Whether starting a business or fine-tuning an established one, market research can provide valuable insights. It helps define your target audiences and better understand their needs, goals and desires.


But for small and midsize businesses, gaining solid insights without spending a lot of money can be a challenge. We asked business owners their key strategies for how to conduct market research and the tools they use. Here’s how they responded:


Conduct online surveys

For market research, we use—and recommend our small and midsize business clients use—SurveyMonkey Audience. It’s a completely self-serve tool that lets you reach and survey individuals that meet certain criteria, and it lets you manage costs in two simple ways. First, you can quickly see how much it will cost as you change the profile of the type of person you want to survey, so you can decide how strict (or not strict) you want to be about who you survey. Second, you can generally purchase as many or as few responses as you want. You may not get a statistically significant sample, but at least you can get quick reads on sentiment at a reasonable cost.

—Laura Troyani, founder and principal, PlanBeyond, Seattle


Interview your competitors’ customers

The number one thing we do is listen to our major competitor’s customers. We’re building an alternative to Slack, the popular app for team communication, so we have a large pool of Slack users that we interview. We want to find out what they like about Slack and what their biggest issues are, and—if they switch from Slack to our platform—we discover the reasons why they do this. We use this knowledge to build a better product and develop an app that users will love and keep returning to.

—Dmytro Okunyev, founder, Chanty, New York City


“Listen” to your social media following

We have a retail boutique that specializes in beads, art and jewelry. One of the things we have done is posed questions and polls to our social media followers and tracked social conversations about our business. We also have created closed Facebook groups that cater to our active customers. In these closed groups, we’ll ask them what they want us to find for the store. Social media listening has been a valuable tool for making adjustments and better serving our customers. For example, we discovered that several customers and patrons of the community were frustrated when businesses were closed on Mondays. (In our small town, it is not uncommon for businesses to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.) So, we listened to our customers and are now open seven days a week. The extra day of sales has actually turned into one of our more profitable days, as we are one of the few places that are open.

Andrew Thornton, co-founder, Allegory Gallery, Ligonier, Pennsylvania


Do keyword research

As an audio transcription company serving clients across North America, I use premium keyword research tools like LongTailPro, Ahrefs and Keywords Everywhere to get a bird’s-eye view of the biggest problems facing my target market. All I need to do is input a few primary keywords and the tools will then suggest hundreds or thousands of related phrases that my prospects are searching for on Google or other engines. They also show search volume and keyword competitiveness. I can then put this information to work by creating content that solves those problems for my target audience.

Chloe Brittain, owner, Opal Transcription Services, Calgary, Alberta


Use social media analytics and tracking tools

Our digital influencer, talent and marketing agency is constantly doing market research to compare talent and digital influencer options and social media engagement among brands. We rely on two very important tools. On the talent and influencer side, we use PeopleMap—which allows us to search for potential influencers on Instagram at any time and compare and contrast their stats easily and efficiently. Our social management team uses the competitor-tracking tool from Iconosquare. It lets us easily compare our clients to their competitive brands and see specifics regarding post rates, growth rates and more. We take that info and work it into the long-term strategy. No matter the industry, market research will always play a major role in decision-making and strategy.

—Sonia Langlotz, president, Round Twelve, New York City


How does your business do market research? Share your tips and advice with other readers in the comments section below!

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