can you do to stay on top of emerging trends in your business?
  • What routines can you establish to allow yourself to do “research”?

Class Dismissed. Have a good weekend. No homework folks – except for those of you who want to get ahead in your businesses. The only grades you get now – are the number of zeros at the end of your pay checks.


Category: Market Research

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