Whether you don’t yet have a business, or have been running a business for years, market research can be of value to you. But what is market research, you ask? It’s about gathering information on your industry, customers, and competitors so that you’re more aware of what’s going on around you. Once you have this information, you’re in a better position to avoid costly mistakes and make business decisions related to marketing, operations, and the business’ financial situation.

The thought of conducting market research can be overwhelming for anyone, so keep reading for some tips to help you as you embark on this enlightening journey!

What Should I Be Looking For?

I get asked this question all the time: “What information should I be looking for?” While I like to think I have all the answers, when you’re doing market research the answer to that question really depends on YOU. I have helped business owners that have a few simple questions that are easily answered, and I’ve helped others that have 1–15 questions with multiple parts to each.

Thinking about the big picture can help you figure out what kind of information you might need. Why are you doing this market research and what decisions is it helping you to make? For example, if you have a new product and you want to see what people think of it, talking directly to potential customers and selling the product on a smaller scale through trade shows or crowdfunding could help you test the market and get feedback before going all-in. Another possible scenario might be deciding where to locate your business. In this case, it can be really beneficial to find the demographics of the area and information on other businesses that are located there.

In some cases, such as the first example above, primary market research is what’s needed. Primary market research involves finding the answers to your questions yourself—someone else hasn’t done the work for you and posted their conclusions online. On the other hand, sometimes secondary market research can quench your research thirst, which typically involves finding statistics online. For more information on primary and secondary research, check out this guide to market research and analysis.

Industry and Customers and Competitors! Oh My!

When you’re doing your research, it can be helpful to think of and write down the questions you are looking for answers to in regards to the industry you’re operating in, the customers you’re selling to, and the competitors you have. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Is my industry growing or declining? What are the trends to be aware of?
  • What is the overall size of my industry in revenues or number of companies?
  • Are there any current or proposed technologies or government regulations that might affect my industry?
  • Where are my customers located?
  • How often do my customers buy? How much do they spend?
  • What do my customers like to do in their spare time?
  • Where are my competitors located?
  • What are my competitors doing well and not so well?

Questions like these can require a mixture of primary and secondary research to answer. Here we’ll concentrate on some resources to get you started with secondary market research. This can be a good starting point for those that aren’t quite sure what they might be looking for, or to find some broad information before taking the time and effort to do in-depth primary market research.

Data Gold Mine

There are countless sources of information online that could be relevant to business owners in Alberta. Where to look will depend on what you’re looking for, but these may serve as a good starting point:

  • Canadian Key Small Business Statistics: use this to find a “big picture” overview of small business in Canada
  • Alberta Regional Dashboard: use this to find statistics on consumers or businesses in any municipality in Alberta
  • Alberta Economic Trends and Spotlights: use this to find recent reports on economic trends; you can also take a look at your municipality’s local economic development agency website for information
  • Canada Census: use this to find demographic information on consumers, or check out your municipality’s local census information
  • PRIZM5: use this to find psychographic information on consumers (behaviours, attitudes, etc.)
  • Chamber of Commerce or industry association: use this to find competitors or some potential customers if you’re selling to businesses
  • Google: use this to discover potential competitors, look for newspaper or magazine articles about trends, and find your industry association
  • Social media: use this to find what is trending and what people are interested in, to find and talk to like-minded communities, and to check out the competition
  • For more free resources, download our handy free market research guide

What Now?

With market research, you won’t find all of the answers you need in one day so when you set out to find information keep that in mind. Take things one step at a time. Write your questions down and start with an online search to find an answer. If you don’t come across anything or need some extra help or guidance, reach out to us at Business Link and access our secondary market research service. We have a team of experts and some databases that can help to gather the information you need.