Keep your friends close but your competition closer

Great friends are worth their weight in gold when you need some extra support and someone to share a bottle of wine with after a stressful week at work. Starting up and running your own business means your need for back up (and wine) is more pertinent than ever so it’s important to keep your buddies close. However, as mother always told you, it’s even more crucial to keep your enemies closer and by enemies we mean the business competition.

Why do we keep banging on about market research, you ask?

Market research helps you better understand your audience and consumer behaviour, which means you are fully informed when pitching prices and developing product. It also allows you to gain vital insight into the cultural, social and economic climate you are trading in and of course, scope out the competition.

Business rivalry is always a challenge but the competition is tougher these days than it has ever been before. More and more people are starting up their own enterprises and these aspiring businesspeople seem to be getting younger and younger. In fact, research recently issued by leading insurance company Direct Line for Business has revealed that more than 52,000 UK companies are run by the country’s student population. This surge in entrepreneurialism means the marketplace is becoming even more saturated and the competition stakes even higher.

London School of Business and Finance lecturer, Jose Scheuer is keen to highlight this growth in competition and the subsequent need to do more thorough market research. She said:

“Whereas in the past a small business had competition from other, often local, small businesses and their customers were known, today a small business competes in a much larger field.

Not only does it face competition from local as well as international companies, often these competitors are much larger and have greater negotiating power to secure and sell at cheaper prices. In addition to this, small businesses face competition from the unstoppable growth from e-commerce.”

Okay, so how do we go about sniffing out the competition?

With the marketplace now being so colossal, it’s understandable that you can often be left feeling like a tiny little goldfish floundering around in a deep, expansive pond, not knowing which way’s forward. But have no fear because we’re here to help you fine tune your compass point and work out the best directions to head in when conducting essential market research.

Ask the right people the right questions – Call upon your primary research skills and obtain some valuable insider knowledge that will go a long way towards helping you find your nook in the saturated marketplace. Methods such as online surveys and Facebook questionnaires delivered to your target audience mean you’ll be getting the most usual feedback. Insufficient or even incorrect information can be detrimental and influence negative business decisions further down the line. Keep repeating these techniques until you feel like you have filled all of the gaps you need to fill or at least have a substantial amount of knowledge to work with.

Secondary reach is a great way to supplement your findings and this can be obtained by checking out resources from third parties such as the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the British Chambers of Commerce.

Do some online research – Social media stalking isn’t just for teenyboppers who want to shadow Harry Styles’ every single movement or overly-attached ex-girlfriends, it’s also an extremely effective market research tool. Social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have fast become one of the most efficient and popular ways brands communicate with their customers. Taking a closer inspection of your competitors’ profiles will enable you to see what your target demographic is engaging with and which digital marketing approaches are proving less successful.

Go shopping – Take the chance to get out of the house and organise a few trips to go and physically check out the competition. Obviously, this method is less successful for e-commerce ventures but going for a snoop around your competitors’ bricks-and-mortar businesses is another great way to gain insight. Google is a good place to start but physically witnessing the locations, styles and operating processes of likeminded entrepreneurs is invaluable.

Attend industry events – Booking yourself onto a few conferences, seminars, networking events or trade shows is the perfect way to place yourself in the centre of the action and see what’s what first hand. Listening to speakers talk about the sector you are trading in will allow you access to valuable industry insights, insider knowledge and expert advice. Similarly, trade shows will enable you to visit competitors’ booths and ask questions without appearing intrusive on enemy grounds.

Treat it as an ongoing process – Finally but perhaps most importantly, it’s vital that you see market research as an ongoing process and not just a box that needs to be ticked during the initial start-up process. You will need to be constantly researching the market to stay on top of consumer habits and competitor movements, especially when launching new products, introducing new services or implementing new marketing strategies.