Affordable (Even Free) Research Tools to Help with Business DecisionsDecember is my favorite time of year to open a file on my desk labelled “Future”. We all have it in some form or shape, that stack of ideas, a list of action items, sheafs of clippings from magazines for future projects. There’s never really the right time to sink your teeth into the ‘Future’ folder during the peak times of the year, when deadlines are looming. The nitty gritty of business often gets in the way.

This year, I’d like you to consider picking up the task of research from your ‘Future’ folder. Don’t put it off for 2013, instead start the year with it. Don’t shy away from this clinical-sounding chore. Research, aside from being a key piece for strategic planningg, can actually be fun to do. You will also be pleasantly surprised how affordable research has become in the age of the world wide web.

Below are two easy (and free) steps to get you started:

Scope the enemy As Sun Tzu famously said, “Know thy enemy”. You don’t necessarily have to go undercover inside your competitor’s company to know them well. Start by scouting all available information about them on the web via a Google search. Say for example you both sell operating tables to local hospitals. Do a search of operating table manufacturers in your zip code. Is their website showing up on the 1st pages of Google? If not, are there other companies you might not have known about that are appearing for these keywords? Do one better and sign up for Google Alerts to get emails related to the industry keyword you want to dominate.

Familiarize yourself with key members of your rival’s team. See how frequently they appear on your local newspapers. Visit industry shows to gauge their trade presence. Know their pricing based on their website or by picking up the phone and pretending to be a customer. These moves won’t cost you a dime, just some free time. Arrange a fairly regular schedule in your work month to check up on your ‘enemies’.

Survey says Surveying is a research basic. It used to be that firms had to dole out a chunk of cash to hire a media company to execute even a simple setup. But did you know you can actually do this yourself? There are many free online survey tools to help you come up with questionnaires and measure results. One of my favorites is Google Forms. It’s a great tool for crafting basic questionnaires for your audience. Answers end up on a spreadsheet that you can refer back to once you’ve received answers from your survey audience. Here’s a quick walkthrough you can view for coming up with your very own survey page.

A word of caution: many research projects get lost in too many details. Don’t fall for this. As a small business owner you need to be able to make quick decisions to improve your business. You don’t have all day to immerse just for research. So take your data gathering in small doses. Craft simple survey questions that your audience can answer quickly. Move away from too many multiple answer questions. Prioritize your surveys to address the more pressing matters you need to decide on. You don’t want to fatigue your audience with too many questions now do you?

If business research is one more thing you simply can’t add to your plate anymore, we can help. Bliss Drive can design and execute your information gathering campaign so you can focus on the things you do best, that is, running your actual business. Call us today at 949-229-3454 to get a free consultation!

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