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Market research

Think about the information that you need and the best way to collect it. Market research will help you to identify your target customers.

Fulfil your target customers needs

Does your product or service fulfil their needs, in a volume that enables you to operate a business?

Compare your business plan to what already exists in the marketplace. This research needs to be carried out systematically, looking at potential clients and competitors.

Correcting errors at the start, rather than later can be the difference between having a sustainable business or a failed business that will result in a loss of money and energy. The better the research you conduct, the better your business plan will be, helping you identify and work on issues such as staff skills, manufacturing methods, location, contents.

For smaller start-ups, information can be collected easily and there are many sources available on the internet. If you have a more elaborate business idea, it may be worth considering paying for specialist research, however care needs to be taken that this is right for you and your business before you purchase this type of service.

You can get help here:

You can also access the following free databases at your local library:

  • database: Kompass business directory - Access to over 53 million companies in over 70 countries. A unique tool to help you find new business leads.
  • database: Experian MarketIQ - Provides business information on a single, accessible, easy-to-use platform. It will allow users to target, profile, monitor, track, analyse and compare business information.
  • database: COBRA - A database that has hundreds of small business ideas and business opportunity profiles, practical how-to guides, reports, checklists, and factsheets. It’s extremely useful to support your marketing plans.
  • database: Grant Finder - A funding database which allows you to search for grants at local, national, and internationally.

Reaching your customers and influencers

Once you know who your customers and influencers are, then you will need to decide how to reach out and make a connection. Here are 9 x ideas for you to consider.

1. Targeted advertisements

Research websites and publications that would appeal to your target market. Start with your local press, and then consider regional and trade publications. Look for free sources of advertising, such as directories and community websites that list small businesses.

Make the most of the Google My Business tool. It's free and easy to use; It will give you a presence on Google Maps and search, and will make it easier for local customers to find you. 

2. Use empty display spaces

Put up eye-catching promotional messages to make the most of your shop window, an exhibition space or the sides of your vehicles. If you are renting premises or leasing the vehicle, check if you are allowed to put signs up.

3. Encourage word-of-mouth recommendations

Satisfied customers are the best advocates for your business, so ask them to pass on your details to people they know, and ask your friends and family to do the same. Ask customers if you can add them to your email mailing list, so that you can keep in touch by email. Encourage your customers to follow you on social media and like your posts; this will help you to reach a wider audience as each time they like a post, this will appear in their connections and followers feeds too.

Also ask them to leave reviews on your social media pages, or to share your business page within local groups, to highlight your business to others in your locality when they search on the platform.  Always ask satisfied customers to provide testimonials or reviews, for you to add onto website and social media.

4. Offer free samples

Promote your business by offering samples at local events, so people can try your products before they buy. If you offer a business service, consider offering free advice to show potential customers how you can help them.

5. Get involved in your community

Hold or sponsor an event for charity, offer your service to a local good cause, volunteer as an expert at talks and events, or take part in a national awareness week. Send out press releases to local publications in response to current news and trends that are relevant to your industry. a good local Visit the Ashfield Voluntary Action website for information and opportunities to get your business involved in the local community.

6. Network

If you sell to other businesses, attend local networking events – see the New markets page or Overseas trade visits page for information on how to make contacts. Also join online business networking sites such as LinkedIn and look for groups that serve your sector or local area. Make the most of social media sites to raise your profile and connect you with the right type of followers.

7. Build partnerships with other businesses

Ask neighbouring businesses to promote your products or services in exchange for mutual recommendations. Exchange leaflets and business cards so that you can refer new customers to each other. Look for related businesses to partner with: if you're a car dealer, for example, connect with a vehicle repair shop.

8. Promote yourself with leaflets or by email

Create and distribute leaflets or carry out an email campaign. Make your marketing materials eye-catching and consider including a promotion, as this can be used to judge how effective which types your marketing is. Make sure you include your contact details and a clear call to action, and don't over-sell, but make it clear what your business can offer, how it can help and what issues it can resolve for the customer.

9. Start selling online

Selling online will help you to keep existing customers and gain new ones – see our page on Online digitalisation. You can test out your online market first by setting up a shop on a marketplace like eBay, Amazon or Etsy before you invest in a website with a payment facility. Marketing Donut have useful information on how to sell your products on eBay and Amazon

Useful tip

If you truly want to connect with customers, you have to get to know them. What are their fears and desires? What does your brand do to soothe those fears and fulfil those desires? What issues or problems do they have, and how can you resolve them? Answering these questions will help you to make better and more meaningful customer connections.