This is the third post in our business fundamentals blog series and I wanted to tackle the topic of research. After conducting my own research, I found this to be a subject overlooked by the business community. There is a lot of useful information out there on how to conduct market research which is great, as this is an important part of business. However, this is not what I mean when I say research.
Research is prevalent in our daily lives, not just at work but in our social life too. When you go on holiday, when you want to go out for a meal, when you are looking for something to watch on Netflix. We research every day, especially in business. Mastering this essential skill will have a profound effect on you being able to carry out work to the best of your ability.
This is all the more important when you come to start your business, as a lot of the processes and functions will be unfamiliar to you. You need to make sure you are researching into every aspect of your business to make sure you are using the best tools, processes, wording, colour schemes, etc. There is a lot to think about when it comes to starting a business, but researching everything well will make life a lot easier.
Here are some quick tips on how you can instantly improve any research project that you undertake.
Create a brief of what you want to find out. This will help you to stay focussed on the task at hand.
Research should never be a one off. Create evolving documents that you can continue to update when you find out more information about what you are researching.
What actionable insights have you gained from your research? Research is pointless unless you implement what you’ve learnt. Otherwise it will just sit there gathering (metaphorical) dust.
Don’t just use search engines. There are many more resources that you can use to be more effective at researching. Company directories, informational sites on your industry and customer data, are all examples of useful research resources.
Build lists of useful resources for your work or business. Whenever you find something useful, make sure you save the information somewhere. You can create an accessible document that you can add this information to when you find it. This document will become your research bible for your business.
Why research in business?
I am now going to look at some of the main reasons that you need to conduct research in business and give some tips on how this research methodology can be improved.
Whether you have started your own business or are working for someone else’s, it is inevitable that you will have competitors. And, depending on your department, you should have a good idea on what they are doing and how you are differentiating your business from them. As what differentiates you from your competitors is what you should be selling to your potential customers – your unique selling points (USPs). In order to understand this, you have to conduct some research. Larger organisations may have an entire department dedicated to such research but as a small business owner, you will most likely be conducting this research. Here are some tips to help make it easier for you.
It is never too soon to conduct competitor research. On conceptualising your idea, you undoubtedly already looked into the competition out there. This is great, and you should ensure you are collecting and analysing the intelligence you gather at this stage.
Create a living breathing document in tabular form that you can continuously update as you come across new competitors. Include column headers of essential information that will help you understand and compare other businesses in your market. This could include; similarities, differences, strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you save this document somewhere accessible and where you can quickly refer back to and update with new information.
Google will not tell you about all your competitors. This would require you to know all the specific keyword terms they use. There are many directories out there that can help you. There is potential that not all your competitors are listed on directories but still a great place to start. If you know that there are more relevant directories for your industry, then make a note of them or bookmark them in your browser and continue to revisit on a regular basis to see if there are any new businesses entering your market.
This will be covered a lot in all the information currently available on market research. As I said before, it is very important that you know your market. The competitor research is a part of this but it is vital that you know and understand your target audience. Research will help you build a better understanding of your target audience and, more importantly, how you should market to them. Here are some tips to help research your target audience better.
This might be something that you’ve heard about already. Creating customer personas is a way to help you visualise and understand exactly who will purchase your products or services. What are their habits? What are their main pain points? What websites do they visit? What social media channels do they use? All this information will enable you to market to your audience more effectively.
Understand current customers better
Customer personas are great but are often created before you even have your first customer. A great way to increase your understanding of your target audience is to find out more about your current customers. This is easily done through a simple survey or questionnaire. If you have a mailing list, then you can do this on a wider scale or you can simply ask your customers to fill out a quick questionnaire once they have made a purchase.
Understanding new terms or processes
When starting a business, a lot of what you are doing will be new to you. There will be a steep learning curve with new processes, functions and tools. Researching will not only help you understand these better but also assist with your understanding of the best tools and processes for your business. This is the important part, as there will be many things that will work for your business but it doesn’t necessarily mean these are the best ones to use. Here are some tips to help you make sure you are choosing the best processes and tools for your business.
Don’t just use the first one you find
It is very tempting, to save time, to use the first process or tool that you find for a particular function in your business. This will save you time in the short term but might have a huge negative impact on your business in the long term. And I mean huge! I think a good tip for this is once you have found that first one, find two more and compare the three. This way you will have a better appreciation of the different ways to do things and it will help you understand what is best for your business.
What are you competitors doing
Go back to that competitor research that you have been conducting. See if there is anything that you can find out about the way they do things. If it is working for them then it might be a viable option for your business as well.
Optimising existing processes
This is an area where research can help your business become super-efficient and productive, giving you that competitive edge. Researching how your processes are performing and gaining an understanding on how they can be improved should be something your business is constantly doing. Here are some tips to help you optimise your processes.
Data must start somewhere
This was a motto that was used at a previous company I worked with. It can often seem daunting to undertake a large research project but you have to start somewhere and collecting data is a great place to start, especially when you are trying to optimise processes in your business.
Build collecting data into your weekly routine
Researching and collecting data can be broken down into smaller chunks and performed on a regular basis, making the job at hand not seem so daunting.
What does it all mean?
Make sure you are taking time to understand what that data means to your processes and your business as a whole. Going back to a previous point, research is only useful if you do something with it.
Keep practicing. Like any process in business it can always be optimised and improved. You can start by following some of the simple tips outlined in this article and soon you will start to create some useful tips of your own. Make sure you have a constantly evolving your resource documents for your business that will guide you through any research that you carry out. As your know-how improves, so will your research workflows. Better research leads to better understanding, which leads to increased efficiency. Simple!