Market Research Techniques

If money is not an issue, you may want to contact a market research firm and ask them to analyze your community and find out for you where small business opportunities exist. If, like most of us, money is an issue, you'll have to gather the information yourself.

A good place to start is with the mainstream press: your local newspaper, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek and USA Today. You should also look at the business press: Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, or any of the other business periodicals to which you have access.

When you read them, look for trends that may be emerging, not just in business but in our culture at large. To give you some idea of what you should be looking for, here are three examples of current trends and how you might parlay those trends into a small business.

Trend #1: Increasingly, husband and wife are both wage earners. This means that many couples don't have the time or energy to perform tasks that were most commonly performed by the wife. How can you fill in the gap? Some business ideas are: child care provider, grocery delivery service, house-cleaning service, interior decorator, dog walking service, household manager, and gift purchase and delivery service.

Trend #2: In an effort to cut costs, many companies have laid off employees. This means that companies are increasingly looking outside of the company to perform tasks previously performed in-house. In business-speak, it's called outsourcing. Ask yourself: which tasks are businesses most commonly outsourcing? Some business ideas are: copywriting services, legal and paralegal services, billing and other human resources-related services, public relations services, and meeting planning.

Trend #3: Computers are now everywhere. Many businesses, however, lack the in-house expertise they need to take full advantage of the emerging technologies. How can you meet the need? Some business ideas are: Web site developer, graphics designer, desktop publisher, and database consultant.

In addition to reading newspapers and magazines, you should talk to friends, relatives, business associates, and other small business owners about ideas they may have or needs in the market they don't believe are being met. And, last but not least, don't forget the often most-overlooked resource - yourself. You're a consumer. If you've wished that a particular service were available, chances are that others have too.

Also, when you think about market opportunities, think about how you can improve upon a product or service that is already being provided. But be aware that there are at least two potential stumbling blocks here. The first is the tendency to believe too readily that you can improve upon an existing product or service. This is just old-fashioned overconfidence. Be sure that you've thought through the specific things you can do to improve what's already out there. The second is the fact that your being able to improve upon a product or service is no guarantee of its success. In other words, you must be sure not only that you can improve what's already there, but also that there is also a demand for the improvement.

For additional information on how you might develop a market opportunity, consider the following:

For additional information on how to get market data, see market research to fit your needs and budget.