How to Carry Out Market Research

Effective market research can help you to figure out whether there is demand for your product or service, and can also help you to identify the right target demographics (which can sometimes be different to what you originally expect), as well as which stores to place them in, and how to market the product.  Whether you’re doing pharma market research or trying to promote a TV show, asking the right questions and interpreting the data you get back correctly is the key to success:

Finding a Research Partner

If you’re launching a new business on a shoestring, then you’ll probably end up doing most of your market research by yourself.  However, once you’re fully up and running, you may find that you don’t have the time or resources to do market research efficiently in-house.  Finding a market research specialist that works within your vertical is a good idea.

There are some general market research companies out there, and they can work if you just want help running surveys or focus groups, however for specialist market knowledge, hiring a pharma market research company or an industry expert is a  better choice. If it’s secondary research you’re interested in, rather than information about attitudes to one of your existing products, then they may already have the data prepared and up for sale.

Researching Yourself – Mystery Shopping

Following market trends is important, but if you’re convinced that you’ve found a gap in the market, but you’re not seeing the demand you expected, then maybe you’re looking in the wrong direction.  Don’t focus all of your research efforts on “the industry”.  It’s always a good idea to spend a little time looking at what your own company is doing.  Mystery shopping, sample orders, and quality testing are just as important as surveys and infographics.

Don’t make the mistake of focusing on a list of things that you think consumers want when you’re doing quality checks and mystery shopping.  Some companies waste resources sending mystery shoppers to fill out a checklist of items such as “Were you asked about a loyalty card? Did you get offered insurance?”, but that endless list of questions is precisely why the store is empty.  Let the shoppers go in with an open mind, and then ask them what they liked and disliked about the experiece.

Competitors and Colleagues

It’s all too easy to get so absorbed in your way of doing things that you let the rest of the market pass you by.  One way to prevent this is to hire someone to mystery shop your competitors, and take notes on what they’re doing.  In addition to shopping with your immediate competitors, why not visit some companies that trade within your niche, but aren’t direct competitors – either because they’re trading in a different geographic area, or aiming at a different segment of the market.  Keep an open mind to the things they’re doing, and look at how you can use their ideas within your niche.

You might be surprised at how open other companies are to answering questions and offering help – as long as you’re willing to reciprocate.

This guest post was brought to you by James Harper on behalf of Hall and Partners, specialists in innovating pharma market research. Find out more by following them on Twitter.

Sustainable Leadership

Many organisations know how to make a profit, but there is more to running a business than simply making the cash tills ring.  Those at the top of a business need to recognise this, and ensure that a healthy organisation is one that builds on the principles of thinking long-term, effective leadership and communication, and nurturing relationships.

It’s easy to think about what needs to be done now to clinch a deal or grab that next lucrative contract, and many workers have the skills to negotiate this, but effective and sustainable leadership is much more than that.  So, where does an organisation start?

Knowledge and awareness

Sustainable leadership can only be achieved if the leader is aware that they need to think in a long-term way.  They need to know who the organisation is, what its goals are, where it’s heading and how they want to achieve success.  It’s a complex process and involves engaging with managers and other members of staff to gain insight and input into how things are being run.  Having the skills to manage and monitor this alone is crucial, and often requires external assistance.

Developing skills

Many managers need to develop and hone their skills to become effective leaders.  They need to keep abreast of the latest ways of thinking to maintain market competitiveness. Leadership development training is critical to sustainable success and can give leaders the opportunity to inspire others to go that extra mile in their work and to connect strategy to performance.  It can help develop skills to allow leaders to connect people to their organisations, see how they fit in, modify change in behaviour and create shared commitment to achieve specific goals.  Leadership development enables leaders to communicate to all members of staff the wider picture of how the organisation operates, aside from the day-to-day operations and how what they do contributes to the organisation as a whole.  Thinking long term about the business also helps to foster good internal and external relations, retaining both staff and customers.

Action plans and setting goals

Sustainable leadership can only thrive if a leader outlines plans and goals for the organisation, rather than just letting things happen.  Recognising what these plans and goals are takes time and commitment, and is often achieved with the help of executive coaching, where professional assistance can be given to help glean out exactly what these plans and goals might be, and where the company is heading.  Often, the use of executive coaching not only improves leadership development skills but also unlocks potential and ideas that may have not come to fore without outside input.  Sometimes leaders are so wrapped up in the here and now, that they can’t necessarily see the finer detail and how all these pieces of details fit together like a jigsaw.

Sustainable leadership requires expertise to communicate long-term thinking to all members of staff, dispelling the notion that business success is only about the profit share.  Long-term market growth and maintaining competitiveness are all vital ingredients for a sustainable, successful business.

About the Author: This post was written by James Harper on behalf of Performance1 experts in leadership development and executive coaching. Please follow this link to find out more about executive coaching and leadership development.

Using Promotional Gifts in Your Marketing – Five of the Best

One of the best ways to create a positive brand impression is to hand out custom promotional items to your long term customers, or to people that visit your booth at trade shows.  You don’t have to spend a fortune on promotional items.  In most cases, your clients will appreciate even a small gift as a token of appreciation for their long term custom.  If you’re not sure what sort of gift is appropriate, check out the following ideas:

promotional items
Promotional items - ready to go!

1. Memory Sticks

This is probably one of the most useful promotional presents.  You can never have too many memory sticks.  A small memory stick with your logo on it won’t cost you a lot of money, but the recipient will appreciate it.  It will end up in their jacket pocket or laptop bag, and will probably get passed around the office as a handy way to transfer files.

2. Branded Mugs

People love branded mugs.  They’re another one of those promotional presents that falls into the “you can never have too many” category.   No matter how many branded mugs are already floating around the office, if you send a couple out to your best clients, they will end up getting used for many years to come.  The general rule for most offices I’ve ever worked in is: the more mugs there are in the office, the less often the washing up will get done.

3. Mouse Pads

Mouse pads are always handy.  They may not get used in the office, but people will take them home to use in the study.  Or, they might store them and pull them out when someone spills coffee on one of the old ones.  People will appreciate a mouse pad as a promotional present, and they’re a nice one to consider because they’re flat, not particularly fragile, and easy to send in the post.

4. Branded Keychains

Branded keychains are small, inexpensive, and useful.  Especially if you can make them dual purpose – for example, a keychain flashlight or bottle opener.  There’s a good chance that the recipient will clip it on to their keys right away, so your brand will always be in their pocket.

5. T-Shirts

For some companies, t-shirts make brilliant promotional gifts, but for others they’re not such a great idea.  If you work in an entertainment related industry, people will love getting promotional t-shirts, especially for a product that is either new, or not yet released.  That sort of promotional present is one that people will wear with pride.  The same is true for the sports industry – having a team t-shirt, or one with a supplement maker’s logo on it, is something that impresses a lot of people.

If you’re in a less glamorous industry, people might not think like that.  Before you order 500 t-shirts with your company logo on them, stop and think for a moment.  Would you wear one of those on a night out?  If not, would you even wear one to the gym?

Image: ingermaaike2 / Flickr

The Beginner’s Guide to e-Commerce

In the current economic climate where employment opportunities can be scarce at best establishing a small business can seem like a tempting proposition. Being self-employed can free an individual from the endless process of job hunting and provide much desired independence.

However, establishing a business is not as straightforward as some may presume. There is a lot more involved in creating and managing a business than may at first be imagined. The owner of the company is not only responsible for day to day operations but also for managing the business itself.

A working business idea

In many respects coming up with a working business idea can be the most difficult part of establishing a new business. The majority of entrepreneurs approach this problem from one of two very different directions: having a business idea and creating a business based upon it or simply having the desire to create a business with a working business idea yet to be created.

Either way, caution should be exercised. In the first instance the prospective entrepreneur must ensure that there is a market for the business and that they do not simply press ahead with the idea based upon passion and emotion. This would be a sure route to failure.

In the second instance the prospective entrepreneur should ensure that the business idea that is adopted is of course viable but they should also ensure that they have sufficient knowledge and enthusiasm for the product. This is essential to succeed.

The basics of e-commerce

Once the newly established business has a product with which it can proceed, the next challenge is to create the infrastructure necessary to sell the product. This generally starts with a website. For more sound business cases this may involve designing and building a professional website or having one created on the business’ behalf.

ecommerce basics
ECommerce 101

If the desire is to simply test the water before committing significant resources many companies have found eBay to be a good starting point. Products can be advertised and sold on eBay for minimum investment and maximum return.

Of course the business should ensure that it has sufficient stock to be able to sell to clients, whether using eBay or a professional website. Moreover, the business should consider supplies of consumables including cardboard boxes, jiffy bags and other packaging. The business should also consider the creation of address labels, packing slips and invoices.

Business development

It is always a fine balance between failing to take advantage of a market and overreaching too soon. The business should be ready to take full advantage of the market if it is available and the sale of the product is successful.

However, the business should also ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support this expansion to prevent overreaching. The company should aim to expand progressively in a controlled and calculated manner. By doing so, the owner of the company can ensure continued success and this will allow the business to grow naturally.

Improve Your Business with an Online Survey

Information is one of the most powerful assets that a business owner has.  The more you know about your customers and their needs and wants, the better equipped you are to serve them, and keep them loyal to your company.  One of the best ways to gather information is by running regular online surveys.

Persuading your customers to fill out surveys can be difficult.  Taking a business survey isn’t exactly the way that most people dream of spending their time, but if you provide a good enough incentive, most people would be willing to spend a couple of minutes providing you with the feedback you need.

To set up a good survey, you will need to work with your web systems development team.  Ask them to create a short, easy to use survey, and some form of advertisement that is noticeable, but not intrusive.  You want to entice your customers to click on the survey, not drive them away.

Designing Quality Surveys

There’s not much point in making your web systems development team invest time and effort into putting together a survey if the survey does not give you the information that you need.  Before you put together a business survey, consider the following points:

  • What do you want to learn through conducting this survey?
  • Why are you running this survey?
  • How will the information you gather be used?

A good survey is one that produces information that can be easily analyzed.  Asking people to write paragraphs of information about what they think of your company might make for interesting reading, but it is hard to summarize all of the feedback you get into easily understandable data.

Instead of asking your customers “What do you dislike about our product?”, offer questions that have simple yes or no answers, or answers that fit into simple bullet points – for example, ask your users to rate a list of attributes (price, size, performance, extra features) from most important to least important.  This way, you’ll be able to tell at-a-glance what your users think is important.

Keeping People Interested

If your business survey is too long, difficult to read, or slow to load, then you may lose people before they complete the entire survey.  Get your web systems development team to test the survey to make sure that it works in all of the main browsers, and that it’s easy to answer questions, move to the next page, and generally interact with the survey.  Try to keep the survey short and simple.  If you have dozens of questions per page, people may lose interest.

Picking the Right Audience

There are several ways to attract people to take part in your survey.  The most valuable feedback will come from your existing customers.  Invite them to take part in the survey by including a link in your regular email newsletter, or by promoting the survey on order pages on your website.  If you need even more participants, you could promote the survey on your home page, but try to make sure that you don’t annoy people by pushing the survey with pop-ups every time they load a new page. Discrete advertisements are best.

About the Author: This post was written by James Harper on behalf of business survey and web systems development experts Xibis.

Top Tips to Ensure You Never Miss another Deadline at Work

Whether you run an online or an offline business there are certain targets that you need to meet. If you want people to buy your products then you need to ensure that they get their orders delivered on time and in good condition. If you have a boss that you have to keep happy then you need up to date reports on sales figures and future forecasts.

Those busy people who recognise that they cannot keep track of everything by themselves have now cottoned onto the fact that if you let an efulfilment (also known as web fulfilment) company take on some of your tasks; you won’t upset your boss with a missed deadline.

Tip 1: Getting Stock Delivered

You can spend a lot of time chasing up various members of staff to ensure that a customer’s order is actually booked and is due to be delivered on a certain day. One way to avoid all the hassle of chasing other people when it comes to response and delivery is to engage the services of an efulfilment company. A reputable and experienced company will be able to receive your goods and have orders packed and mailed out to customers within a given time frame. When you use the right service, you won’t have to worry about packing and delivery again, you can rest assured that customers will receive their orders in good time. Whether you need simple mailing of goods or a full picking, packing and delivery service the right company will make all the difference to your customers and thereby to your business.

Tip 2: Keeping Track of the Data

If you are not detail minded then accounts and sales reports may go untended, making it difficult when the boss calls a meeting to ask about the current state of the business.

When you engage the services of an efulfilment company they will run an audit trail on both the accounts and the sales figures, allowing you to have the details at your fingertips when you need them. A good company will do their best to identify and prevent potential delays and hold ups in securing an exact picture of the data. If you have a company website it’s a good idea to get some professional advice on the best way to handle it. A good professional outfit can manage many of the day to day tasks, such as processing payments for you, leaving you free to get on with the rest of your job.

Tip 3: Taking Care of the Little Things

One of the problems for those whose job it is to manage a successful business is that there is not always time to take care of all the little things that please customers and make your company unique. It’s all too easy not to check on how customers’ goods are packed and to miss the fact that you should be using bespoke packaging. A good company can handle all the little details that bog you down, including sending out goods in bespoke packaging.

This post was written by James Harper on behalf of Hallmark Consumer Services.

Working at Home – Know Your Stuff and Avoid the Scams

Having the opportunity to work from home is a dream for many people. Some people choose remote working as a way to earn a little extra money while looking after their kids, while others opt to work from home so that they can avoid the daily commute, or just structure their work day a little differently to the average 9-5 job.

Because remote working is so popular, this has led to a lot of scams job advertisements cropping up. Job sites do their best to try to remove the scams, but it can be difficult for them to stay on top of the sheer number of job postings that are submitted. If you want to avoid dodgy work-at-home advertisements, try the following tips.

work at home

Remember That Real Jobs Don’t Cost Money

If a job posting asks you to pay money up front, steer clear of it. A real employer would not charge money for training materials or equipment. Never hand over cash when you apply for a work-at-home job. You won’t see that money again.

Don’t Expect to Get Rich

Avoid listings that promise good incomes for part-time hours. Those listings are almost always pyramid schemes, MLM, or something similar. Work at home jobs are still jobs, and you’ll have to put in real work to earn real money.

Read the Advertisement Carefully

Before you apply for any remote working job, make sure you understand exactly how it will work. Many jobs work on a commission basis, or a revenue sharing basis. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a scam, but it does mean that your income isn’t guaranteed. If you need a fixed income to pay the bills, be careful applying for commission related jobs.

Common Scams to Avoid

Until recently, assembly related jobs were a common work-from-home offering. These jobs tend to require fiddly, difficult assembly work. You can expect to work long hours to meet your targets, and will then have a sample of your work quality tested. If any of your work fails the test, you won’t get paid for that batch.  Home assembly jobs might sound nice, but you’ll probably do a lot of work for very little money.

Another common remote working scam is data entry. While fast typists can do very well financially from real data entry jobs, in the work-at-home world, data entry is a euphemism for posting spam advertisements on forums and job boards. Your income (if you get any) will probably come from scamming other people into paying to buy the “data entry” start-up kit that you just purchased yourself.

Finding Real Work-at-Home Jobs

The best way to approach the work from home job hunt is not to look for jobs that advertise themselves as “Work from Home”. Instead, treat it like a normal job hunt. Figure out what your marketable skills are, and look for jobs in those areas. Jobs such as tech support, public relations, accounting, and software development all support working from home these days. Look for jobs with well known, reputable employers, and negotiate remote working with them if you want to avoid scammers.

About the Author: This post was written by James Harper on behalf of Maintel the remote working experts.

Image: Eric__I_E / Flickr

Get Ready For The Trade Show Season

Trade show season is almost upon us!  In fact, for some industries, it’s already begun.  Toy Fair took place last month, Auto Shows are already taking place, and next month will see the Gadget Show Live along with the first of Europe’s major Games Festivals.  If you want to make an impact this year, you’d better start planning your booth, and contacting trailer producers and poster printers now!

trade show tips
Are you ready for 2012 trade show season?

Trade Shows or Festivals?

The state of the economy right now means that many business owners can’t afford to attend several events per year, so they have to plan their events strategy carefully, taking their display trailers only to the events with the biggest impact.  The trick is figuring out what kind of impact you want, and who you’re trying to reach.

Sponsoring festivals and sporting events is a good way to raise brand awareness and generate goodwill.  If your message is a simple one, such as “Come buy your guitars from our music shop”, or “We sell football kits”, then generating awareness in this way is a good start.

If your message is more complicated, or you want to reach a wider range of people than you would at a local event, then you should consider attending a trade show.  Some trade events are industry only – such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.  This event is attended by international press, investors, video game publishers, and buyers for stores from all over the world.  If you’re preparing to launch a product, and want to generate a lot of buzz, this is the place to do it.

Other events are open to the public.  At public events, there are a lot of companies competing for the attention of the visitors, and in many industries there’s an ever-increasing battle to produce the flashiest display trailers, offer the best swag, and pull the biggest publicity stunts.  If you’re on a tight budget, getting into this kind of battle is a bad idea, unless you’re sure that you can create a lasting impression.  People who visit your booth for a free inflatable sword and shield or other crazy gift set won’t buy your product – but people who visit your booth to demo your product and pick up a catalogue might well turn into customers later.

Keeping Costs Down

Trade shows are great for networking.  Ideally, you should try to attend any shows that are local to you, and also try to find room in your budget for a major, highly respected show elsewhere.  The power of being able to say “As seen at the Frankfurt Auto Show” should not be underestimated.

To keep costs down, start negotiating with trailer producers early, and show space as soon as you can to take advantage of early bird discounts.  Try to get bulk discounts for posters, business cards, and other essentials.  While you’re at the show, take advantage of any networking opportunities – get out there and hand out cards to people at other stands, and take the time to see what other people are doing.  Trade shows aren’t just good ways to spread the word about what you’re doing – they’re good ways to find out what’s happening in the rest of your industry too.

Image: Yodel Anecdotal / Flickr

Reasons Why People Don’t Buy From a Website

Even if you have a lot of traffic coming to your site, these visitors might not be doing what you want them to on your site. Whether that’s buying a product or filling in an enquiry form, these visitors aren’t converting. Often, website owners will look at this problem and decide what they need is more visitors coming to the site, rather than making the most of the potential customers that are leaving. This can be expensive, especially when you’ve got the potential customers visiting already – you just have to appeal to them a bit more.

This is all about conversion rate optimisation, which can help you get the most out of the potential customers already coming your way. Below are some tips to consider when looking to optimise your site.

Can you find items easily?

If you look at your site as a customer would, can you find things easily? Finding a certain page should be easy and straightforward. Easy to read sign posts that direct people are necessary. If people can’t find exactly what they’re looking for straight away, they’ll look somewhere else.

However, trying to get every link on every page may make the site look a mess and cause more problems than it solves. As long as the directions are there, it should make sense.

Is the information there?

When potential customers have found the page they’re looking on, they’re going to need some information on what they’re looking at. Whether it’s a product or service, the attached description could decide whether they buy from you or someone else.

The description should contain enough information so that a potential customer can decide if it’s right for them, as well as being written in high quality, detailed enough to cover everything and completely unique.

Online, you don’t have the ability to hold an item like you do in a store. The description needs to replace and recreate that feeling, or you won’t give your customers the confidence to buy from you. High resolution images that customers can zoom on to see the items in detail and technical specifications are really good things that should be included on the page too.

Customers need confidence

When it comes to conversion rate optimisation the first thing you need to assess is if customers have enough confidence in your site. Customers will not part with their credit card details on to a site they can’t completely trust, and they’re quite right too as well. With this in mind, it’s important to make sure that you and your site are doing everything you can to gain the customers trust.

Making your website look professional is the first step. The more professional the site looks, the more trustworthy it’ll come across as. It’s also a good idea to make your contact details as open as possible and to not hide them away or refuse to put them on the site at all. Customers will gain confidence if they know you’re approachable and they’re able to contact you should anything not go according to plan.

This post was written on behalf of Boom Online Marketing the conversion rate optimisation experts

Managing Your Company’s Reputation Online

Today, a company can live or die by the effectiveness of its corporate reputation management. The ease with which customers can share opinions with the world online is both a blessing, and a curse. Viral marketing can help your company to grow without spending a fortune on advertising, but when things go wrong, if your crisis communications are not perfect, then your brand could suffer massively. Continue reading Managing Your Company’s Reputation Online