Every few months it makes sense to do some benchmarking and find out how your services, marketing message buzz words and product or service delivery systems compare to those of competitors. Whether you are a start-up or a veteran entrepreneur, market research in its many forms is an important barometer of the environment in which your venture operates. Fail to keep your finger on the various pulse points of the marketplace and you can miss the boat on either a lucrative opportunity or a shift in customer priorities that will leave you out in the cold and scrambling to catch up.
It is useful to think about how you might refine your services offered, your choice of targeted clients, business model and delivery of services. The results of your benchmarking research can be used in the marketing or operations sections of a business plan, for example, or to measure the success of current plans. Start the process by following the advice of the late, great business strategy guru Peter Drucker, who famously noted that getting the right answers begins with asking the right questions. Some you might pose include:
- What drives targeted clients to hire outside help (i.e., Solopreneurs) to perform the services your organization provides?
- Who is providing the services for them now and what is the level of satisfaction with the deliverables?
- What would clients like to see included in these services or in their delivery that is not now being provided?
- Do clients anticipate changes in demand for these services?
- What do clients feel is a fair price to pay for the services?
In market research, there are primary and secondary sources of information. Primary source information emanates directly from the client or competitor. Secondary sources are anything that has been published. Because Solopreneurs typically do not have market research budgets, a DIY low or no cost strategy will be preferred.
Primary information can be collected from current or prospective clients through survey questionnaires that either appear on your website or are emailed to your mailing list. You might provide an incentive to participate, such as a free half hour consultation. Also, clients, prospects and referral sources can receive from you an invitation to have coffee or lunch, so that questions about their organizations’ needs and priorities as relates to your services can be asked and answered.
Competitors are another source of primary information. If you attend a seminar outside of a competitor’s working geography, s/he will perhaps feel comfortable about sharing information. Over time, certain competitors that you encounter on a regular basis may drop their guard just a bit and share a couple of pearls with you. Establishing good relationships with competitors is usually a smart idea. What they share will be limited, but it could be beneficial.
Free and potentially useful secondary information is available on competitors’ websites and you might visit the sites of four or five close competitors, Solopreneurs who offer similar services to clients that could be yours. It’s a good idea to monitor the sites over the course of months or even years and make note of any additions or deletions of services.
Changes in the services of more than one competitor could indicate a change in client priorities and should prompt you to diplomatically question your clients. Periodic explorations of clients’ websites is another good idea. There could be a change that opens up a new revenue stream for you.
Continue your secondary research with an internet search of clients and competitors. You could find notices of speaking engagements or press releases that give you the heads-up. Periodic checks of competitors’ LinkedIn profiles is also a great idea, if shared connections exist. The connection grants you access to a competitor’s page without making that person a primary connection. Juicy details about the competitor’s activities may await you.
Give your business an important reality check with some good market research. Obtain information that helps your business identify niche markets or glean more billable hours from current clients. Use slow business periods to conduct your investigations and make plans that will set you up for a successful year.
Thanks for reading,
Kim L. Clark is a strategy and marketing consultant who works with for-profit and not-for-profit organization leaders who must achieve business goals. Kim is the founder and principal of the consulting firm Polished Professionals Boston and she teaches business plan writing to aspiring entrepreneurs. Learn how Kim’s expertise can benefit your organization when you visit polishedprofessionalsboston.com.