Research Tips for EntrepreneursExpert Perspective — By Jung Kim on June 29, 2012 at 8:00 am
It seems obvious. Before launching your startup or to grow your existing business, there is much research to be conducted to ensure your business will thrive.
But many times, entrepreneurs will pursue what they are passionate about, without considering the most important question: Is there really a market for my business in my region, whether local or global?
For some entrepreneurs, this question seems like a daunting task, and there may not be funds available to pay someone to complete it for you. Luckily, there is actually a plethora of information out there that is easy to find.
Things to consider:
- • Who and where are your customers?
- • Who and where are your competitors?
- • Who and where are your collaborators (suppliers, buyers, etc.)?
As you begin your research, you should set out to answer these three questions. You should know if there are other companies buying or selling your goods or services, and if you will be able to reach your desired customers. For instance, a convenience store will have a much smaller area of reach than a large retail outlet.
These questions should continually be assessed by existing businesses as well. Actually, the top two questions that the research team at the Columbus Chamber answers for members are:
What are the demographics around a given location? (Where are your customers?)
Can I have a list of businesses in a particular industry in a given area? (Who and where are your competitors and collaborators?)
The Columbus region is home to a huge research resource for starting a business− The Columbus Metropolitan Library. In addition to books and periodicals, it also houses various research databases and online resources.
Many research tools that would normally be very costly to a new or small business can be accessed for free from the library. The library even has a specific set of online databases categorized for small business.
Many government data sources are also available online for free. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Small Business Administration are some of the most popular free online resources, while private sites like CEOExpress.com are a good clearinghouse for lots of periodicals and data tools that are relevant to a small business.
One of the best free sources of data could be your own. A business can collect and analyze data on customers, sales, expenditures, business inventory, finances, and web and social media analytics, among many other things. Every action by your business is a potential data point. Depending on the type of data collected, tools such as Open Office, Tableau, and Google Analytics can help analyze and interpret the information.
Numbers are important, but research isn’t just numbers
A qualitative perspective is an important complement to the research for new business owner. Trade and professional associations are good resources for learning about trends in your market. Seasoned business owners can share the lessons they’ve learned over time so you don’t make the same mistakes.
If you have the means, a survey can be a great way of learning about customers and collaborators. Even if you don’t have the time or resources for a survey, talk to your customers, talk to other businesses.
Chamber Members can access research services
If you find yourself in need of help, the Columbus Chamber’s team of research experts studies our economy and businesses every day. We have access to leading industry tools that enable us to collect, manage and analyze data in support of economic development and business growth.
Whether it is demographics, economic analysis, or basic mapping, the Chamber’s research team can provide custom research services for our members based on your businesses needs. We also offer a program just for entrepreneurs, connecting you to other business-critical resources and your own business consultant.
So how can we serve you? Call on us, and we’ll help your business thrive.
Jung Kim joined the Columbus Chamber and Columbus 2020 teams in November 2010 to direct economic and business research. His prior experience includes Community Research Partners, a nonprofit research center based in Columbus; the State of New Jersey’s Office of Smart Growth; and Strategic Planning Advice, an economics and planning consulting firm in the UK. He is a member of the American Planning Association and the Urban Land Institute. Jung has a master’s degree in regional and urban planning from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and urban studies from Northwestern University.
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