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How do I conduct market research on a limited budget?

Ideas on conducting a market-related research for your business without breaking the bank.

Dr. Thommie Burger

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I am in the process of starting my own business. Part of this process is writing a business plan to present to potential investors, which should include reliable market research. My business is a new Female Clothing Boutique selling bespoke garments, handbags and shoes. I am not sure how to do market research on my start up. I have a limited amount of my own funds available but after a brief discussion with potential investors, they made it clear that they want to see justifiable proof of why I feel my business will succeed. Can you advise me on how I can conduct market research for my company?

This is one of the most critical challenges that most entrepreneurs are faced with. On the one hand, you want to start a business but have limited financial resources available to allocate to market research.

On the other hand, all investors will require some sort of factual statistics and market research included in your business plan that will prove there is gap in the market for your products/services. When faced with a limited budget, consider the following: 

Related: How do I market my product without having to go through the normal avenues like television and print?

Do The Groundwork Yourself.

As an entrepreneur, you can’t expect a financier to take 100% risk by investing in your business with you not taking any risk yourself. The adage of “putting your money where your mouth is” needs to be kept in mind when preparing your business case.

Any investor wants to see that you have enough passion and drive to make your business a success. This includes running around and doing all the legwork required. A great place to start is using Online Survey Tools which allows you to design a focus group questionnaire that you can send to potential customers.

As an example, SurveyMonkey offers various packages, including their basic package, which is free.

This will allow you to design a survey questionnaire with up to 100 questions and track the results of the feedback you receive. Another cost-effective option is Google’s Consumer Surveys, which starts from as little as R1.00 per question. Not only will the results of the surveys be invaluable to you fine-tuning your business strategy, but it will be factual and seen as primary market research by potential investors, which will go a long way in securing start-up finance.

Secondary Sources Are Much Cheaper.

Even though Google Search has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to search for anything imaginable, searching for reliable research is an art in itself. Unfortunately, it is fairly difficult in South Africa to find both reliable and up to date information on all industries and markets.

That being said, websites such as StatsSA provides a detailed library of the latest research and statistics available. Most of these reports are focused on macro-economic factors.

Another alternative is searching for Dissertations and Research Studies conducted by students and other Academia. A number of universities have online libraries that you can access, in some cases for free.

Using Google Search to source reliable statistics conducted by primary research firms is possible, but it will mean that you may have to browse through Pages 1 to 10 of the search results to find what you are looking for.

Although this can be daunting, the information you will find is in most instances free. Use search terms on Google such as “Fashion Trends”, “South African Fashion Industry”, etc.

Follow Expert Blogs And Research Articles.

Consider signing up for the newsletters of Industry Organisations in which your business will operate. A prime example is BizCommunity, which publishes regular articles, blogs and expert opinions on a number of local and international industries.

For your specific industry, you can follow the Retail section on their website, which includes a subsection Fashion, Clothing and Textiles.

Ensure That Market Research Is Included In Your Business Plan.

If you have already decided to invest your money with a Business Plan Writer or Business Consultant, make sure that part of their service includes some sort of market research that they will conduct as part of writing your business plan.

Related: How do I conduct a proper customer survey?

Although market research is an essential element for ensuring the success of a business, many small businesses do not have the resources to engage a professional Business Plan Company.

However, all is not lost, most reputable companies won’t mind answering a few questions (for free), guide you in your market research efforts or at least point you in the right direction. All you need to do is ask.

You Need To Understand Your Competitors.

A business needs to know whom it is up against; you need to establish who your competitors are and their strengths and weakness when compared with your own business.

The least expensive method of acquiring information about competitors is to visit your competitors yourself, see how their Shop Assistant treats you, buy one of their products, and engage them via their website and their social media pages.

This way, you will be able to gauge and understand how these competitors operate, their success levels and how much of a threat they pose to you. You will at the same time be able to investigate how they treat and interact with “potential customers”, which will provide you with the opportunity to build your own value proposition around what they don’t do that well.

Founder of JTB Consulting, a leading Business Plan Consultancy that provides practical, unique and affordable Business Consulting and Business Plan Solutions to entrepreneurs, start-up businesses and existing companies. Founder of Animazing, a Marketing Agency that designs unique animated videos; a communication and marketing medium clients use to deliver their messages in an effective, engaging and memorable way. Thommie is a Summa Cum Laude MBA Graduate and holds a PhD in Entrepreneurship and Business Management.

Marketing

How Do I Create A Content Strategy?

A content strategy is not simply a spreadsheet outlining what blog post you’ll be posting when (that’s an editorial plan). A content strategy is knowing why you’re creating content, who it’s going to come from and how it’s going to benefit your target audience.

Belinda Mountain

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content-strategy

Having a strong content strategy in place before you produce the content itself will ensure that you save time, save money and see real results for your company and brand.

Here’s how to go about creating one:

1. Look at your business goals

You can make the most beautifully shot video in the world, with huge viral reach, but if your goal was increased sales and the video didn’t generate a single extra sale, then what was the point?

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 5 Ways to Improve your Content Strategy Using Video

Consider whether you want to use content to increase brand awareness, engage with customers or generate sales. And then create your content ideas to suit this specific goal.

2. Consider your target market

To develop effective content you need to place yourself in the shoes of your target market.

Are they a new mother looking for helpful articles on dealing with toddler temper tantrums? Or are they a CEO concerned with cutting business costs?

Imagine what they would find useful, informative or entertaining and then produce content like that.

This is also worth bearing in mind when it comes to SEO: What common terms will they be searching for on Google? Incorporate those into your content, but only where they fit naturally.

3. Look at frequency, format and tone

What are your resources like when it comes to producing content? If you have someone devoted to the task then you may be able to produce a new piece of content a day, but if someone is doing it as a side job, then one a week is more manageable.

Don’t produce work that’s of a lower standard – rather produce fewer pieces, but do them properly. Also think about what format your content will be in.

Will your audience respond well to videos? Blog posts? Infographics? Finally, consider your organisation’s tone or voice and ensure this remains consistent through everything you do.

4. Ask the right people the right questions

Most businesses have plenty of sources of educational and entertaining content, but few know how to get this information out of their employees.

Ask an actuary about the products they’ve developed and they’ll soon wax lyrical about what they do in a way that is seldom communicated to your target audience.

Ask your product managers about new trends in the industry and chances are they’ll get extremely excited about something on the horizon that your target audience would love to know about.

Extracting this information is about asking the right questions and the best way to do this is often face-to-face. 

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Content Marketing Strategies You Can Steal

5. Make a calendar

Once you’ve formulated your strategy, you can then start working on your editorial or content calendar. Add in deadlines, assign people responsible for each task, allow time for approval of content, and lock down ideal publishing dates.

Have meetings regularly with key stakeholders to discuss new ideas, who’s doing what and how the process is moving along.

Above all, be adaptable as you learn what sort of content your audience is engaging best with, so that your content strategy is continuously improving.

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Marketing

How can I use website copy to convert prospects into customers?

You spent heaps of money on designing your new website but it’s still not an effective sales tool. Here’s how to use web copy to convert potential customers into actual ones.

Belinda Mountain

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We all know that consumers are time poor these days. And consumers of digital media are even more so.

If you want people to engage with your content and eventually purchase your product or service, the way in which you present your information online needs to be carefully considered.

Related: 7 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Adwords Agency

Here’s what you need to think about when it comes to copy on your website:

1. Put the customer’s needs first

You employ a very detailed philosophy when designing your products? Consumers don’t really care.

Your website should not focus on how amazing you are, it should focus on what benefits you can offer your potential customers and what problems you can solve. So do include your company philosophy on your About Us page, but don’t make it front and centre on your homepage, for example.

2. What makes you different?

If you’re in a competitive industry, you need to emphasise what sets you apart. Maybe it’s your award-winning customer service, or your years of industry experience, or your unique approach to sourcing products?

Make this the focus of your copy so that it’s very clear why a potential customer should choose you versus another competitor.

3. Contact details

I see so many websites where the contact details are placed only on the Contact page, or written in a very small font way below the fold.

It needs to be ultra simple for people to contact you, so make that phone number or email address clearly visible on the homepage – or even better, somewhere in your main navigation that then displays on every page of your site.

4. Calls to action

Consumers need to be told what to do. Write about how great your product is and then follow it up immediately with a sentence telling them exactly what action to take: Need more info? Call us on xxx (phone number) or fill in the contact form below.

5. Use short sentences and simple words 

Long rambling sentences lose the reader – short punchy ones work better. The same applies to words, so use simple ones as often as possible. Remember that simple doesn’t mean unsophisticated.

Think of Google and Apple, two of the world’s biggest brands. They use a simple and direct tone that still communicates their offering perfectly. Also check your tone: write as if you’re chatting to one person and you’ll immediately engage the reader.

6. Get specific and paint a picture

If you’re selling a sailing holiday in Croatia, don’t tell them that the waves are blue and beautiful. Describe the smell of the ocean in the air, the feeling of the sun on your skin and the taste of the fresh sushi caught on a nearby boat.

You can sell something much more easily if you get very specific and evoke an emotive reaction in the person reading your words.

7. Use formatting

No one likes long reams of text – you’ll lose their attention and a possible sale. Break up your copy so that it is easily readable by using bolding, bulleting and separate paragraphs.

Related: Is Search Marketing Still Worth Investing In?

8. Limited sales offers

Reserve space on your homepage where you can include blurbs about latest offers or special promotions.

This will keep your website fresh and allow you to capitalise on potential customers who may be interested in these offers, by encouraging them to click through and stay on your site.

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Marketing

How does the content in my email signature affect my brand?

How do your make your email stand out from the clutter?

Kgomotso Mautloa

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Email-signature-for-digital

The world of communication is an ever-evolving one. We’ve gone from communication with cave paintings and pictograms, to expressing ourselves with words and the alphabet, and now with technology thrown in there – the communication mix has evolved into something incredible.

Related: 4 Revolutionary Behavioural Email Marketing Ideas

The most notable mix would be the combination of writing the traditional letter and telecommunication; in the form of email. Just like every other development within the communication space, this created the opportunity for people to interact with people in different provinces, countries and continents all across the globe, all at a click of a button – instantaneously.

According to the Radicati Email Statistics report, there were about 100 billion emails sent out daily in 2013.

In 2013, the majority of email traffic comes from business email, which accounts for over 100 billion emails sent and received per day. Email remains the predominant form of communication in the business space. This trend is expected to continue, and business email will account for over 132 billion emails sent and received per day by the end of 2017.

Copyright Ó April 2013 The Radicati Group, Inc

If you think about those numbers, you’ll realise that every email counts; every piece of communication from you needs to stand out from the clutter. The question then is: how do you stand out from all the mails being sent? Another important element to bear in mind is the way you brand your email and your email signatures.

The way you engage over email, and most notably your email signature, communicates more about your brand than you realise, which is why it is essential that a lot of thought goes into the brand and persona your emails and email signature, portray.

Here are a few tips to help refine your approach:

  • Make sure that you begin your mail with a polite greeting. Just like when you meet someone you greet them, email shouldn’t be any different. This, for some, is the “first impression” if you have not yet met the person on the other side of the email.
  • Spelling – probably the most important part of any letter/email. Always check that you’ve spell checked your mail. People will not take you seriously if you spell their name, or any other word wrong. Attention to detail such as this is important.
  • Type clear and complete sentences. Don’t type random phrases, slang or short codes. This lends to ineffective communication.
  • Email signature – make sure that your email signature has all of your contact information. Think of it as your digital business card when you aren’t able to give one to that person. You’d ideally want them to have all your information so that you can be reached.
  • Once you have those contacts in your signature, you can look at the social media links that you could add to your email signature. These have become the next best form of communication in the digital era.
  • If your industry allows, you could opt for a really cool email disclaimer. Most disclaimers are formal (with not much personality) and I bet hardly anyone ever reads them. But, if yours can catch someone’s attention, they will read it, and it will show the effort that went into making it stand out.
  • There are great email service providers that also allow you to brand your signature, both the top and bottom. Just like you would open your email with a pleasant greeting, opening it up with a cool graphic, call to action or anything relevant to your business.
  • In this day and age, everyone is communication on their phone or tablet. Make sure that you try and have an interactive signature that a person can click on links within your signature. There is nothing more frustrating for a recipient then a .jpg signature that you can’t click directly on details, and where they have to memorise information that you could have simply clicked on, especially with the advancement of smart devices and their touch ability.

Related: 5 Ways to Improve your Content Strategy Using Video

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