By conducting effective market research, you will develop a detailed understanding of the size of the opportunity you first identified. Conducting market research is not simply finding information about your target market. It must be approached with the understanding that you are developing an array of citable facts to bolster the claims you make in your value proposition. Good market research will allow you to clearly demonstrate why you may have just identified a winning idea in your business plan.
DOCUMENTING YOUR RESEARCH
As you begin to conduct your market research, you will find it very helpful if you maintain a list of every piece of information you have reviewed, whether it be website, trade magazine, scholarly article, book, blog, or even talking to an industry expert.
Maintaining that list of all your market research will come in handy as you flesh out your business plan. As much of your business plan will be based on your own observations of the market, by citing acceptable research materials, you will reinforce the strength of your arguments. Citing research in your business plan can be done in a number of ways, including parenthetical notation, footnotes, or an appendix of works cited. However you choose to do it, just make sure you document all your research.
AN IMPORTANT NOT ON WIKIPEDIA
Wikipedia can be in many cases a very effective tool for developing great market research. Many of the articles found on the website contain very detailed information about relatively obscure topics, all documented with a wealth of supporting references. Other entries may be riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation, so use caution.
Further, due to the community-based editing of Wikipedia, content is liable to change with no notice whatsoever, so you may find information you previously thought was well documented can no longer be easily found. For detailed information on conducting research using Wikipedia, check out Wikipedia’s own article on Researching with Wikipedia.
POTENTIAL SOURCES OF RESEARCH
There are a number of sources you can use for market research. We have compiled a brief list here:
– Blogs written by industry experts
– GIS software
– Industry-specific trade periodicals
– Interviews with industry experts
– Reference librarians
– Surveys of potential customers
– Scholarly articles
Blogs written by industry experts
Many individuals in a variety of industries have started to author blogs based on their experiences in a particular industry. These blogs can often provide reams of easily cited information, a nice substitute if no industry experts are available to talk to you.
Geographic Information System (GIS) software refers to a type of computer program that allows a user to create a map or geographic model based on a number of criteria. For example, you can define a search that will locate all of the physicians’ offices within a certain ZIP code, or the number of clothing retail outlets in Baltimore City. The JHU library on the Homewood Campus has access to GIS software and can show you how to effectively leverage it for your research purposes.
Industry-specific trade periodicals
Almost every industry and its subsets organize the publication of periodicals devoted to their specific interests. Trade periodicals are a wealth of information geared specifically towards the particular market (and related industry) you are researching. If your market has an industry that serves it, then odds are, at least one (and most likely several) magazines and newsletters exist to talk about the latest industry news.
Interviews with industry experts
Actually talking with someone with experience in the particular market you are targeting will often provide a number of important insights.
Reference librarians are a fantastic resource when first starting your research. They have a broad knowledge of all sorts of different sources of information related to your topic, and can often point you in the right direction. The JHU library on the Homewood Campus has a number of reference librarians happy to help you out in any way they can.
Surveys of potential customers
While difficult to conduct, a survey of your potential customers can provide critical, novel research to strengthen the underlying arguments supporting your value proposition.
Scholarly articles, often published in highly specialized periodicals geared towards the academic exploration of a particular topic (whether it be logistics or nanotechnology), can provide much useful information.
Websites these days are often a source of useful information related to your research. Many websites are highly respected, reputable sources of information specific to your paritcular market or industry. One must always be careful to avoid citing websites that may be viewed as inaccurate. Websites for governmental agencies, or respected industry associations are always acceptable. Even personal websites authored by well-credentialed individuals will pass muster. One must be careful however to avoid websites published by individuals espousing a personal opinion with relatively little supporting evidence to the claims.
LINKS TO THIRD-PARTY SOURCES OF INFORMATION
JHU Library Research Help Section – Extremely useful
U.S. Demography – U.S. demographic information
CyberAtlas – Research about online populations
EconData – Economics and demographic information
ReferenceUSA – U.S. demographic information
USA Data – Consumer lifestyle data
GOVERNMENTAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Bureau of Economic Analysis – Wide range of economic statistics
Bureau of Transportation Statistics – Transportation statistics
Centers for Disease Control – Data on health status, lifestyle, use of healthcare
Department of Commerce – Economic statistics
U.S. Census Bureau – All data from the U.S. census
Office of Research and Statistics – Provides a wide range of government statistics
IF YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING, REMEMBER THIS…
Everything you find here is designed to help you write a better business plan. Take what you like, ignore what you do not. The most important thing to remember is that there is no single “right way” to write a business plan.