Doing market research can provide benefits at many stages along your business journey. When you’re starting the business, it can help to provide a roadmap for the first couple of years. When you’ve been operating for a couple of years, market research can help you to stay current and relevant in the ecosystem. And when you’re ready to grow your business, market research is once again essential to help you expand into a new market or introduce a new product or service.

Market research can certainly be overwhelming, so we’re here to help. See below for a handy action plan that can be used at any stage of business!

Why are you doing market research?

Market Research

The first thing to think about is why you are doing market research. What is your overall, broad goal? What decision will the market research help you to make? Some examples:

  • Should I start this business?
  • Where should I locate my business?
  • What market (Canadian or global) should I expand into?
  • What product or service mix will best serve customer needs?

What do you want to find out?

Now that you have a broad research goal, you can think about what specific questions you have that will help you to meet that goal. Think about what you want to know related to your industry, your competitors, and your customers. Write these down so you can refer to them later.

For example, if my broad goal is to decide where I should locate my bookstore, a few specific questions I would want to find answers to would be:

  • How many bookstores are physically located in my city? Where are they located?
  • What are the demographics of each area that I am considering?
  • What other options do people in my city have for buying books (Amazon, public library)?
  • What kinds of books are people looking for?

Our blog on what goes into the market research section of the business plan has some suggested questions that could help with your brainstorming here. Keep in mind each business is unique so your questions will be specific to you.

How are you going to gather information?

Now that you have specific questions, you need to figure out how to find answers to them. You have two options – primary research or secondary research. Primary market research typically involves talking to potential customers to get insights into their behaviours or preferences. Secondary market research involves using existing data sources like private databases or government websites.

Some questions may require a mix of primary and secondary, or just one or the other. If you aren’t sure whether the question will require primary or secondary, try finding an answer secondarily first through a Google search, using our secondary market research guide, or by accessing our secondary market research service. If results aren’t specific enough, primary is the way to go.

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For the same questions as above, I’ve determined which research method will be most appropriate:

  • How many bookstores are physically located in my city? Where are they located?
    • Secondary: online Google or database search
  • What are the demographics of each area that I am considering?
    • Secondary: Canada or city Census
  • What other options do people in my city have for buying books (Amazon, public library)?
    • Primary: asking people where they buy or get books
    • Secondary: online Google search for other possible competitors
  • What kinds of books are people looking for?
    • Primary: asking people what kinds of books they seek out
    • Secondary: there may be some information from an industry association

Do the research

Now that you have your questions noted down and a bit of a strategy in place for how to answer each, it’s time for the hard part – doing the research. There is no magic number for how long this will take in days or weeks, but if you have your questions thought of beforehand that will certainly help to keep on track. The timeline will also depend on what specific questions you are trying to answer, and whether more primary or secondary research is needed.

As you get into the thick of doing the research, you may find that more questions come up or a new strategy is needed to answer a question. It’s important to be flexible, but also to know when to move on.

Review and apply the research

Think back to your broad goal and specific questions – have you answered all of them? Keep in mind that it may not be possible to get as many details as you’d like on all your questions; some things just come with experience and running the business. You need to determine if you are missing any key pieces of information, or if you can confidently move forward with your broad goal established at the beginning of the research process. Eventually, it will be time to launch things, whatever that means for you.