Image: Laitr Keiows Image: Laitr Keiows

Do you know who your main competitors are? Unless you are a brand new, niche business, it’s almost inevitable that you will have people offering similar things to you, explains business expert Carl Reader. This is obviously a challenge, but it can also bring out the best in your business. Successfully executed market research can massively sharpen your strategy and accelerate your business’s growth. But how do you do this?

First things first, the main thing is to work out who your main competitors are. Are they definitely fighting for similar clients, offering a similar service to you? If you don’t compare like with like, market research is a completely fruitless exercise. Research should also be objective. So often, I see personal bias interfere here - business owners who genuinely cannot see that their vision is skewed against certain competitors. For example, a local fried chicken shop might perceive that their meat is of a higher quality than a fast food franchise. However, it’s difficult to measure qualitative data like this. Many people looking at successful fast food chains would agree that the food is more than fit for purpose, and that actually, the business clearly has a successful and proven business model. Don’t disregard a competitor just because of a personal prejudice or preconceived notion.

Once you’ve worked out exactly who they are, you need to decide what exactly it is that you want to learn from your market research. Are you watching them to find out how they save money? Maybe you want to know how they’re styling their social media voice, or want to find out more about their marketing approach.

Whatever your aim is, decide on it and focus on that. If you know what questions you need to answer, you can gather a consistent set of data for each competitor. You really don’t need to spend a fortune on market research. While there are many market research agencies willing to do the work for you at a cost, there are plenty of low cost (or free) resources available, and I recommend at least trying these first. You really can find the majority of the information yourself with just a bit of effort and time.

Creating a template research sheet is a great place to start, with spaces to record what you have identified as being required to achieve your aim. If you’re focused on finding particular results, these will be far more crystallised and useful than just a general approach.

First and foremost, your own eyes and ears are your best means of gathering market research information. Attend events, talk to your customers, get out and see for yourself what competitors are doing. Get online - resources like their website and social media profiles are often goldmines of information – and completely free. The Companies House website and data from corporate credit appraisers are useful too – and don’t forget Google! To hear more from Carl follow him on Twitter @carlreader or join “The Startup Coach” group on Facebook