Can You Really Conduct Market Research On a Shoestring Budget?

Many small business owners and emerging business leaders do not prioritise market research amidst their business activities; after all, in the grander scheme of things, where overheads have to be paid and customers have to be won over, why bother with market research?

Wait.. what is Market Research? Market research is the process of gathering and analyzing consumer and economic data to help you understand which products and services your customers want, and how to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Market research can also provide valuable insight to help you to:
Reduce business risks
Spot current and upcoming problems in the current market
Identify sales opportunities
Develop plans of action

But you are already sold on the idea of market research. Otherwise, why continue reading this article? If so, you’re at the right place.

First, let’s start with the most common form of market research, surveys. Online surveys are a fuss-free and convenient way of conducting research. Internet sites such as SurveyMonkey or eSurveyspro provides data-collecting services for free or at a low cost, with the latter being our preferred provider as it offers free unlimited questions and unlimited surveys. The catch is that there will be advertisements displayed on the side of the survey, which may distract participants, and it may not be in line with your branding.

Alternatively, if your target market cannot be reached online, one will have to do it via pen-and-paper. If so, hire a few polytechnic students to help you take those surveys. The going rate, at the time of this writing, for polytechnic students would be SGD7-8 an hour. I have found that the career services department in polytechnics are very helpful, so try asking them to help you post a job advertisement on their school’s job portal is a free way of getting the word out rather than using some of the more expensive job portals.

Feasibility study
Another free method that I encourage clients who want to launch, or are thinking of launching, a new product to use would be Google Adwords. It is extremely helpful especially when trying to gauge the level of local and international demand. For example, one of my clients wanted to launch investment seminars (the type where consumers learn financial theories and strategies to invest their own money) and was uncertain if she should launch her product. I proved to her that there was a potential market, provided she could convince them of her credibility (IMRAN: link to your credibility article here) and optimising her sales channel (IMRAN: link to your sales channel article here) due to certain keywords that the layman investor searches.

In our special report on “How to conduct product testing/concept testing/ using Google Adwords”- which you may find here (IMRAN: link to your special report) – we dive into possible ways to use Google Adwords for product testing.

Free online focus groups

Sony Singapore’s Music and Audio Department approached me a few years ago to conduct for them marketing research on one of their audio products. Although Sony is a global MNC with multiple products under their belt, the department had one similarity with SMEs- they were hard strapped for cash, as the product was in a shrinking industry and received a very small budget for their marketing activities.

I was given the daunting task of obtaining feedback for the product, and obtain virtually no funds for the project. For those who are unfamiliar with the market research industry, focus groups are small groups of consumers gathered by research agencies to talk about a few topics. The group is moderated by a skilled moderator, and the stipend for individual participants is somewhere between SGD50-200. The high cost of organising such focus groups was naturally a challenge for us.

As the product was in the electronics industry, I started up a topic in Singapore’s leading electronic forum (no prizes if you guessed correctly), and guided the discussion along. The feedback we obtained was staggering, with 10 different users posting their views on the product vis-à-vis the competition.

And the total cost of organising this online focus group? $0!

The catch in this is that the respondents belong to a particular sub-category; for that reason, they do not represent the greater Singapore population. It is for this reason that we advocate conducting at least a survey where a sufficient number of participants are randomly selected. You may want to use a sample size calculator to determine what is the lowest number of participants needed in order to get accurate data.