Published as a part of a three article series in the Career Moves section of the Evening Echo

Last week we looked at six ways you could use the internet to help you conduct efficient, cost effective market research. This week we offer another six suggestions that can help you get your fledgling business off the ground.

  1. Create online polls and surveys: survey based market research can reveal all sorts of information about your potential customers. But putting together and undertaking an effective survey used to be a costly, time consuming and labour intensive process. Now, thanks to the popularity of the internet and sites like Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) and PollDaddy (www.polldaddy.com) creating interactive online polls and surveys to canvas customer opinion has never been easier. Best of all, these services will collate and present all the results without you having to lift a finger.

  2. Check out your competitors’ websites: competitor research is crucial for any new business – and what better place to start than your competitors’ websites. You’ll find specific information about the company, the services or products they provide, what they charge, and will be able to infer things like the market their targeting. What are they doing well (emulate them), what are they doing badly (learn from them), and what aren’t they doing at all (and does that present an opportunity for you)?

  3. Search peer review sites: peer review sites can be generic, like Louder Voice (www.loudervoice.com) and Epinions (www.epinions.com), or industry specific like the travel review sites TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) and Boo.com (www.boo.com). Searching for specific keywords related to your business on both generic and industry specific review sites can tell you what people like and what they dislike about the services your competitors are offering, and your industry in general.

  4. Harness the social web: social networking sites like MySpace (www.myspace.com), FaceBook (www.facebook.com), Bebo (www.bebo.com), and others are all the rage at the moment. Groups of like minded people are congregating in these digital social havens to interact, exchange ideas and to discuss anything and everything. If your customers are among them, these can be great places to engage, join groups, ask questions and share information about you and your business.

  5. Feed me: RSS or “Really Simple Syndication” is a very easy and convenient way to keep up-to-date with the latest information online. Instead of spending time surfing a multitude of websites to see what, if anything, has been updated, your reader will pull all of the updates into one convenient location. All you need is a piece of software called an RSS Reader (Google offer a very capable, free online reader at http://reader.google.com), then simply add feeds from your favourite websites. To see what’s new all you need to do is fire up your feed reader and scan the headlines, then click through to the articles that interest you.

  6. Look, listen, learn, engage: finally, the most important thing is to recognise that the web is an interactive and constantly evolving medium. Spend a bit of time “lurking” on relevant sites to get a feel for them. Listen to what people are saying and learn as much as you can from it. Once you’re comfortable though, you’ll get much more out of your online research if you choose to engage with and contribute to the online community your new business wants to reach. Just like in the real world the more you put in, the more you get out!