Every few months it makes sense to do some benchmarking and find out how your services, marketing message buzzwords and delivery systems compare to that of competitors. Whether you are a start-up or a veteran entrepreneur, market research in its many forms is an important barometer of the environment in which your business operates. Fail to keep your finger on the various pulse points of the marketplace and you can miss the boat on either a lucrative opportunity or a shift in business practices or customer priorities that will leave you out in the cold and scrambling to catch up.
As we approach the fourth quarter, it is useful to start thinking about the new year and how you can refine and confirm your services offered, targeted clients, business model and delivery of services. The results of your benchmarking research can be used in the marketing or operations sections of a business plan, to create a marketing or operations plan or to measure the success of a current ongoing plan. Start the process by following the advice of the late, great business strategy guru Peter Druker, who famously noted that getting the right answers begins with asking the right questions. Some important questions to pose include:
- What drives targeted clients to hire outside help (that is, Freelancers) to perform the types of services your organization provides?
- Who is providing that service for them now and what is the level of satisfaction with the deliverables?
- What would those clients like to see included in the service itself or in its delivery that is not now being provided?
- Does the client anticipate any changes in demand for this service within their organization?
- What does the client feel is a fair price to pay for these services?
In market research, there are primary and secondary sources of information. Primary source information emanates directly from the client or competitor. Secondary sources are anything that has been published. Because Freelance solopreneurs typically do not have market research budgets, a DIY low or no cost strategy will be necessary. Primary information can be collected from current and prospective clients through surveys and questionnaires that either appear on your website or are emailed separately to those who you feel will respond. Provide an incentive to participate, such as a free half hour consultation. Also, clients, prospects and referral sources can receive from you an invitation to have coffee or lunch, so that questions about their organizations’ needs and priorities as relates to your services can be asked and answered.
Competitors are another source of primary information. If you attend a seminar outside of a competitor’s working geography, he/she will likely be comfortable about sharing information. Over time, certain competitors that you encounter on a regular basis at business events may drop their guard just a bit and share a couple of pearls with you. It is for that reason that establishing good relationships with competitors is a smart idea. What they share will be limited, but it could be beneficial.
You may want to begin your research with secondary information. The easiest DIY market research tactic is to visit the websites of four or five of your closest competitors, that is other Freelancers who offer similar services to clients that could be yours, if you play your cards right. It’s a good idea to monitor the sites over the course of months or even years and make note of any additions or deletions of services. Changes in the available services of more than one competitor could very well indicate a change in client priorities and should prompt you to start asking some questions of your clients. Periodic explorations of client’s websites is also a good idea. A new service could suddenly appear and give you a new opportunity to make money.
Take your secondary research a step further and do an internet search of clients and competitors. You may find articles and press releases that yield useful information. Periodic checks of competitor’s LinkedIn profiles is also a great idea, especially if the two of you share a connection. That will grant you access to a competitor’s page without making that person a connection. Lots of juicy details about the competitor’s activities may await you. How can you create a second degree, strategic connection?
Give your business an important reality check with some good market research. Obtain information that helps your business identify niche markets or glean more billable hours from current clients. Use the December Christmas build-up weeks to conduct your investigations and make plans that will set you up for a successful new year.
Thanks for reading,