How to Do Market Research: A Guide and Template

Discover the different types of market research, how to conduct your own market research, and use a free template to help you along the way.



5 Research and Planning Templates + a Free Guide on How to Use Them in Your Market Research


Updated: 03/29/23

Published: 03/29/23

Today's consumers have a lot of power. They can research your product or service and make purchase decisions entirely on their own.

Moreover, rather than talking to one of your sales reps, they're more likely to ask for referrals from members of their networks or read online reviews.

With this in mind, have you adapted your marketing strategy to complement the way today's consumers research, shop, and buy?

To do just that, you must have a deep understanding of who your buyers are, your specific market, and what influences the purchase decisions and behavior of your target audience members.

Enter: Market Research.

→ Download Now: Market Research Templates [Free Kit]

Whether you're new to market research, this guide will provide you with a blueprint for conducting a thorough study of your market, target audience, competition, and more.

What is market research?

Market research is the process of gathering information about your target market and customers to verify the success of a new product, help your team iterate on an existing product, or understand brand perception to ensure your team is effectively communicating your company's value effectively.

Market research can answer various questions about the state of an industry, but it's hardly a crystal ball that marketers can rely on for insights on their customers. Market researchers investigate several areas of the market, and it can take weeks or even months to paint an accurate picture of the business landscape.

However, researching just one of those areas can make you more intuitive to who your buyers are and how to deliver value that no other business is offering them right now.

Certainly you can make sound judgment calls based on your experience in the industry and your existing customers. However, keep in mind that market research offers benefits beyond those strategies. There are two things to consider:

  • Your competitors also have experienced individuals in the industry and a customer base. It's very possible that your immediate resources are, in many ways, equal to those of your competition's immediate resources. Seeking a larger sample size for answers can provide a better edge.
  • Your customers don't represent the attitudes of an entire market. They represent the attitudes of the part of the market that is already drawn to your brand.

The market research services market is growing rapidly, which signifies a strong interest in market research as we enter 2023. The market is expected to grow from roughly $75 billion in 2021 to $90.79 billion in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 5%.

how to do a market research for a business plan

Free Market Research Kit

  • SWOT Analysis Template
  • Survey Template
  • Focus Group Template

You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

Why do market research?

Market research allows you to meet your buyer where they are. As our world (both digital and analog) becomes louder and demands more and more of our attention, this proves invaluable. By understanding your buyer's problems, pain points, and desired solutions, you can aptly craft your product or service to naturally appeal to them. Once you're ready to expand your business, you can also use market research to help you create a market development strategy .

Market research also provides insight into a wide variety of things that impact your bottom line, including:

  • Where your target audience and current customers conduct their product or service research
  • Which of your competitors your target audience looks to for information, options, or purchases
  • What's trending in your industry and in the eyes of your buyer
  • Who makes up your market and what their challenges are
  • What influences purchases and conversions among your target audience
  • Consumer attitudes about a particular topic, pain, product, or brand
  • Whether there's demand for the business initiatives you're investing in
  • Unaddressed or underserved customer needs that can be flipped into selling opportunity
  • Attitudes about pricing for a particular product or service

Ultimately, market research allows you to get information from a larger sample size of your target audience, eliminating bias and assumptions so that you can get to the heart of consumer attitudes. As a result, you can make better business decisions from knowing the bigger picture.

As you begin honing in on your market research, you'll likely hear about primary and secondary market research. The easiest way to think about primary and secondary research is to envision two umbrellas sitting beneath market research: one for primary market research and one for secondary market research.

Beneath these two umbrellas sits a number of different types of market research, which we'll highlight below . Defining which of the two umbrellas your market research fits beneath isn't necessarily crucial, although some marketers prefer to make the distinction.

So, in case you encounter a marketer who wants to define your types of market research as primary or secondary — or if you're one of them — let's cover the definitions of the two categories next. Then, we'll look at the different types of market research in the following section .

Primary vs. Secondary Research

To give you an idea of how extensive market research can get, consider that it can either be qualitative or quantitative in nature — depending on the studies you conduct and what you're trying to learn about your industry.

Qualitative research is concerned with public opinion, and explores how the market feels about the products currently available in that market. Quantitative research is concerned with data, and looks for relevant trends in the information that's gathered from public records.

There are two main types of market research that your business can conduct to collect actionable information on your products, including primary research and secondary research. Let's dive into those two types, now.

Primary Research

Primary research is the pursuit of first-hand information about your market and the customers within your market. It's useful when segmenting your market and establishing your buyer personas. Primary market research tends to fall into one of two buckets: exploratory and specific research.

Exploratory Primary Research

This kind of primary market research is less concerned with measurable customer trends and more about potential problems that would be worth tackling as a team. It normally takes place as a first step — before any specific research has been performed — and may involve open-ended interviews or surveys with small numbers of people.

Specific Primary Research

Specific primary market research often follows exploratory research and is used to dive into issues or opportunities the business has already identified as important. In specific research, the business can take a smaller or more precise segment of their audience and ask questions aimed at solving a suspected problem.

Secondary Research

Secondary research is all the data and public records you have at your disposal to draw conclusions from (e.g. trend reports, market statistics, industry content, and sales data you already have on your business). Secondary research is particularly useful for analyzing your competitors . The main buckets your secondary market research will fall into include:

Public Sources

These sources are your first and most-accessible layer of material when conducting secondary market research. They're often free to find and review — lots of bang for your buck here.

Government statistics are one of the most common types of public sources according to Entrepreneur. Two U.S. examples of public market data are the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor & Statistics , both of which offer helpful information on the state of various industries nationwide.

Commercial Sources

These sources often come in the form of market reports, consisting of industry insight compiled by a research agency like Pew , Gartner , or Forrester . Because this info is so portable and distributable, it typically costs money to download and obtain.

Internal Sources

Internal sources deserve more credit for supporting market research than they generally get. Why? This is the market data your organization already has!

Average revenue per sale, customer retention rates, and other historical data on the health of old and new accounts can all help you draw conclusions on what your buyers might want right now.

Now that we've covered these overarching market research categories, let's get more specific and look at the various types of market research you might choose to conduct.

Types of Market Research

  • Focus Groups
  • Product/ Service Use Research
  • Observation-Based Research
  • Buyer Persona Research
  • Market Segmentation Research
  • Pricing Research
  • Competitive Analysis Research
  • Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Research
  • Brand Awareness Research
  • Campaign Research

1. Interviews

Interviews allow for face-to-face discussions (in-person and virtual) so you can allow for a natural flow or conversation and watch your interviewee's body language while doing so.

Your interviewees can answer questions about themselves to help you design your buyer personas. These buyer personas describe your ideal customer's age, family size, budget, job title, the challenges they face at work, and similar aspects of their lifestyle. Having this buyer profile in hand can shape your entire marketing strategy, from the features you add to your product to the content you publish on your website.

2. Focus Groups

Focus groups provide you with a handful of carefully-selected people that can test out your product, watch a demo, provide feedback, and/or answer specific questions.

This type of market research can give you ideas for product differentiation, or the qualities of your product that make it unique in the marketplace. Consider asking your focus group questions about (and showing them examples of) your services, and ultimately use the group's feedback to make these services better.

3. Product/Service Use Research

Product or service use research offers insight into how and why your audience uses your product or service, and specific features of that item. This type of market research also gives you an idea of the product or service's usability for your target audience.

In a 2020 report , respondents rated usability testing most highly in terms of usefulness for discovering user insights (rating it 8.7 out of 10). By comparison, digital analytics was rated 7.7, and user surveys 6.4.

4. Observation-Based Research

Observation-based research allows you to sit back and watch the ways in which your target audience members go about using your product or service, what works well in terms of UX , what roadblocks they hit, and which aspects of it could be easier for them to use and apply.

5. Buyer Persona Research

Buyer persona research gives you a realistic look at who makes up your target audience, what their challenges are, why they want your product or service, what they need from your business and brand, and more.

6. Market Segmentation Research

Market segmentation research allows you to categorize your target audience into different groups (or segments) based on specific and defining characteristics — this way, you can determine effective ways to meet their needs, understand their pain points and expectations, learn about their goals, and more.

7. Pricing Research

Pricing research gives you an idea of what similar products or services in your market sell for, what your target audience expects to pay — and is willing to pay — for whatever it is you sell, and what's a fair price for you to list your product or service at. All of this information will help you define your pricing strategy .

8. Competitive Analysis

Competitive analyses are valuable because they give you a deep understanding of the competition in your market and industry. You can learn about what's doing well in your industry, what your target audience is already going for in terms of products like yours, which of your competitors should you work to keep up with and surpass, and how you can clearly separate yourself from the competition .

9. Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Research

Customer satisfaction and loyalty research give you a look into how you can get current customers to return for more business and what will motivate them to do so (e.g. loyalty programs , rewards, remarkable customer service). This research will help you discover the most-effective ways to promote delight among your customers . If you're using a CRM system, see if you're able to send out automated customer feedback surveys to aid in this process.

10. Brand Awareness Research

Brand awareness research tells you about what your target audience knows about and recognizes from your brand. It tells you about the associations your audience members make when they think about your business and what they believe you're all about.

11. Campaign Research

Campaign research entails looking into your past campaigns and analyzing their success among your target audience and current customers. It requires experimentation and then a deep dive into what reached and resonated with your audience so you can keep those elements in mind for your future campaigns and hone in on the aspects of what you do that matters most to those people.

Now that you know about the categories and types of market research, let's review how you can conduct your market research .

Here's how to do market research step-by-step.

How to Do Market Research

  • Define your buyer persona.
  • Identify a persona group to engage.
  • Prepare research questions for your market research participants.
  • List your primary competitors.
  • Summarize your findings.

1. Define your buyer persona.

Before you dive into how customers in your industry make buying decisions, you must first understand who they are.

This is where your buyer personas come in handy. Buyer personas — sometimes referred to as marketing personas — are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers.

Use a free tool to create a buyer persona that your entire company can use to market, sell, and serve better.

How to do market research defining your buyer persona

They help you visualize your audience, streamline your communications, and inform your strategy. Some key characteristics you should be keen on including in your buyer persona are:

  • Job title(s)
  • Family size
  • Major challenges

The idea is to use your persona as a guideline for how to effectively reach and learn about the real audience members in your industry. Also, you may find that your business lends itself to more than one persona — that's fine! You just need to be thoughtful about each specific persona when you're optimizing and planning your content and campaigns.

To get started with creating your personas, check out these free templates , as well as this helpful tool.

2. Identify a persona group to engage.

Now that you know who your buyer personas are, use that information to help you identify a group to engage to conduct your market research with — this should be a representative sample of your target customers so you can better understand their actual characteristics, challenges, and buying habits.

The group you identify to engage should also be made of people who recently made a purchase or purposefully decided not to make one. Here are some more guidelines and tips to help you get the right participants for your research.

How to Identify the Right People to Engage for Market Research

When choosing who to engage for your market research, start by focusing on people who have the characteristics that apply to your buyer persona. You should also:

Aim for 10 participants per buyer persona.

We recommend focusing on one persona, but if you feel it's necessary to research multiple personas, be sure to recruit a separate sample group for each one.

Select people who have recently interacted with you.

You may want to focus on people that have completed an evaluation within the past six months — or up to a year if you have a longer sales cycle or niche market. You'll be asking very detailed questions so it's important that their experience is fresh.

Free Focus Group Kit

Gather a mix of participants..

You want to recruit people who have purchased your product, purchased a competitor's product, and decided not to purchase anything at all. While your customers will be the easiest to find and recruit, sourcing information from those who aren't customers (yet!) will help you develop a balanced view of your market.

Here are some more details on how to select this mix of participants:

  • Pull a list of customers who made a recent purchase. As we mentioned before, this is usually the easiest set of buyers to recruit. If you're using a CRM system with list segmentation capabilities , you can run a report of deals that closed within the past six months and filter it for the characteristics you're looking for. Otherwise, you can work with your sales team to get a list of appropriate accounts from them.
  • Pull a list of customers who were in an active evaluation, but didn't make a purchase. You should get a mix of buyers who either purchased from a competitor or decided not to make a purchase. Again, you can get this list from your CRM or from whatever system your Sales team uses to track deals.
  • Call for participants on social media. Try reaching out to the folks that follow you on social media, but decided not to buy from you. There's a chance that some of them will be willing to talk to you and tell you why they ultimately decided not to buy your product.
  • Leverage your own network. Get the word out to your coworkers, former colleagues, and LinkedIn connections that you're conducting a study. Even if your direct connections don't qualify, some of them will likely have a coworker, friend, or family member who does.
  • Choose an incentive. Time is precious, so you'll need to think about how you will motivate someone to spend 30-45 minutes on you and your study. On a tight budget? You can reward participants for free by giving them exclusive access to content. Another option? Send a simple handwritten 'thank you' note once the study is complete.

3. Prepare research questions for your market research participants.

The best way to make sure you get the most out of your conversations is to be prepared. You should always create a discussion guide — whether it's for a focus group, online survey, or a phone interview — to make sure you cover all of the top-of-mind questions and use your time wisely.

(Note: This is not intended to be a script. The discussions should be natural and conversational, so we encourage you to go out of order or probe into certain areas as you see fit.)

Your discussion guide should be in an outline format, with a time allotment and open-ended questions for each section.

Wait, all open-ended questions?

Yes — this is a golden rule of market research. You never want to "lead the witness" by asking yes and no questions, as that puts you at risk of unintentionally swaying their thoughts by leading with your own hypothesis. Asking open-ended questions also helps you avoid one-word answers (which aren't very helpful for you).

Example Outline of a 30-Minute Survey

Here's a general outline for a 30-minute survey for one B2B buyer. You can use these as talking points for an in-person interview, or as questions posed on a digital survey that can be made with tools like HubSpot's free online form builder , to administer as a survey to your target customers.

Background Information (5 Minutes)

Ask the buyer to give you a little background information (their title, how long they've been with the company, and so on). Then, ask a fun/easy question to warm things up (first concert attended, favorite restaurant in town, last vacation, etc.).

Remember, you want to get to know your buyers in pretty specific ways. You might be able to capture basic information such as age, location, and job title from your contact list, there are some personal and professional challenges you can really only learn by asking.

Here are some other key background questions to ask your target audience:

  • Describe how your team is structured.
  • Tell me about your personal job responsibilities.
  • What are the team's goals and how do you measure them?
  • What has been your biggest challenge in the past year?

Now, make a transition to acknowledge the specific purchase or interaction they made that led to you including them in the study. The next three stages of the buyer's journey will focus specifically on that purchase.

Awareness (5 Minutes)

Here, you want to understand how they first realized they had a problem that needed to be solved without getting into whether or not they knew about your brand yet.

  • Think back to when you first realized you needed a [name the product/service category, but not yours specifically]. What challenges were you facing at the time?
  • How did you know that something in this category could help you?
  • How familiar were you with different options on the market?

Consideration (10 Minutes)

Now you want to get very specific about how and where the buyer researched potential solutions. Plan to interject to ask for more details.

  • What was the first thing you did to research potential solutions? How helpful was this source?
  • Where did you go to find more information?

If they don't come up organically, ask about search engines, websites visited, people consulted, and so on. Probe, as appropriate, with some of the following questions:

  • How did you find that source?
  • How did you use vendor websites?
  • What words specifically did you search on Google?
  • How helpful was it? How could it be better?
  • Who provided the most (and least) helpful information? What did that look like?
  • Tell me about your experiences with the sales people from each vendor.

Decision (10 Minutes)

  • Which of the sources you described above was the most influential in driving your decision?
  • What, if any, criteria did you establish to compare the alternatives?
  • What vendors made it to the short list and what were the pros/cons of each?
  • Who else was involved in the final decision? What role did each of these people play?
  • What factors ultimately influenced your final purchasing decision?

Here, you want to wrap up and understand what could have been better for the buyer.

  • Ask them what their ideal buying process would look like. How would it differ from what they experienced?
  • Allow time for further questions on their end.
  • Don't forget to thank them for their time and confirm their address to send a thank-you note or incentive.

4. List your primary competitors.

List your primary competitors — keep in mind listing the competition isn't always as simple as Company X versus Company Y.

Sometimes, a division of a company might compete with your main product or service, even though that company's brand might put more effort in another area.

For example, Apple is known for its laptops and mobile devices but Apple Music competes with Spotify over its music streaming service.

From a content standpoint, you might compete with a blog, YouTube channel, or similar publication for inbound website visitors — even though their products don't overlap with yours at all.

And a toothpaste company might compete with magazines like or Prevention on certain blog topics related to health and hygiene even though the magazines don't actually sell oral care products.

Identifying Industry Competitors

To identify competitors whose products or services overlap with yours, determine which industry or industries you're pursuing. Start high-level, using terms like education, construction, media & entertainment, food service, healthcare, retail, financial services, telecommunications, and agriculture.

The list goes on, but find an industry term that you identify with, and use it to create a list of companies that also belong to this industry. You can build your list the following ways:

  • Review your industry quadrant on G2 Crowd: In certain industries, this is your best first step in secondary market research. G2 Crowd aggregates user ratings and social data to create "quadrants," where you can see companies plotted as contenders, leaders, niche, and high performers in their respective industries. G2 Crowd specializes in digital content, IT services, HR, ecommerce, and related business services.
  • Download a market report: Companies like Forrester and Gartner offer both free and gated market forecasts every year on the vendors who are leading their industry. On Forrester's website, for example, you can select "Latest Research" from the navigation bar and browse Forrester's latest material using a variety of criteria to narrow your search. These reports are good assets to save on your computer.
  • Search using social media: Believe it or not, social networks make great company directories if you use the search bar correctly. On LinkedIn, for example, select the search bar and enter the name of the industry you're pursuing. Then, under "More," select "Companies" to narrow your results to just the businesses that include this or a similar industry term on their LinkedIn profile.

Identifying Content Competitors

Search engines are your best friends in this area of secondary market research. To find the online publications with which you compete, take the overarching industry term you identified in the section above, and come up with a handful of more specific industry terms your company identifies with.

A catering business, for example, might generally be a "food service" company, but also consider itself a vendor in "event catering," "cake catering," "baked goods," and more.

Once you have this list, do the following:

  • Google it: Don't underestimate the value in seeing which websites come up when you run a search on Google for the industry terms that describe your company. You might find a mix of product developers, blogs, magazines, and more.
  • Compare your search results against your buyer persona: Remember the buyer persona you created during the primary research stage, earlier in this article? Use it to examine how likely a publication you found through Google could steal website traffic from you. If the content the website publishes seems like the stuff your buyer persona would want to see, it's a potential competitor, and should be added to your list of competitors.

After a series of similar Google searches for the industry terms you identify with, look for repetition in the website domains that have come up.

Examine the first two or three results pages for each search you conducted. These websites are clearly respected for the content they create in your industry, and should be watched carefully as you build your own library of videos, reports, web pages, and blog posts.

5. Summarize your findings.

Feeling overwhelmed by the notes you took? We suggest looking for common themes that will help you tell a story and create a list of action items.

To make the process easier, try using your favorite presentation software to make a report, as it will make it easy to add in quotes, diagrams, or call clips.

Feel free to add your own flair, but the following outline should help you craft a clear summary:

  • Background: Your goals and why you conducted this study.
  • Participants: Who you talked to. A table works well so you can break groups down by persona and customer/prospect.
  • Executive Summary : What were the most interesting things you learned? What do you plan to do about it?
  • Awareness: Describe the common triggers that lead someone to enter into an evaluation. (Quotes can be very powerful.)
  • Consideration: Provide the main themes you uncovered, as well as the detailed sources buyers use when conducting their evaluation.
  • Decision: Paint the picture of how a decision is really made by including the people at the center of influence and any product features or information that can make or break a deal.
  • Action Plan: Your analysis probably uncovered a few campaigns you can run to get your brand in front of buyers earlier and/or more effectively. Provide your list of priorities, a timeline, and the impact it will have on your business.

Lastly, let's review a resource that can help you compile everything we just discussed in a simple yet effective way (plus, it's free!).

Market Research Report Template

Within a market research kit, there are a number of critical pieces of information for your business's success. Let's take a look at what those different kit elements are next.

market research kit and templates from HubSpot

Download HubSpot's free, editable market research report template here.

1. Five Forces Analysis Template

five forces analysis template

Use Porter's Five Forces Model to understand an industry by analyzing five different criteria and how high the power, threat, or rivalry in each area is — here are the five criteria:

  • Competitive rivalry
  • Threat of new entrants
  • Threat of substitution
  • Buyer power
  • Supplier power

Download a free, editable Five Forces Analysis template here.

2. SWOT Analysis Template

free editable swot analysis template

A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis looks at your internal strengths and weaknesses, and your external opportunities and threats within the market.

A SWOT analysis highlights direct areas of opportunity your company can continue, build, focus on, and work to overcome.

Download a free, editable SWOT Analysis template here.

3. Market Survey Template

Both market surveys and focus groups ( which we'll cover in the next section ) help you uncover important information about your buyer personas , target audience, current customers, market, competition, and more (e.g. demand for your product or service, potential pricing, impressions of your branding, etc.).

Surveys should contain a variety of question types, like multiple choice, rankings, and open-ended responses. Ask quantitative and short-answer questions to save you time and to more easily draw conclusions. (Save longer questions that will warrant more detailed responses for your focus groups.)

Here are some categories of questions you should ask via survey:

  • Demographic questions
  • Business questions
  • Competitor questions
  • Industry questions
  • Brand questions
  • Product questions

Download a free, editable Market Survey template here.

4. Focus Group Template

Focus groups are an opportunity to collect in-depth, qualitative data from your real customers or members of your target audience. You should ask your focus group participants open-ended questions. While doing so, keep these tips top of mind:

  • Set a limit for the number of questions you're asking (after all, they're open-ended).
  • Provide participants with a prototype or demonstration.
  • Ask participants how they feel about your price.
  • Ask participants about your competition.
  • Offer participants time at the end of the session for final comments, questions, or concerns.

Download a free, editable Focus Group template here.

Market Research Examples

1. disney uses kid-centric focus groups to test new characters and ideas..

The Walt Disney Company can spend millions crafting what its Animation Studio team believes is a worthwhile story, but it wisely focuses on its intended audience — children — when testing how well a character or topic performs.

A few times each year, Disney executives meet with preschoolers and kindergartners in kid-centric focus groups to get their opinions and insights on TV episodes, Disney characters, and more.

Why is this an effective market research strategy? Because children are ultimately the audience Disney hopes to delight — so collecting their feedback is invaluable to iterating on their existing content and ensuring it continues to meet its audiences' preferences.

2. KFC tested its meatless product in select markets before launching nationwide.

In 2019, KFC began developing and testing a new meatless version of its chicken. Rather than instantly rolling the product out nationwide, however, it started small: In select stores in the Atlanta, Georgia area .

This is an easy, effective example of conducting market research to determine how well a new product sells on a smaller scale before dedicating too many resources to it. If the meatless chicken flopped in Georgia, KFC would need to change the product before re-launching it to the market.

3. Yamaha conducted a survey to determine whether they should use knobs or sliding faders on the Montage keyboard.

When Yamaha, a Japanese-based corporation that produces a variety of products ranging from motorcycles to golf cars to musical instruments, began developing its new Montage keyboard, the team was unsure whether to use knobs or sliding faders on the product.

So Yamaha used Qualtrics to send a survey to their customers, and received 400 responses in a few hours.

Using survey feedback helped Yamaha ensure it was designing a product that exactly fit its audiences' preferences.

4. The Body Shop used social listening to determine how they should reposition brand campaigns to respond to what their customers cared most about.

The Body Shop has long been known for offering ethically sourced and natural products, and proudly touts "sustainability" as a core value.

To dive deeper into the sustainability subtopics that meant the most to their audiences, the team at The Body Shop tracked conversations and ultimately found their audiences cared a lot about refills.

Using this information helped the Body Shop team feel confident when relaunching their Refill Program across 400 stores globally in 2021 , and another 400 in 2022. Market research proved they were on the right track with their refill concept, and demonstrated increased efforts were needed to show Body Shop customers that the Body Shop cared about their customers' values.

Conduct Market Research to Grow Better

Conducting market research can be a very eye-opening experience. Even if you think you know your buyers pretty well, completing the study will likely uncover new channels and messaging tips to help improve your interactions.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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How to Conduct Market Research for a Business Plan

how to do a market research for a business plan

Rev › Blog › Marketing › How to Conduct Market Research for a Business Plan

Any successful business starts with a thorough, written business plan. For most small business owners, the prospect of gathering and compiling all the data required for a business plan can often seem intimidating. Fortunately, several helpful tools can make conducting market research faster and easier, especially when conducting target customer interviews.

What Does a Business Plan Include?

When building a business plan, you may include different sections or topics depending on how you intend to use the final product. For instance, business plans for internal use might not need to be quite as detailed or structured as plans that will be presented externally in order to secure financing from investors. Regardless of your purpose, most business plans include the following core sections:

  • Industry Background – Include analysis of special business considerations that apply to your particular industries, such as trends, growth rates, or recent litigation.
  • Value Proposition – Your value proposition (or Unique Selling Proposition) outlines how your business plans to bring value to its target customers in a way that isn’t currently being fulfilled in the market.
  • Product Analysis – Describe in detail the product or service you offer, including features that are better than or differentiate you from current market offerings.
  • Market Analysis – Examine your company’s target market, including customer demographics, estimated market capture, personas, and customer needs.
  • Competitive Analysis – Here, you’ll compare the intended product or service to other offerings in the market and outline your company’s competitive advantages.
  • Financial Analysis – Typically, your financial analysis will include estimated sales for the first 1-3 years of operation, as well as more detailed financial projections depending on who will be reading the plan.

Conducting a Market Analysis

Specific industries have different potential customers. It’s easier to reach your potential customers when you have a clear view of who they are. A market analysis helps clarify your ideal customer personas by researching both qualitative and quantitative aspects of your target market.

To better understand your potential customers, start by researching the demographics and segmentation of individuals who typically buy products and services in your industry. Your market analysis should also include:

  • Research on the total size of the market
  • How much additional market share is available
  • Any currently unmet needs that could be sources of competitive advantage
  • Features and qualities potential customers find valuable  

Using Market Research to Support Your Business Plan

Market research helps assess a business idea’s strengths and weaknesses. his research will serve as the basis for strategic marketing decisions, price positioning, and financial projections listed in the Financial Analysis section of your business plan. You can also use it to help your management team think through important decisions, ultimately leading to choices that will resonate with your target audience and get customers to buy your product or service.

Secondary Research

Conducting market research begins with fact-finding through the internet and other publicly available resources. This secondary research, or research originally conducted and compiled by others, gathers statistics on market size, average market pricing, competitor promotional effectiveness, manufacturing costs, and more.

Secondary research is necessary because it is often expensive and time-consuming for individual business owners to conduct this research firsthand. There are many reliable professional research firms that gather comprehensive industry statistics and make them available at a much more granular level than individuals could gather on their own. Some governmental organizations, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will even provide this information at no charge. Fortunately for business owners, a free resource is still perfectly valid as long as it’s reputable.

Primary Research

Beyond the initial secondary research, you should also conduct thorough primary research to vet your business idea. Primary research is conducted by talking to members of the target audience firsthand through surveys, interviews, and focus groups . These tools can provide valuable insight into how prospects judge your product or service and how they compare it to alternative options.

Primary research efforts will typically generate qualitative data in the form of audio and video recordings. These interviews are not always brief, and therefore can be difficult to process efficiently unless first converted to text. You can quickly and easily incorporate the content of these interviews into your plan once they’ve been transcribed.

With a speech-to-text service like Rev, you can get 99% accurate transcripts of your market research interviews in a matter of hours. Dramatically streamlining your business planning process with Rev gives you faster access to valuable customer feedback and potential insights, letting you skip the busy-work and get down to business.

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How to Write a Market Analysis for a Business Plan

Dan Marticio

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

A lot of preparation goes into starting a business before you can open your doors to the public or launch your online store. One of your first steps should be to write a business plan . A business plan will serve as your roadmap when building your business.

Within your business plan, there’s an important section you should pay careful attention to: your market analysis. Your market analysis helps you understand your target market and how you can thrive within it.

Simply put, your market analysis shows that you’ve done your research. It also contributes to your marketing strategy by defining your target customer and researching their buying habits. Overall, a market analysis will yield invaluable data if you have limited knowledge about your market, the market has fierce competition, and if you require a business loan. In this guide, we'll explore how to conduct your own market analysis.

How to conduct a market analysis: A step-by-step guide

In your market analysis, you can expect to cover the following:

Industry outlook

Target market

Market value


Barriers to entry

Let’s dive into an in-depth look into each section:

Step 1: Define your objective

Before you begin your market analysis, it’s important to define your objective for writing a market analysis. Are you writing it for internal purposes or for external purposes?

If you were doing a market analysis for internal purposes, you might be brainstorming new products to launch or adjusting your marketing tactics. An example of an external purpose might be that you need a market analysis to get approved for a business loan .

The comprehensiveness of your market analysis will depend on your objective. If you’re preparing for a new product launch, you might focus more heavily on researching the competition. A market analysis for a loan approval would require heavy data and research into market size and growth, share potential, and pricing.

Step 2: Provide an industry outlook

An industry outlook is a general direction of where your industry is heading. Lenders want to know whether you’re targeting a growing industry or declining industry. For example, if you’re looking to sell VCRs in 2020, it’s unlikely that your business will succeed.

Starting your market analysis with an industry outlook offers a preliminary view of the market and what to expect in your market analysis. When writing this section, you'll want to include:

Market size

Are you chasing big markets or are you targeting very niche markets? If you’re targeting a niche market, are there enough customers to support your business and buy your product?

Product life cycle

If you develop a product, what will its life cycle look like? Lenders want an overview of how your product will come into fruition after it’s developed and launched. In this section, you can discuss your product’s:

Research and development

Projected growth

How do you see your company performing over time? Calculating your year-over-year growth will help you and lenders see how your business has grown thus far. Calculating your projected growth shows how your business will fare in future projected market conditions.

Step 3: Determine your target market

This section of your market analysis is dedicated to your potential customer. Who is your ideal target customer? How can you cater your product to serve them specifically?

Don’t make the mistake of wanting to sell your product to everybody. Your target customer should be specific. For example, if you’re selling mittens, you wouldn’t want to market to warmer climates like Hawaii. You should target customers who live in colder regions. The more nuanced your target market is, the more information you’ll have to inform your business and marketing strategy.

With that in mind, your target market section should include the following points:


This is where you leave nothing to mystery about your ideal customer. You want to know every aspect of your customer so you can best serve them. Dedicate time to researching the following demographics:

Income level

Create a customer persona

Creating a customer persona can help you better understand your customer. It can be easier to market to a person than data on paper. You can give this persona a name, background, and job. Mold this persona into your target customer.

What are your customer’s pain points? How do these pain points influence how they buy products? What matters most to them? Why do they choose one brand over another?

Research and supporting material

Information without data are just claims. To add credibility to your market analysis, you need to include data. Some methods for collecting data include:

Target group surveys

Focus groups

Reading reviews

Feedback surveys

You can also consult resources online. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau can help you find demographics in calculating your market share. The U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration also offer general data that can help you research your target industry.

Step 4: Calculate market value

You can use either top-down analysis or bottom-up analysis to calculate an estimate of your market value.

A top-down analysis tends to be the easier option of the two. It requires for you to calculate the entire market and then estimate how much of a share you expect your business to get. For example, let’s assume your target market consists of 100,000 people. If you’re optimistic and manage to get 1% of that market, you can expect to make 1,000 sales.

A bottom-up analysis is more data-driven and requires more research. You calculate the individual factors of your business and then estimate how high you can scale them to arrive at a projected market share. Some factors to consider when doing a bottom-up analysis include:

Where products are sold

Who your competition is

The price per unit

How many consumers you expect to reach

The average amount a customer would buy over time

While a bottom-up analysis requires more data than a top-down analysis, you can usually arrive at a more accurate calculation.

Step 5: Get to know your competition

Before you start a business, you need to research the level of competition within your market. Are there certain companies getting the lion’s share of the market? How can you position yourself to stand out from the competition?

There are two types of competitors that you should be aware of: direct competitors and indirect competitors.

Direct competitors are other businesses who sell the same product as you. If you and the company across town both sell apples, you are direct competitors.

An indirect competitor sells a different but similar product to yours. If that company across town sells oranges instead, they are an indirect competitor. Apples and oranges are different but they still target a similar market: people who eat fruits.

Also, here are some questions you want to answer when writing this section of your market analysis:

What are your competitor’s strengths?

What are your competitor’s weaknesses?

How can you cover your competitor’s weaknesses in your own business?

How can you solve the same problems better or differently than your competitors?

How can you leverage technology to better serve your customers?

How big of a threat are your competitors if you open your business?

Step 6: Identify your barriers

Writing a market analysis can help you identify some glaring barriers to starting your business. Researching these barriers will help you avoid any costly legal or business mistakes down the line. Some entry barriers to address in your marketing analysis include:

Technology: How rapid is technology advancing and can it render your product obsolete within the next five years?

Branding: You need to establish your brand identity to stand out in a saturated market.

Cost of entry: Startup costs, like renting a space and hiring employees, are expensive. Also, specialty equipment often comes with hefty price tags. (Consider researching equipment financing to help finance these purchases.)

Location: You need to secure a prime location if you’re opening a physical store.

Competition: A market with fierce competition can be a steep uphill battle (like attempting to go toe-to-toe with Apple or Amazon).

Step 7: Know the regulations

When starting a business, it’s your responsibility to research governmental and state business regulations within your market. Some regulations to keep in mind include (but aren’t limited to):

Employment and labor laws


Environmental regulations

If you’re a newer entrepreneur and this is your first business, this part can be daunting so you might want to consult with a business attorney. A legal professional will help you identify the legal requirements specific to your business. You can also check online legal help sites like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer.

Tips when writing your market analysis

We wouldn’t be surprised if you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information needed in a market analysis. Keep in mind, though, this research is key to launching a successful business. You don’t want to cut corners, but here are a few tips to help you out when writing your market analysis:

Use visual aids

Nobody likes 30 pages of nothing but text. Using visual aids can break up those text blocks, making your market analysis more visually appealing. When discussing statistics and metrics, charts and graphs will help you better communicate your data.

Include a summary

If you’ve ever read an article from an academic journal, you’ll notice that writers include an abstract that offers the reader a preview.

Use this same tactic when writing your market analysis. It will prime the reader of your market highlights before they dive into the hard data.

Get to the point

It’s better to keep your market analysis concise than to stuff it with fluff and repetition. You’ll want to present your data, analyze it, and then tie it back into how your business can thrive within your target market.

Revisit your market analysis regularly

Markets are always changing and it's important that your business changes with your target market. Revisiting your market analysis ensures that your business operations align with changing market conditions. The best businesses are the ones that can adapt.

Why should you write a market analysis?

Your market analysis helps you look at factors within your market to determine if it’s a good fit for your business model. A market analysis will help you:

1. Learn how to analyze the market need

Markets are always shifting and it’s a good idea to identify current and projected market conditions. These trends will help you understand the size of your market and whether there are paying customers waiting for you. Doing a market analysis helps you confirm that your target market is a lucrative market.

2. Learn about your customers

The best way to serve your customer is to understand them. A market analysis will examine your customer’s buying habits, pain points, and desires. This information will aid you in developing a business that addresses those points.

3. Get approved for a business loan

Starting a business, especially if it’s your first one, requires startup funding. A good first step is to apply for a business loan with your bank or other financial institution.

A thorough market analysis shows that you’re professional, prepared, and worth the investment from lenders. This preparation inspires confidence within the lender that you can build a business and repay the loan.

4. Beat the competition

Your research will offer valuable insight and certain advantages that the competition might not have. For example, thoroughly understanding your customer’s pain points and desires will help you develop a superior product or service than your competitors. If your business is already up and running, an updated market analysis can upgrade your marketing strategy or help you launch a new product.

Final thoughts

There is a saying that the first step to cutting down a tree is to sharpen an axe. In other words, preparation is the key to success. In business, preparation increases the chances that your business will succeed, even in a competitive market.

The market analysis section of your business plan separates the entrepreneurs who have done their homework from those who haven’t. Now that you’ve learned how to write a market analysis, it’s time for you to sharpen your axe and grow a successful business. And keep in mind, if you need help crafting your business plan, you can always turn to business plan software or a free template to help you stay organized.

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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  • 6.3 Steps in a Successful Marketing Research Plan
  • 1 Unit Introduction
  • In the Spotlight
  • 1.1 Marketing and the Marketing Process
  • 1.2 The Marketing Mix and the 4Ps of Marketing
  • 1.3 Factors Comprising and Affecting the Marketing Environment
  • 1.4 Evolution of the Marketing Concept
  • 1.5 Determining Consumer Needs and Wants
  • 1.6 Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • 1.7 Ethical Marketing
  • Chapter Summary
  • Applied Marketing Knowledge: Discussion Questions
  • Critical Thinking Exercises
  • Building Your Personal Brand
  • What Do Marketers Do?
  • Marketing Plan Exercise
  • Closing Company Case
  • 2.1 Developing a Strategic Plan
  • 2.2 The Role of Marketing in the Strategic Planning Process
  • 2.3 Purpose and Structure of the Marketing Plan
  • 2.4 Marketing Plan Progress Using Metrics
  • 2.5 Ethical Issues in Developing a Marketing Strategy
  • 2 Unit Introduction
  • 3.1 Understanding Consumer Markets and Buying Behavior
  • 3.2 Factors That Influence Consumer Buying Behavior
  • 3.3 The Consumer Purchasing Decision Process
  • 3.4 Ethical Issues in Consumer Buying Behavior
  • 4.1 The Business-to-Business (B2B) Market
  • 4.2 Buyers and Buying Situations in a B2B Market
  • 4.3 Major Influences on B2B Buyer Behavior
  • 4.4 Stages in the B2B Buying Process
  • 4.5 Ethical Issues in B2B Marketing
  • 5.1 Market Segmentation and Consumer Markets
  • 5.2 Segmentation of B2B Markets
  • 5.3 Segmentation of International Markets
  • 5.4 Essential Factors in Effective Market Segmentation
  • 5.5 Selecting Target Markets
  • 5.6 Product Positioning
  • 5.7 Ethical Concerns and Target Marketing
  • 6.1 Marketing Research and Big Data
  • 6.2 Sources of Marketing Information
  • 6.4 Ethical Issues in Marketing Research
  • 7.1 The Global Market and Advantages of International Trade
  • 7.2 Assessment of Global Markets for Opportunities
  • 7.3 Entering the Global Arena
  • 7.4 Marketing in a Global Environment
  • 7.5 Ethical Issues in the Global Marketplace
  • 8.1 Strategic Marketing: Standardization versus Adaptation
  • 8.2 Diversity and Inclusion Marketing
  • 8.3 Multicultural Marketing
  • 8.4 Marketing to Hispanic, Black, and Asian Consumers
  • 8.5 Marketing to Sociodemographic Groups
  • 8.6 Ethical Issues in Diversity Marketing
  • 3 Unit Introduction
  • 9.1 Products, Services, and Experiences
  • 9.2 Product Items, Product Lines, and Product Mixes
  • 9.3 The Product Life Cycle
  • 9.4 Marketing Strategies at Each Stage of the Product Life Cycle
  • 9.5 Branding and Brand Development
  • 9.6 Forms of Brand Development, Brand Loyalty, and Brand Metrics
  • 9.7 Creating Value through Packaging and Labeling
  • 9.8 Environmental Concerns Regarding Packaging
  • 9.9 Ethical Issues in Packaging
  • 10.1 New Products from a Customer’s Perspective
  • 10.2 Stages of the New Product Development Process
  • 10.3 The Use of Metrics in Evaluating New Products
  • 10.4 Factors Contributing to the Success or Failure of New Products
  • 10.5 Stages in the Consumer Adoption Process for New Products
  • 10.6 Ethical Considerations in New Product Development
  • 11.1 Classification of Services
  • 11.2 The Service-Profit Chain Model and the Service Marketing Triangle
  • 11.3 The Gap Model of Service Quality
  • 11.4 Ethical Considerations in Providing Services
  • 12.1 Pricing and Its Role in the Marketing Mix
  • 12.2 The Five Critical Cs of Pricing
  • 12.3 The Five-Step Procedure for Establishing Pricing Policy
  • 12.4 Pricing Strategies for New Products
  • 12.5 Pricing Strategies and Tactics for Existing Products
  • 12.6 Ethical Considerations in Pricing
  • 13.1 The Promotion Mix and Its Elements
  • 13.2 The Communication Process
  • 13.3 Integrated Marketing Communications
  • 13.4 Steps in the IMC Planning Process
  • 13.5 Ethical Issues in Marketing Communication
  • 14.1 Advertising in the Promotion Mix
  • 14.2 Major Decisions in Developing an Advertising Plan
  • 14.3 The Use of Metrics to Measure Advertising Campaign Effectiveness
  • 14.4 Public Relations and Its Role in the Promotion Mix
  • 14.5 The Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Relations
  • 14.6 Ethical Concerns in Advertising and Public Relations
  • 15.1 Personal Selling and Its Role in the Promotion Mix
  • 15.2 Classifications of Salespeople Involved in Personal Selling
  • 15.3 Steps in the Personal Selling Process
  • 15.4 Management of the Sales Force
  • 15.5 Sales Promotion and Its Role in the Promotion Mix
  • 15.6 Main Types of Sales Promotion
  • 15.7 Ethical Issues in Personal Selling and Sales Promotion
  • 16.1 Traditional Direct Marketing
  • 16.2 Social Media and Mobile Marketing
  • 16.3 Metrics Used to Evaluate the Success of Online Marketing
  • 16.4 Ethical Issues in Digital Marketing and Social Media
  • 17.1 The Use and Value of Marketing Channels
  • 17.2 Types of Marketing Channels
  • 17.3 Factors Influencing Channel Choice
  • 17.4 Managing the Distribution Channel
  • 17.5 The Supply Chain and Its Functions
  • 17.6 Logistics and Its Functions
  • 17.7 Ethical Issues in Supply Chain Management
  • 18.1 Retailing and the Role of Retailers in the Distribution Channel
  • 18.2 Major Types of Retailers
  • 18.3 Retailing Strategy Decisions
  • 18.4 Recent Trends in Retailing
  • 18.5 Wholesaling
  • 18.6 Recent Trends in Wholesaling
  • 18.7 Ethical Issues in Retailing and Wholesaling
  • 19.1 Sustainable Marketing
  • 19.2 Traditional Marketing versus Sustainable Marketing
  • 19.3 The Benefits of Sustainable Marketing
  • 19.4 Sustainable Marketing Principles
  • 19.5 Purpose-Driven Marketing

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • 1 Identify and describe the steps in a marketing research plan.
  • 2 Discuss the different types of data research.
  • 3 Explain how data is analyzed.
  • 4 Discuss the importance of effective research reports.

Define the Problem

There are seven steps to a successful marketing research project (see Figure 6.3 ). Each step will be explained as we investigate how a marketing research project is conducted.

The seven steps to a successful market research project are: 1. define the problem; 2. develop the research plan; 3. select the data collection method; 4. design the sample; 5. collect the data; 6. analyze and interpret the data; and 7. prepare the research report.

The first step, defining the problem, is often a realization that more information is needed in order to make a data-driven decision. Problem definition is the realization that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. An entrepreneur may be interested in opening a small business but must first define the problem that is to be investigated. A marketing research problem in this example is to discover the needs of the community and also to identify a potentially successful business venture.

Many times, researchers define a research question or objectives in this first step. Objectives of this research study could include: identify a new business that would be successful in the community in question, determine the size and composition of a target market for the business venture, and collect any relevant primary and secondary data that would support such a venture. At this point, the definition of the problem may be “Why are cat owners not buying our new cat toy subscription service?”

Additionally, during this first step we would want to investigate our target population for research. This is similar to a target market, as it is the group that comprises the population of interest for the study. In order to have a successful research outcome, the researcher should start with an understanding of the problem in the current situational environment.

Develop the Research Plan

Step two is to develop the research plan. What type of research is necessary to meet the established objectives of the first step? How will this data be collected? Additionally, what is the time frame of the research and budget to consider? If you must have information in the next week, a different plan would be implemented than in a situation where several months were allowed. These are issues that a researcher should address in order to meet the needs identified.

Research is often classified as coming from one of two types of data: primary and secondary. Primary data is unique information that is collected by the specific researcher with the current project in mind. This type of research doesn’t currently exist until it is pulled together for the project. Examples of primary data collection include survey, observation, experiment, or focus group data that is gathered for the current project.

Secondary data is any research that was completed for another purpose but can be used to help inform the research process. Secondary data comes in many forms and includes census data, journal articles, previously collected survey or focus group data of related topics, and compiled company data. Secondary data may be internal, such as the company’s sales records for a previous quarter, or external, such as an industry report of all related product sales. Syndicated data , a type of external secondary data, is available through subscription services and is utilized by many marketers. As you can see in Table 6.1 , primary and secondary data features are often opposite—the positive aspects of primary data are the negative side of secondary data.

There are four research types that can be used: exploratory, descriptive, experimental, and ethnographic research designs (see Figure 6.4 ). Each type has specific formats of data that can be collected. Qualitative research can be shared through words, descriptions, and open-ended comments. Qualitative data gives context but cannot be reduced to a statistic. Qualitative data examples are categorical and include case studies, diary accounts, interviews, focus groups, and open-ended surveys. By comparison, quantitative data is data that can be reduced to number of responses. The number of responses to each answer on a multiple-choice question is quantitative data. Quantitative data is numerical and includes things like age, income, group size, and height.

The four research types are exploratory or qualitative, descriptive or quantitative, experimental or causal, and ethnographic. Exploratory is research conducted that is more general to learn more about the industry or market. Descriptive is data collected to describe the situation in the market and help define an opinion, attitude, or behavior. Experimental is studies that define a cause-and-effect relationship between two factors. Ethnographic is a method of collecting data that is conducted by observing people's natural behavior.

Exploratory research is usually used when additional general information in desired about a topic. When in the initial steps of a new project, understanding the landscape is essential, so exploratory research helps the researcher to learn more about the general nature of the industry. Exploratory research can be collected through focus groups, interviews, and review of secondary data. When examining an exploratory research design, the best use is when your company hopes to collect data that is generally qualitative in nature. 7

For instance, if a company is considering a new service for registered users but is not quite sure how well the new service will be received or wants to gain clarity of exactly how customers may use a future service, the company can host a focus group. Focus groups and interviews will be examined later in the chapter. The insights collected during the focus group can assist the company when designing the service, help to inform promotional campaign options, and verify that the service is going to be a viable option for the company.

Descriptive research design takes a bigger step into collection of data through primary research complemented by secondary data. Descriptive research helps explain the market situation and define an “opinion, attitude, or behavior” of a group of consumers, employees, or other interested groups. 8 The most common method of deploying a descriptive research design is through the use of a survey. Several types of surveys will be defined later in this chapter. Descriptive data is quantitative in nature, meaning the data can be distilled into a statistic, such as in a table or chart.

Again, descriptive data is helpful in explaining the current situation. In the opening example of LEGO , the company wanted to describe the situation regarding children’s use of its product. In order to gather a large group of opinions, a survey was created. The data that was collected through this survey allowed the company to measure the existing perceptions of parents so that alterations could be made to future plans for the company.

Experimental research , also known as causal research , helps to define a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more factors. This type of research goes beyond a correlation to determine which feature caused the reaction. Researchers generally use some type of experimental design to determine a causal relationship. An example is A/B testing, a situation where one group of research participants, group A, is exposed to one treatment and then compared to the group B participants, who experience a different situation. An example might be showing two different television commercials to a panel of consumers and then measuring the difference in perception of the product. Another example would be to have two separate packaging options available in different markets. This research would answer the question “Does one design sell better than the other?” Comparing that to the sales in each market would be part of a causal research study. 9

The final method of collecting data is through an ethnographic design. Ethnographic research is conducted in the field by watching people interact in their natural environment. For marketing research, ethnographic designs help to identify how a product is used, what actions are included in a selection, or how the consumer interacts with the product. 10

Examples of ethnographic research would be to observe how a consumer uses a particular product, such as baking soda. Although many people buy baking soda, its uses are vast. So are they using it as a refrigerator deodorizer, a toothpaste, to polish a belt buckle, or to use in baking a cake?

Select the Data Collection Method

Data collection is the systematic gathering of information that addresses the identified problem. What is the best method to do that? Picking the right method of collecting data requires that the researcher understand the target population and the design picked in the previous step. There is no perfect method; each method has both advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential that the researcher understand the target population of the research and the research objectives in order to pick the best option.

Sometimes the data desired is best collected by watching the actions of consumers. For instance, how many cars pass a specific billboard in a day? What website led a potential customer to the company’s website? When are consumers most likely to use the snack vending machines at work? What time of day has the highest traffic on a social media post? What is the most streamed television program this week? Observational research is the collecting of data based on actions taken by those observed. Many data observations do not require the researched individuals to participate in the data collection effort to be highly valuable. Some observation requires an individual to watch and record the activities of the target population through personal observations .

Unobtrusive observation happens when those being observed aren’t aware that they are being watched. An example of an unobtrusive observation would be to watch how shoppers interact with a new stuffed animal display by using a one-way mirror. Marketers can identify which products were handled more often while also determining which were ignored.

Other methods can use technology to collect the data instead. Instances of mechanical observation include the use of vehicle recorders, which count the number of vehicles that pass a specific location. Computers can also assess the number of shoppers who enter a store, the most popular entry point for train station commuters, or the peak time for cars to park in a parking garage.

When you want to get a more in-depth response from research participants, one method is to complete a one-on-one interview . One-on-one interviews allow the researcher to ask specific questions that match the respondent’s unique perspective as well as follow-up questions that piggyback on responses already completed. An interview allows the researcher to have a deeper understanding of the needs of the respondent, which is another strength of this type of data collection. The downside of personal interviews it that a discussion can be very time-consuming and results in only one respondent’s answers. Therefore, in order to get a large sample of respondents, the interview method may not be the most efficient method.

Taking the benefits of an interview and applying them to a small group of people is the design of a focus group . A focus group is a small number of people, usually 8 to 12, who meet the sample requirements. These individuals together are asked a series of questions where they are encouraged to build upon each other’s responses, either by agreeing or disagreeing with the other group members. Focus groups are similar to interviews in that they allow the researcher, through a moderator, to get more detailed information from a small group of potential customers (see Figure 6.5 ).

Link to Learning

Focus groups.

Focus groups are a common method for gathering insights into consumer thinking and habits. Companies will use this information to develop or shift their initiatives. The best way to understand a focus group is to watch a few examples or explanations. TED-Ed has this video that explains how focus groups work.

You might be asking when it is best to use a focus group or a survey. Learn the differences, the pros and cons of each, and the specific types of questions you ask in both situations in this article .

Preparing for a focus group is critical to success. It requires knowing the material and questions while also managing the group of people. Watch this video to learn more about how to prepare for a focus group and the types of things to be aware of.

One of the benefits of a focus group over individual interviews is that synergy can be generated when a participant builds on another’s ideas. Additionally, for the same amount of time, a researcher can hear from multiple respondents instead of just one. 11 Of course, as with every method of data collection, there are downsides to a focus group as well. Focus groups have the potential to be overwhelmed by one or two aggressive personalities, and the format can discourage more reserved individuals from speaking up. Finally, like interviews, the responses in a focus group are qualitative in nature and are difficult to distill into an easy statistic or two.

A group of five people sit around a table in a conference room. A sixth person is standing at the front of the room, next to a whiteboard with writing on it.

Combining a variety of questions on one instrument is called a survey or questionnaire . Collecting primary data is commonly done through surveys due to their versatility. A survey allows the researcher to ask the same set of questions of a large group of respondents. Response rates of surveys are calculated by dividing the number of surveys completed by the total number attempted. Surveys are flexible and can collect a variety of quantitative and qualitative data. Questions can include simplified yes or no questions, select all that apply, questions that are on a scale, or a variety of open-ended types of questions. There are four types of surveys (see Table 6.2 ) we will cover, each with strengths and weaknesses defined.

Let’s start off with mailed surveys —surveys that are sent to potential respondents through a mail service. Mailed surveys used to be more commonly used due to the ability to reach every household. In some instances, a mailed survey is still the best way to collect data. For example, every 10 years the United States conducts a census of its population (see Figure 6.6 ). The first step in that data collection is to send every household a survey through the US Postal Service (USPS). The benefit is that respondents can complete and return the survey at their convenience. The downside of mailed surveys are expense and timeliness of responses. A mailed survey requires postage, both when it is sent to the recipient and when it is returned. That, along with the cost of printing, paper, and both sending and return envelopes, adds up quickly. Additionally, physically mailing surveys takes time. One method of reducing cost is to send with bulk-rate postage, but that slows down the delivery of the survey. Also, because of the convenience to the respondent, completed surveys may be returned several weeks after being sent. Finally, some mailed survey data must be manually entered into the analysis software, which can cause delays or issues due to entry errors.

The beginning of a United States census form says: Shape your future start here. United States Census 2020. Start questionnaire.

Phone surveys are completed during a phone conversation with the respondent. Although the traditional phone survey requires a data collector to talk with the participant, current technology allows for computer-assisted voice surveys or surveys to be completed by asking the respondent to push a specific button for each potential answer. Phone surveys are time intensive but allow the respondent to ask questions and the surveyor to request additional information or clarification on a question if warranted. Phone surveys require the respondent to complete the survey simultaneously with the collector, which is a limitation as there are restrictions for when phone calls are allowed. According to Telephone Consumer Protection Act , approved by Congress in 1991, no calls can be made prior to 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. in the recipient’s time zone. 12 Many restrictions are outlined in this original legislation and have been added to since due to ever-changing technology.

In-person surveys are when the respondent and data collector are physically in the same location. In-person surveys allow the respondent to share specific information, ask questions of the surveyor, and follow up on previous answers. Surveys collected through this method can take place in a variety of ways: through door-to-door collection, in a public location, or at a person’s workplace. Although in-person surveys are time intensive and require more labor to collect data than some other methods, in some cases it’s the best way to collect the required data. In-person surveys conducted through a door-to-door method is the follow-up used for the census if respondents do not complete the mailed survey. One of the downsides of in-person surveys is the reluctance of potential respondents to stop their current activity and answer questions. Furthermore, people may not feel comfortable sharing private or personal information during a face-to-face conversation.

Electronic surveys are sent or collected through digital means and is an opportunity that can be added to any of the above methods as well as some new delivery options. Surveys can be sent through email, and respondents can either reply to the email or open a hyperlink to an online survey (see Figure 6.7 ). Additionally, a letter can be mailed that asks members of the survey sample to log in to a website rather than to return a mailed response. Many marketers now use links, QR codes, or electronic devices to easily connect to a survey. Digitally collected data has the benefit of being less time intensive and is often a more economical way to gather and input responses than more manual methods. A survey that could take months to collect through the mail can be completed within a week through digital means.

An example of a survey has the board game café logo in the top left corner of the page. There are three questions shown. Question 4 is a multiple choice question: Do you enjoy playing board games? The answer choices are yes, no, and prefer not to answer. Question 5 is an open-ended question: What is your favorite board game? There is a blank to write in an answer after the question. Question 6 is a multiple choice question: Would you be interested in using a daily one-time fee, pass to use the “library” (which includes board games) at the Board Game Cafe? The answer choices are very interested, interested, somewhat interested, not interested, or prefer not to respond.

Design the Sample

Although you might want to include every possible person who matches your target market in your research, it’s often not a feasible option, nor is it of value. If you did decide to include everyone, you would be completing a census of the population. Getting everyone to participate would be time-consuming and highly expensive, so instead marketers use a sample , whereby a portion of the whole is included in the research. It’s similar to the samples you might receive at the grocery store or ice cream shop; it isn’t a full serving, but it does give you a good taste of what the whole would be like.

So how do you know who should be included in the sample? Researchers identify parameters for their studies, called sample frames . A sample frame for one study may be college students who live on campus; for another study, it may be retired people in Dallas, Texas, or small-business owners who have fewer than 10 employees. The individual entities within the sampling frame would be considered a sampling unit . A sampling unit is each individual respondent that would be considered as matching the sample frame established by the research. If a researcher wants businesses to participate in a study, then businesses would be the sampling unit in that case.

The number of sampling units included in the research is the sample size . Many calculations can be conducted to indicate what the correct size of the sample should be. Issues to consider are the size of the population, the confidence level that the data represents the entire population, the ease of accessing the units in the frame, and the budget allocated for the research.

There are two main categories of samples: probability and nonprobability (see Figure 6.8 ). Probability samples are those in which every member of the sample has an identified likelihood of being selected. Several probability sample methods can be utilized. One probability sampling technique is called a simple random sample , where not only does every person have an identified likelihood of being selected to be in the sample, but every person also has an equal chance of exclusion. An example of a simple random sample would be to put the names of all members of a group into a hat and simply draw out a specific number to be included. You could say a raffle would be a good example of a simple random sample.

Examples of probability samples and nonprobability samples are shown. Examples of probability samples are simple random sample and stratified random sample. Examples of nonprobability samples are convenience sample and judgment sample.

Another probability sample type is a stratified random sample , where the population is divided into groups by category and then a random sample of each category is selected to participate. For instance, if you were conducting a study of college students from your school and wanted to make sure you had all grade levels included, you might take the names of all students and split them into different groups by grade level—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. Then, from those categories, you would draw names out of each of the pools, or strata.

A nonprobability sample is a situation in which each potential member of the sample has an unknown likelihood of being selected in the sample. Research findings that are from a nonprobability sample cannot be applied beyond the sample. Several examples of nonprobability sampling are available to researchers and include two that we will look at more closely: convenience sampling and judgment sampling.

The first nonprobability sampling technique is a convenience sample . Just like it sounds, a convenience sample is when the researcher finds a group through a nonscientific method by picking potential research participants in a convenient manner. An example might be to ask other students in a class you are taking to complete a survey that you are doing for a class assignment or passing out surveys at a basketball game or theater performance.

A judgment sample is a type of nonprobability sample that allows the researcher to determine if they believe the individual meets the criteria set for the sample frame to complete the research. For instance, you may be interested in researching mothers, so you sit outside a toy store and ask an individual who is carrying a baby to participate.

Collect the Data

Now that all the plans have been established, the instrument has been created, and the group of participants has been identified, it is time to start collecting data. As explained earlier in this chapter, data collection is the process of gathering information from a variety of sources that will satisfy the research objectives defined in step one. Data collection can be as simple as sending out an email with a survey link enclosed or as complex as an experiment with hundreds of consumers. The method of collection directly influences the length of this process. Conducting personal interviews or completing an experiment, as previously mentioned, can add weeks or months to the research process, whereas sending out an electronic survey may allow a researcher to collect the necessary data in a few days. 13

Analyze and Interpret the Data

Once the data has been collected, the process of analyzing it may begin. Data analysis is the distillation of the information into a more understandable and actionable format. The analysis itself can take many forms, from the use of basic statistics to a more comprehensive data visualization process. First, let’s discuss some basic statistics that can be used to represent data.

The first is the mean of quantitative data. A mean is often defined as the arithmetic average of values. The formula is:

A common use of the mean calculation is with exam scores. Say, for example, you have earned the following scores on your marketing exams: 72, 85, 68, and 77. To find the mean, you would add up the four scores for a total of 302. Then, in order to generate a mean, that number needs to be divided by the number of exam scores included, which is 4. The mean would be 302 divided by 4, for a mean test score of 75.5. Understanding the mean can help to determine, with one number, the weight of a particular value.

Another commonly used statistic is median. The median is often referred to as the middle number. To generate a median, all the numeric answers are placed in order, and the middle number is the median. Median is a common statistic when identifying the income level of a specific geographic region. 14 For instance, the median household income for Albuquerque, New Mexico, between 2015 and 2019 was $52,911. 15 In this case, there are just as many people with an income above the amount as there are below.

Mode is another statistic that is used to represent data of all types, as it can be used with quantitative or qualitative data and represents the most frequent answer. Eye color, hair color, and vehicle color can all be presented with a mode statistic. Additionally, some researchers expand on the concept of mode and present the frequency of all responses, not just identifying the most common response. Data such as this can easily be presented in a frequency graph, 16 such as the one in Figure 6.9 .

A frequency graph shows how much time college students spend using social media. The title of the graph is Social Media Use of College Students. The Y axis shows percentages from 0% to 60% in increments of 10%. The x axis shows the amount of time college students use social media. The labels are less than an hour; 1 to 2 hours; 3 to 4 hours; 5 plus hours, and do not use social media. 3.5% of college students use social media for less than an hour; 20.28% of college students use social media between 1 to 2 hours; 51.05% of college students us social media between 3 to 4 hours; 24.48% of students use social media for more than 5 hours. 0.69% of students do not use social media.

Additionally, researchers use other analyses to represent the data rather than to present the entirety of each response. For example, maybe the relationship between two values is important to understand. In this case, the researcher may share the data as a cross tabulation (see Figure 6.10 ). Below is the same data as above regarding social media use cross tabulated with gender—as you can see, the data is more descriptive when you can distinguish between the gender identifiers and how much time is spent per day on social media.

A frequency graph shows how much time college students spend using social media. The title of the graph is Social Media Use by Gender. The Y axis shows percentages from 0% to 60% in increments of 10%. The x axis shows the amount of time college students use social media. The labels are less than an hour; 1 to 2 hours; 3 to 4 hours; 5 plus hours, and do not use social media. The graph divides users into male, female, and non-binary. 5.2% of males and 4.5% of females use social media for less than an hour. 24.6% of males and 16.2% of females us social media between 1 and 2 hours. 57.1% of males, 48.6 of females, and 50.0% of non binary people use social media for 3 to 4 hours. 13% of males, 28.8% of females, and 50% of nonbinary people use social media for more than 5 hours. 1.8% of females do not use social media.

Not all data can be presented in a graphical format due to the nature of the information. Sometimes with qualitative methods of data collection, the responses cannot be distilled into a simple statistic or graph. In that case, the use of quotations, otherwise known as verbatims , can be used. These are direct statements presented by the respondents. Often you will see a verbatim statement when reading a movie or book review. The critic’s statements are used in part or in whole to represent their feelings about the newly released item.


As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. For this reason, research results are often shown in a graphical format in which data can be taken in quickly, called an infographic .

Check out this infographic on what components make for a good infographic. As you can see, a good infographic needs four components: data, design, a story, and the ability to share it with others. Without all four pieces, it is not as valuable a resource as it could be. The ultimate infographic is represented as the intersection of all four.

Infographics are particularly advantageous online. Refer to this infographic on why they are beneficial to use online .

Prepare the Research Report

The marketing research process concludes by sharing the generated data and makes recommendations for future actions. What starts as simple data must be interpreted into an analysis. All information gathered should be conveyed in order to make decisions for future marketing actions. One item that is often part of the final step is to discuss areas that may have been missed with the current project or any area of further study identified while completing it. Without the final step of the marketing research project, the first six steps are without value. It is only after the information is shared, through a formal presentation or report, that those recommendations can be implemented and improvements made. The first six steps are used to generate information, while the last is to initiate action. During this last step is also when an evaluation of the process is conducted. If this research were to be completed again, how would we do it differently? Did the right questions get answered with the survey questions posed to the respondents? Follow-up on some of these key questions can lead to additional research, a different study, or further analysis of data collected.

Methods of Quantifying Marketing Research

One of the ways of sharing information gained through marketing research is to quantify the research . Quantifying the research means to take a variety of data and compile into a quantity that is more easily understood. This is a simple process if you want to know how many people attended a basketball game, but if you want to quantify the number of students who made a positive comment on a questionnaire, it can be a little more complicated. Researchers have a variety of methods to collect and then share these different scores. Below are some of the most common types used in business.

Is a customer aware of a product, brand, or company? What is meant by awareness? Awareness in the context of marketing research is when a consumer is familiar with the product, brand, or company. It does not assume that the consumer has tried the product or has purchased it. Consumers are just aware. That is a measure that many businesses find valuable. There are several ways to measure awareness. For instance, the first type of awareness is unaided awareness . This type of awareness is when no prompts for a product, brand, or company are given. If you were collecting information on fast-food restaurants, you might ask a respondent to list all the fast-food restaurants that serve a chicken sandwich. Aided awareness would be providing a list of products, brands, or companies and the respondent selects from the list. For instance, if you give a respondent a list of fast-food restaurants and ask them to mark all the locations with a chicken sandwich, you are collecting data through an aided method. Collecting these answers helps a company determine how the business location compares to those of its competitors. 17

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

Have you ever been asked to complete a survey at the end of a purchase? Many businesses complete research on buying, returning, or other customer service processes. A customer satisfaction score , also known as CSAT, is a measure of how satisfied customers are with the product, brand, or service. A CSAT score is usually on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. 18 But what constitutes a “good” CSAT score? Although what is identified as good can vary by industry, normally anything in the range from 75 to 85 would be considered good. Of course, a number higher than 85 would be considered exceptional. 19

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Effort Score (CES)

Other metrics often used are a customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer effort score (CES). How much does it cost a company to gain customers? That’s the purpose of calculating the customer acquisition cost. To calculate the customer acquisition cost , a company would need to total all expenses that were accrued to gain new customers. This would include any advertising, public relations, social media postings, etc. When a total cost is determined, it is divided by the number of new customers gained through this campaign.

The final score to discuss is the customer effort score , also known as a CES. The CES is a “survey used to measure the ease of service experience with an organization.” 20 Companies that are easy to work with have a better CES than a company that is notorious for being difficult. An example would be to ask a consumer about the ease of making a purchase online by incorporating a one-question survey after a purchase is confirmed. If a number of responses come back negative or slightly negative, the company will realize that it needs to investigate and develop a more user-friendly process.

Knowledge Check

It’s time to check your knowledge on the concepts presented in this section. Refer to the Answer Key at the end of the book for feedback.

  • Defining the problem
  • Developing the research plan
  • Selecting a data collection method
  • Designing the sample
  • you are able to send it to all households in an area
  • it is inexpensive
  • responses are automatically loaded into the software
  • the data comes in quickly
  • Primary data
  • Secondary data
  • Secondary and primary data
  • Professional data
  • It shows how respondents answered two variables in relation to each other and can help determine patterns by different groups of respondents.
  • By presenting the data in the form of a picture, the information is easier for the reader to understand.
  • It is an easy way to see how often one answer is selected by the respondents.
  • This analysis can used to present interview or focus group data.

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  • Publisher/website: OpenStax
  • Book title: Principles of Marketing
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Market Analysis: What It Is and How to Conduct One

Learn what market analysis is and the steps to conduct your own market analysis.

[Featured image] A team of marketers goes over a market analysis report in a brightly lit conference room.

What is market analysis?

Market analysis is a detailed assessment of your business’s target market and the competitive landscape within a specific industry. This analysis lets you project the success you can expect when you introduce your brand and its products to consumers within the market. Market analysis includes quantitative data such as the actual size of the market you want to serve, prices consumers are willing to pay, revenue projections, and qualitative data such as consumers’ values, desires, and buying motives. 

Conducting a market analysis can benefit you in several ways by helping you to: 

Spot trends and opportunities in your industry 

Differentiate your business from competitors 

Reduce the risks and costs of launching a new business (or pivoting an existing one) 

Tailor products and services to your target customers’ needs 

Analyze successes and failures 

Optimize your marketing efforts 

Reach new market segments

Monitor your business’s performance

Pivot your business in new directions

In researching this topic, you may come across terms with similar meanings, including market research and marketing analytics. Here are some distinctions: 

Market research is the process of gathering information about a target market, including its customers’ needs and behaviors, in order to market products to it effectively.

Marketing analytics is the process of studying the metrics of specific marketing efforts, such as landing page sign-ups and social media engagement, in order to increase return on investment.

Here, we focus on market analysis as one component of a thorough business plan. Continue reading to begin conducting your market analysis and lay a strong foundation for your business.

How to do a market analysis in 6 steps

This section covers six main steps of market analysis, including the purpose of each step and questions to guide your research and reflections.

1. Research your industry.

The purpose of this step is to gain an understanding of your industry at large so that you know how to enter it, can spot trends, and compete with other brands. 

Here are questions to get you started:

What statistical information can you gather about your industry from sources like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, BMI Research, and professional associations? 

How many businesses are in this industry?

What’s the market size in terms of the number of potential customers?

How much revenue does the industry generate?

What are the industry standards by which companies and consumers operate?

What external factors affect how businesses in this industry operate, including laws and regulations, new technologies, world events, and economic and social change?  

Where do you spot opportunities to innovate within the industry?

2. Investigate the competitive landscape.

This next step takes you from broad industry insights to looking specifically at brands you’ll be competing against as you seek to attract potential customers in your target market. Here are questions to guide your process:

What brands are the most well-known in your industry? Who sets the trends and captures the attention of customers? 

What are these brands’ offers, price points, and value propositions? 

What sales tactics, technologies, and platforms do these brands use to create a customer journey?

How do these brands use content to educate and engage an audience? 

What can you learn from customer reviews of these brands?

3. Identify market gaps.

With insights into how competing brands fare, you can find market gaps, differentiate your products and services, and stand out within your industry. 

Market gaps are needs that are currently not being filled by existing brands. For example, in the online education industry, learners might be interested in topics that existing courses do not cover, in which case you could develop a course to fill this need. 

Here are some questions to help you identify market gaps:

Looking back at your industry research findings, what will external factors like social change and new laws mean for developing products and services? 

Ask consumers directly: “What do you want or need that you currently can’t find?”

How specifically do competitors’ products and services fall short? 

In what ways would you be able to create better products and services, given your strengths and expertise?

4. Define your target market.

Now that you know your industry, the competitive landscape, and the market gaps you can fill, the next thing to do is get specific about the kinds of customers you want to serve. Define your target market according to the characteristics that make individual consumers more likely to purchase products and services from you:

Of the potential customers in your industry, which specific market segment can you target effectively?

How can you describe this segment according to their demographics (age, ethnicity, income, location, etc.) and psychographics (beliefs, values, aspirations, lifestyle, etc.)?

What are their daily lives like?

What problems and challenges do they experience?

What words, phrases, ideas, and concepts do consumers in your target market use to describe these problems when posting on social media or engaging with your competitors?

What are the features and benefits of your offers, and how will these provide solutions to your target market’s needs?

What marketing messaging can you use to appeal to this target market and exhibit empathy and understanding? 

5. Identify barriers to entry.

As you’re getting to know your target market and tailoring your offers and messaging to consumers, it’s important to have a clear sense of factors that might prevent you from entering your market successfully. That way, you can devise a strategy to address challenges. 

Here are some questions to make barriers to entry more visible:

What are the startup costs of building your business, including product development, technology, suppliers, patents, and certifications? 

What legal requirements will you need to fulfill before launching? 

What political, economic, and social factors might affect customers' behavior and their likelihood of purchasing your offerings?

How much do your top competitors spend on their advertising to earn customers' loyalty? 

What will you need to do to present your offerings as better alternatives in terms of value, price, and ease of purchase?

6. Create a sales forecast.

Sales forecasting is the process of estimating future sales so that you can make confident business decisions or secure funding from investors and lenders. You may find it useful to create forecasts for specific increments of time, such as the next three months, six months, or a year. 

To generate a sales forecast, answer these questions:

What products and services do you intend to sell?

How many units do you expect to sell during each increment of time, based on your market size and the behaviors of your target market?

What prices will you assign to each product or service?

What is the cost of producing and advertising each offering? 

Use this formula to quantify your forecast:

(No. of units to sell X price for each unit) – (cost per unit X No. of units) = sales forecast

Your market analysis checklist

Use this checklist and the steps above to guide your market analysis process.

Gain a holistic understanding of everything happening in your industry and prepare to navigate it.

2. Investigate competitors.

Know who the big players are and how you can differentiate your brand.

Find unsolved problems and unmet desires in your market.

Know your customers’ unique characteristics and tailor your offers and marketing accordingly.

Know what stands in your way and address challenges head-on.

Estimate future sales and make confident business decisions. 

Want to build a thorough business plan? Watch this lecture from the Entrepreneurship: Launching an Innovative Business Specialization to get started: 

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Market Research for a Business Plan: How to Do It in a Day

Market Research for a Business Plan: How to Do It in a Day

Whether it’s your first time using market research for a business plan or this isn’t exactly your first rodeo: a quick refresh on the topic can do no harm.

If anything, it’s the smart route to take. Particularly when you consider modern-day market research data can be obtained quicker than ever – when the right tools are used.

Today, I’m going to explain exactly how to conduct market research for a business plan, and how to access that key data and juicy intel without hassle.

The importance of market research in business planning

They say knowledge is power, and where your rivals and your market are concerned, there’s nothing quite like it. By looking at things like consumer behavior, the competitive landscape , market size, and the digital strategies of others; companies at any stage in their lifecycle can stay relevant, maintain a competitive edge, set strategic direction, and experience growth. Doing periodic market research also helps businesses develop a deeper, more informed understanding of a market, its audience, and key players. If you’re seeking financial backing, doing market research is essential to show credibility and build confidence in your plans.

why market research for a business plan is important

How to conduct market research for a business plan

Good market research for a business plan should be contextualized with information about your company, its goals, products, pricing, and financials. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Read on to learn how to conduct all the market research for a business plan you’re going to need – quickly, using the most up-to-date data there is. I’ll show you how to:

  • Understand your audience
  • Identify target personas
  • Size your market 
  • Research the competition 
  • Discover your unique sales proposition
  • Define marketing priorities 

Before you start, make sure your business planning document includes the following 10 headings:

business planning market research areas of focus

This format is considered best practice, so I’ve indicated the specific sections that each element of your market research fits into.

Sound good? Then let’s get started.

1. Understand your audience

What it is – A target audience is a social segment of people who are likely to be interested in your products or services. It’s a snapshot of your target customer base, sorted by certain characteristics. It’s also known as audience demographics and can contain data like age, gender, location, values, attitudes, behaviors, and more.     

Where to use this market research in a business plan – Demographical data can help determine the size of your market, which slots into the executive summary, marketing plan, market sizing, and financial sections of the plan. What’s more, when you use it to identify groups of people to target, it can also be used in the products and services, competitive research tools , and SWOT analysis sections.

Bonus: Audience demographics can also help you develop stronger branding by choosing imagery that appeals most to your ideal customers.

How to do a quick audience analysis

Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence gives you the ability to view almost any industry in a few seconds; you can also create a custom industry based on specific players in your market.  Here’s how to see relevant audience demographics in a market. For this example, I chose the airline industry.

View typical audience relevant to your sector with gender and age distribution, along with geographical data . You can see which companies are experiencing growth and at what rate. Audience loyalty is also key to understanding how people behave, if they tend to shop around and what search terms they use to discover sites in any niche.

Read more: Learn more about how to do a demographic analysis of your market’s audience .

2. Identify target personas

What it is – An audience or target persona is a typical customer profile. It starts with audience demographics, and then zooms into a much deeper level. Most organizations develop multiple target personas, based on things like pain points, location, gender, background, occupation, influential factors, decision-making, likes, dislikes, goals, ideals, and more. 

target personas

Pro Tip: If you’re in B2B, your target personas are based on the people who make purchasing decisions, not the business itself.

Where to use this market research in a business plan – Creating target personas for your business shows you know whom you’re targeting, and how to market to them. This information will help you complete market sizing, product or service overview, marketing plan, and could fit into the competitive research section too.

How to create a buyer persona in five steps

Guesswork does not equal less work – there’s no place for shortcuts here. Your success depends on developing the most accurate representation of who your customers are, and what they care about. 

1. Research: If you’re already in business, use market research surveys as a tool to collect information about your customers. If you’re a startup or pre-startup, you can use a platform like Similarweb to establish a typical customer profile for your market. Don’t forget to use mobile app intelligence and website analytics in tandem to build a complete picture of your audience. 

Pro Tip: Secondary market research is another good source of intel for startups. You might be able to find published surveys that relate to your products or market to learn more.

2. Analysis: Here, you’re looking to answer key questions to fill in the blanks and build a complete picture of your ideal customer. Tools like Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence, Google Analytics, and competitors’ social media channels can help you find this out. Typical questions include:

  • Where is your audience coming from?
  • What channels do they use to find your site?
  • Do they favor access via mobile site, app, or desktop?
  • What are their demographics? Think age, job, salary, location, and gender.

3. Competitive market research: This shows you what marketing channels, referral partners, and keywords are sending traffic to businesses similar to yours When you combine this data with what you learned in sections 1 + 2, you are ready to build your personas.

4. Fill in a buyer persona template: We’ve done the hard work for you. Download a pre-made template below .

Further reading: The complete guide to creating buyer personas

3. Size your market

What it is – Market sizing is a way to determine the potential size of a target market using informed estimation. This is how you find out the potential revenue and market volume applicable to your business . There are three key metrics: total addressable market (TAM), service addressable market (SAM), and service obtainable market (SOM).

Tam, sam, and som definition

Where to use this market research in a business plan – Knowing how big the slice of the pie you’re going after is crucial. It can inform any goal setting and help with forecasting too. This data can be used in your executive summary, marketing plan, competitive research, SWOT analysis, market sizing, operations, and financial sections.

Further reading: How to do market sizing shows you how to calculate the TAM, SAM, and SOM for your business.

4. Research the competition

What it is – Competitive landscaping shows who you’re up against and how your offering stacks up vs others in your space. By evaluating rivals in-depth and looking at things like features, pricing, support, content, and additional products, you can form a detailed picture of the competition.

Where to use this market research in a business plan – The information you gain from performing a competitive analysis can transform what you offer and how you go to market. In business planning, this market research supports the executive summary, product or service overview, marketing plan, competitive research, SWOT analysis, and operation sections.  

How to do competitive landscaping

Using the industry overview section of Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence, competitor research is made quick and easy. Access key metrics on an industry or specific players, then download raw data in a workable excel file or get a PNG image of charts in an instant. Most data can be downloaded via excel or as an image and included in the resource section of your plan.

Here, you can see a summary of a market, yearly growth, and top sites. A quick click to industry leaders shows you market leaders and rising stars. Select any name for a complete picture of their digital presence – use this to spot potential opportunities to gain a competitive advantage.

Read more: See how to do a competitive analysis and get a free template to help you get started.

5. Discover your unique sales proposition

How to find your unique selling proposition

What it is – Not all businesses have them, and that’s OK. A unique selling proposition (USP) is something distinctive your business offers but your rivals don’t . It can be anything that’s unique to a product, service, pricing model, or other.  

Why it’s useful – Having a compelling USP helps your company stand out in a market. It can make your business more valuable to a customer vs the competition, and ultimately help you win and retain more customers.

Where to use this market research in a business plan – Your USP should be highlighted in the executive summary, the product and service overview, and the SWOT analysis.

How to find your USP

Unless you’ve developed a unique product or service, or you’re planning to sell to the market at a lower-than-average price point, you’re going to have to look for some kind of service differentiator that’ll help you stand out. In my experience, the quickest way to discover this is through competitive benchmarking. Here, I’m talking about evaluating your closest rivals to uncover things they’re not doing, or looking for gaps that your business can capitalize on. 

A competitive review of their site should look at things like:

  • Customer support: do they have live chat, email support, telephone support, etc.?
  • Content: do they produce additional content that offers value, free resources, etc.?
  • Offers: what promotions or offers do they run?
  • Loyalty or referral programs: do they reward loyalty or referrals?
  • Service level agreements: what commitments do they make to their customers?
  • Operations: consider delivery methods, lead times, returns policy etc.
  • Price promises: what satisfaction or price promises do they offer, if at all?

Go easy on yourself and create a basic template that details each point. Once complete, look for opportunities to provide something unique that nobody else currently offers.

6. Define marketing priorities

What it is – A detailed plan showing how you position and market your products or service. It should define realistic, clear, and measurable goals that articulate tactics, customer profiles, and the position of your products in the market.

Where to use this market research in a business plan – Relevant intel you uncover should inform the marketing plan first and foremost. However, it can also be used in the SWOT analysis, operation, and financial sections.

How to do it – with a market research example

Using the marketing channels within Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence, you can short-cut the lengthy (and often costly) process of trial and error when trying to decide which channels and activities work best.

Let me show you how.

Using Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence, I can hone in on any site I like, and look at key marketing intel to uncover the strategies they’re using, along with insights into what’s driving traffic, and traffic opportunities.

In less than 60 seconds, I can see easyJet’s complete online presence; its marketing and social channels, and a snapshot of every metric that matters, like referrals, organic and paid ads, keywords, and more. Expand any section to get granular data, and view insights that show exactly where key losses, gains, and opportunities exist.

You can take this a step further and add other sites into the mix. Compare sites side-by-side to see who is winning, and how they’re doing it. While this snapshot shows a comparison of a single competitor, you can compare five at any one time. What’s more, I can see industry leaders, rising players, and any relevant mobile app intelligence stats, should a company or its rivals have an app as part of their offering.

Best practice for market research data in business plans

When doing any type of market research , it’s important to use the most up-to-date data you can get your hands on. There are two key factors for data are timeliness and trustworthiness.

For any market, look for data that applies to any period over the last 12 months. With how fast markets evolve and how quickly consumer behaviors change, being able to view dynamic data is key. What’s more, the source of any data matters just as much as its age.

To emphasize the importance of using the right type of data in a business plan, here’s some timely advice from SBA commercial lending expert and VP of Commerce National Bank and Trust, Steve Fulmer. As someone who, in the past 15 years, has approved approximately $150 million in loans to SMBs; his advice is worth paying attention to.

“ For anybody doing market research for a business plan, they must cite sources. Most new or small businesses lack historical performance data, which removes substantial confidence in their plans. As a lender, we cannot support assumptions in their business plan or their projections if their data hasn’t come from a trustworthy source.”

Steve Fulmer (Vice president SBA & commercial lending, Commerce Bank & Trust)

Wrapping up…

Now you know the six ways to do market research for a business plan, it’s time to knuckle down and get started. With Similarweb, you’ve got access to all the market intel you’re going to need to conduct timely, accurate, and reliable market research. What’s more, you can return to the platform anytime to benchmark your performance , get fresh insights, and adapt your strategies to focus on growth – helping you build a sustainable business that can withstand the test of time.

How do I do market research for a business plan?

By using Digital Research Intelligence tools like Similarweb, you can quickly conduct audience research, company research, market analysis, and benchmarking from a single place. Another method is secondary market research, but this takes more time and data isn’t always up to date. 

Why does a business plan need market research?

Doing market research for a business plan is the quickest and easiest way to validate a business idea and establish a clear view of the market and competitive landscape. When done right, it can show you opportunities for growth, strategies to avoid, and effective ways to market your business. 

What is market research in a business plan?

Market research in business planning is one of the most powerful tools you can use to flesh out and validate your company or its products. It can tell you whether there’s a market for your product, and how big that market is – it also helps you discover industry trends, and examine the strategies of the rising stars and industry leaders in detail. 

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After you choose a business idea to pursue, your next step is researching it. Here’s how to do it right.

 Research is the first step to starting your business.

Starting a new business is an exciting venture with limitless opportunities. However, if you’ve decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship, you’ll need to do your homework before you hit the ground running.

After choosing a business idea, the first step to starting a new business is researching that idea. You'll want to know if there is a demand for your potential product or service, as well as the type of competition you'll be up against. Doing this work can help you anticipate and counter any potential issues, giving your business the best possible chance of success.

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Develop a market research plan

Conducting market research can help you determine who your target audience is and how to reach them effectively, as well as how your product or service uniquely solves a problem that audience is facing.

There are two main types of market research: primary and secondary. Primary research refers to any information that comes directly from your audience, such as focus groups, surveys and interviews. This can help you understand your potential customers’ habits, preferences and needs, so you can cater your offerings accordingly.

Secondary market research comes from the public or outside sources. These may include public sources like government statistics, commercial sources like market reports and internal sources like your company’s own marketing data. You can use this information to identify trends and patterns, allowing you to target your marketing.

When conducting market research, consider where your target audience spends time, then invest your efforts on those platforms. For example, if your ideal customer isn’t typically a big social media user, reaching out to people on Instagram might not be the best use of your time.

Conducting market research can help you determine who your target audience is and how to reach them effectively.

Study your competitors

Once you’ve gained an understanding of your audience, you’ll also need to gain an understanding of your competition. Competitive research involves identifying your competitors and identifying their strengths and weaknesses. This not only helps you see how your own business idea compares (and where you may need to make adjustments), it also provides valuable insights regarding industry trends.

Your first step is to identify your business’s main competitors, which can be done by simply searching your product or service category online. Competitors can be divided into direct and indirect: Direct competitors are targeting your same audience with a similar product or service, while indirect competitors may have slight variations in their product/service or target audience. Researching both can help you discover areas of growth for your own business, while also mitigating any potential threats to your business’s success.

Once you’ve found your main competitors, analyze their online presence by reviewing their websites, blogs and social media pages. You may even consider signing up for their email lists and following their social media profiles to get an idea of how they communicate. Finally, track your findings and use the information to fine-tune your business idea and its offerings.

[Read: Need Some Feedback? How to Conduct Customer Interviews and Focus Groups ]

Conduct a SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis helps you objectively evaluate both internal and external factors that could impact your business. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Take time to brainstorm what your business does well, where your business can improve, which opportunities your business can take advantage of and which external threats could have a negative impact.

Once you’ve completed your analysis, implement what you’ve learned by creating an actionable plan that will help you capitalize on your company’s strengths and minimize the impact of any weaknesses.

Finally, keep in mind that your initial business idea research is just the first step. Your product or service, your audience and the market may change over time. Conducting regular research and analyses of your business will give it the best opportunity for long-term success.

Stay tuned for our next Startup2021 article on doing a competitive analysis.

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How to Do Market Research for a Business Plan Successfully

how to do a market research for a business plan

The entrepreneurial-minded folks may long have wondered how to do market research for a business plan. 

After all, a business plan lays out the foundation, purpose and expectations of a new business venture. Given that the risks of starting a new business are manifold , entrepreneurs must conduct market research.

20% of American businesses fail after only their first year of operation, a dismal reality that climbs to 30% after two years.

Newfound entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs alike should therefore carefully commit to and execute a business plan.

While market research applies to a wide breadth of applications that cover various business cycles and processes, including opening and operating a new business, it too can be used for producing a 

This article expounds upon how to do market research for a business plan — and succeed in your venture.

Defining A Business Plan and Its Needs

Before you set out to formulate a business plan, it is vital to fully understand all that it entails. Usually created for startups, it is necessary for all businesses to implement. 

A business plan is a written document that summarizes the main aspects of starting up and managing a business, making it the foundation for your business .

A business plan specifically details a business’s objectives, along with its financial, marketing and operational needs and a roadmap thereof. 

It is created to guide a business through each stage in its establishment and management.  As such, it allows business owners to lay out their needs and goals and track them as the business grows.

A business plan must be updated at regular intervals , as priorities and goals are subject to change. Additionally, when an established business moves in a different direction, it needs a new or completely updated business plan.  

The Importance of a Business Plan

A business plan is an important document and not merely for the purpose of monitoring your business as it develops. This is because this document is also needed to obtain investment , especially in the early stages of the business, in which it does not have an evidential track record.

Thus, a business plan shows investors whether your business is on the right course and is worth investing their funds into. Lenders will require proof of a business plan when they deliberate the approval of a loan. 

Here are several other reasons as to why creating and updating a business plan is important:

  • Making important decisions. It allows you to answer difficult questions at the onset, before they emerge. Understanding these decisions helps you understand how they fit into your overall strategy.
  • Addressing key issues to avoid future problems . These include pricing, competition evaluation, market demand, capital and team members.
  • Proving the viability of your business . Planning your vision into a full-fledged business bridges the gap between an idea and reality. Market research is essential for this point, as it helps you find key insights on various aspects of your industry, including your competitors and customers. 
  • Communicating objectives with team members and all those involved . This is important for larger teams, particularly for assistance when you are too busy to relay information or guidance to your team members. This may also help investors or partners who cannot reach you, as it lays out objectives and criteria.
  • Standardizing and carrying out key objectives . Placing your objectives, criteria and other needs gives them more weight and attention. If they aren’t in your business plan, thereby, in writing, they can easily fall by the wayside. A business plan helps avoid this, standardizing key objectives and benchmarks.
  • Guiding consultants, freelancers and other workers . When employing freelancers and contractors, you can turn to specific sections of a business plan to guide these workers, to ensure they understand your vision, goal and other key business aspects.
  • Obtaining financial support. Whether it is via borrowing from a bank, turning to venture capitalists or putting your business up for an acquisition, a business plan makes your business and its viability clear for these key financial players. 
  • Acclimating to market changes . Updating your business plan can help you during periods of critical change in your market. These changes include: changes in customer needs, new regulations, trends or updates in your industry.

Defining Market Research

Market Research is a wide-encompassing practice that involves gathering information to bolster knowledge about a business’s industry, niche and target market . 

It involves the systematic process of amassing, analyzing and interpreting data and information around the state of a business’s industry and its key actors . The key actors entail a business’s target market, competitors and the movers and shakers within its industry.

As such, it involves gathering research around the niche, trends and industry as a whole. 

This involves gathering secondary research , research that has already been conducted and made available, along with primary research , the kind that requires you to conduct yourself. These main types of research gathering involve various means, techniques and tools that researchers can use.

Market research largely deals with evaluating the viability of a new product or service, although this aspect is primarily referred to as customer development . By conducting market research, you can therefore gather information on virtually all areas of your business. 

Why a Business Plan Needs Market Research

A potent document, one that properly lays out the 7 components of a business plan , from the executive summary, to the market analysis, to the strategy, financial plan and all other in-betweens, most use market research to develop it. 

Market research provides the key data, information and nuances your business plan needs. Although a new business or business idea is born on intuition, a business plan must be backed up with data to prove its viability and positioning in its industry. 

As such, market research must be performed in the early stages of the business plan, as it is the phase in which you learn all about your niche, its trends and the demands of your target market (including the makeup of your target market via market segmentation ).

Only after analyzing all of your market research results, will you be able to populate the business plan within key areas such as market analysis, financial projections, strategy and implementation, marketing endeavors, pricing and location . 

A business plan must be comprehensive, another way in which market research is of utmost importance, in that there are various methods and tools you can use to conduct it. By consolidating all of the different market research techniques , you are establishing an exhaustive business plan, the kind that leaves no key consideration out.

how to do a market research for a business plan

The following presents the key data and information of a business plan that market research can extract:

  • Demand : Does your product/service have enough market potential to justify a new business?
  • Pricing : How will you determine the pricing of your offerings? 
  • Target Market : Who makes up your target market? Do they have enough spending power to buy your product or service?
  • Location : Does your business require opening a physical store or can it effectively reach its target market via ecommerce? Perhaps it needs both?
  • Historic data on your product/ service : How have the products and services in your niche performed over time? How do they perform currently? 
  • Marketing and Market Entry : How will you form an explanation on how you’ll enter the market? How will you promote your products/services to solidify your entry?
  • Labor Requirements : Do you have enough manpower to form a business? How many employees and contractors will your business require?
  • Financial Plan : Do you have the financial means to cover all operations?

How to Conduct Market Research for a Business Plan

Since a business plan ought to include concrete information to pave the way for business success, it requires thorough market research. Given that market research encompasses so many modes and forms, it can be overwhelming and even intimidating to begin to conduct it for your business plan.

The following provides a step-by-step guide on how to do market research for a business plan, so you can craft your plan in an informed manner, equipped with critical market research.

how to do a market research for a business plan

  • First, search the secondary sources available; while some are free, there will be many that aren’t.
  • Then, narrow it down to a specific niche, with suspected market segments.
  • Focus your research via secondary sources on your market. Look at trade publications, new sites dedicated to your market, industry reports, local reports, statistics websites, blogs on the startups in your niche, including their stories of success and failure and other secondary resources.
  • Conduct further secondary research on your priorities.
  • Then, switch to primary research methods to zero in on your most critical research subjects.
  • You can achieve this by conducting secondary research on your target market.
  • Use an online survey, a focus group or a survey panel .
  • Segment your target market further and start building personas from the shared characteristics they exhibit.
  • Be sure to find similar offerings available to identify your competitors.
  • Survey your target market on their needs and feelings towards similar products/services, along with their aversions and desires for updates.
  • This will help you understand how to set up your prices as well.
  • Research the costs of marketing and publicizing the launch of your business.
  • Compare all costs and establish a preliminary business budget.
  • Jot down their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Compare your offering to theirs, does it fill any gaps or voids? Is it better price-wise?
  • Break this down from high to low levels of research. Ex: From the general industry to the exact niche, from a large target market, to specific segments, to specific personas.
  • Adjust your budget, goals and plans.
  • The executive summary, company description, products and services, market analysis, strategy and implementation, organization and management, financial plan and projections.
  • Assure that everything makes sense. If there are gaps in the information you have outlined, consider conducting more research.
  • Highlight areas of opportunity, along with areas of risk. 
  • Edit your business plan as needed.

Empowering Your Market Research-Powered Business Plan

Market research is a wide-reaching practice that blends consumer behavior and economic trends to help you validate and improve a business idea. It can also help you change the course or style of an already established business.

Thus, it is not solely for startups. Market research can be difficult to conduct and manage , as there are so many business aspects you’ll need to consider to lower your risk of failure. Concurrently, there is so many kinds of market research you can stand to conduct.

Even with the steps listed above, navigating through the jungle of market research can be a laborious and difficult task. While you can’t control secondary resources, you can wield control of your primary research endeavors via an online survey platform . 

This kind of market research tool allows you to take the reigns in every aspect: from asking the exact questions you seek answers to , to targeting a specific market segment , to deploying your surveys across the most-frequented websites and apps. 

A potent survey platform will complete all of these crucial tasks , making primary research an easy task. The trick is to find an online survey platform that can handle all of these tasks, along with making it easy to analyze the data.

Do you want to distribute your survey? Pollfish offers you access to millions of targeted consumers to get survey responses from $0.95 per complete. Launch your survey today.

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How to Do Market Research — 2023 Guide

how to do a market research for a business plan

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my business career. Some mistakes were hard to avoid, but one of the biggest and most expensive ones could have been dodged by simply doing a little homework.

I fell victim to a trap that plenty of entrepreneurs fall into every day — I fell in love with a product idea .

Back in the late 2000s, my team and I came up with what we thought was a great idea for a product. Tons of businesses would need it and it was almost guaranteed to be a huge hit!

But, we neglected to do our market research. We ended up with a product that was searching for a market instead of figuring out who our ideal customer was and building a product specifically for them.

Here’s what I learned from this experience, and what you can do to avoid the mistakes that I made by conducting market research.

What is market research?

Market research is the process of gathering information about your potential customers. It helps you define your buyer personas , target market, and understand the viability of your business by answering questions like — Who are they? What are their buying and shopping habits? How many of them are there? 

By exploring your ideal customer’s problems, desires, and current solutions, you can build your product, service, and broader strategy to better serve them.

Why do market research?

When you’re starting a business , getting to know your customers is one of the most important things you need to do. If you don’t understand your customer, you don’t know how you can help solve their problems. You don’t know what kind of marketing messages and advertising will work. You don’t know if your product or service is actually something your customers will spend money on.

Conducting market research provides answers to those unknown elements. It will greatly reduce risk as you start your business. It will help you understand your competitive position and the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. And it will improve your marketing and sales process .

Is marketing research necessary for your business?

You may still be wondering, “does my business really need to conduct market research?” Answer the following questions to find out:

  • Are you serving a primarily local market?
  • Does the category of business you are starting already exist?
  • Do you have a plan for differentiating yourself from your competition?
  • Do people spend enough on your type of business to support both you and your competition?
  • Do you already know your industry extremely well from prior work experience?

If you answer yes to at least three of these questions, then you can probably get away with less market research. Just know that if you are well-versed in your industry, business-type and competition, that things will always change. It’s wise to be actively researching or establish regular market research sessions to be sure you’re staying ahead of the curve.

How to do market research

Diving into conducting market research can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be as long as you know what you’re looking for. We’ll get into the types of market research you can leverage in just a bit, but for now start with this step-by-step process.

1. Start by identifying your target market

Imagine that someone walks into your business, or picks up the phone and calls you. It’s your perfect customer: someone who has the problem that you solve and is willing to spend money on your solution. Now imagine the details about this person. Who are they? Can you describe them?

Ideal customers and common traits

This “ideal customer” is your target market . Now, your business might have several target markets, but it will usually serve you best to keep your list of target markets to two or three.

Each of your target markets should share common traits . These might be demographic traits such as age group, gender groups, income levels, or locations. They might be what are called psychographic traits, which are groups of people that like the same things or have similar interests. Or, your target market might be a certain type of employee at another company, such as a CTO or head of marketing.

Most often, target markets are blends of demographic and psychographic groups. For example, you might be developing a new type of shoe targeted at female triathletes. Or you might be opening a hair salon targeting urban, hipster men.

Market segmentation

Creating multiple target markets for your company is doing what’s called “ market segmentation .” This sounds complex, but all you’re doing is dividing your target markets up into different groups that you hope to sell to. Each market segment might have different characteristics and might buy your product or service for different reasons.

You might end up coming up with different marketing campaigns for different market segments or even customizing your product or service for each segment.

2. Talk to your potential customers

Once you have identified your target market, or at least made a good guess at who your target market is, you need to take the most important step in this entire market research process. You need to get up from your desk, get out from behind your computer, and go outside. That’s right, you need to go and actually talk to people in your potential target markets. This is called primary market research.

Yes, you can do online surveys and other research, but that’s no substitute for actually talking to potential customers. You’ll gain more insight into your customers just by seeing their work or home environments, and get a better understanding of how they make buying decisions by actually talking with them than any survey will ever tell you.

Do this one thing, and you’ll be miles ahead of your competition. Why? Because most people skip this step. It’s intimidating to talk to strangers. What if they don’t want to buy what you plan on making?

So, don’t be like most entrepreneurs (including me!) and skip this critical step. It can mean the difference between success and failure. Getting this step done early will help you refine your business model and make a clear impact on your future success.

3. Find out if your market is big enough

Once you have identified your target market and validated it by talking to them in person, you need to do research to figure out if your target market is big enough to sustain your business. If there aren’t enough potential customers to sustain your business and your competitors, then you need to consider changing your product or service offering.

For example, if your target market only has a few thousand potential customers, you either need to sell to them frequently or sell at a fairly high price to create a sustainable, profitable business.

To figure out if your market is big enough, you need to do some research . Use the attributes you defined in the target market step and then figure out how many people meet your demographic, psychographic, or location criteria. I’ve got some links to resources that will help you figure this out at the end of this article.

If you are targeting an existing market with established competitors, you do what’s called industry research . For example, perhaps you are building a new company in the market for sports drinks or the market for cell phones. In cases like this, understanding how much people buy of the currently existing offerings will give you the best sense of potential market size.

In this case, you want to look for industry reports and read trade publications for your industry. These publications often summarize the market size.

4. Document your findings

The final (and easiest) step in the market research process is to document your findings. How formal your documentation is will really depend on how you plan on using it.

If you only need to share your findings with your business partners and others in your business, then you can probably communicate fairly informally. However, if you’re looking for investors for your business, you may need to write a more formal market analysis and do a market forecast.

Presenting your market research

The single piece of documentation that every business should create is a buyer persona . A persona is a description of a person that hits on all of the key aspects of your target market. And, just like you might have several target markets for your business, you might have several different buyer personas.

Creating a buyer persona converts your target marketing information from dry research into a living, breathing person. For LivePlan , we’ve created a persona named Garrett who drives much of our product development. Garrett embodies the attributes of our ideal customer.

When we think about creating a new marketing campaign or developing a new feature for our products, we ask, “Would Garrett like this?” You can read all about the process we used to create Garrett in this article.

Develop a business plan to take on the competition. Get the insights you need to stay ahead of the competition. Get LivePlan.

What are the methods of market research?

Even with a market research process in place, it can be difficult to know exactly what market research methods you should leverage. There are plenty of ways together information, but they can be boiled down to two core types of market research. Primary research and secondary research.

What is primary research?

Primary research is the collection of first-hand information from the customers within your market. This cuts out the middleman and ensures that the results you are gathering are straight from your potential customers. As I mentioned before, this is the type of research you should leverage when validating your business idea, and it can be broken down into two result categories — exploratory and specific.

Exploratory primary research involves non-quantifiable customer feedback. You’re not looking to measure these results, but gauge interest or an emotional response through open-ended questions or review options. This type of information can provide greater context for specific data points and results.

Now that data is found by conducting specific primary research. This is where you ask very specific questions that can be quantified later on to help you determine the value of a product or service, the direction you need to take, or even the response of your customer base. It’s this type of research that can help you explore specific issues or opportunities your business has, and come back with numerical (purchases, revenue, estimated sales, etc.) insights to drive and support your decisions.

What is secondary research?

Secondary research covers every other piece of data you have available. This includes resources such as:

  • Public sources: Typically free and highly-accessible information gathered through government sponsored research projects. 
  • Commercial sources: Research studies conducted by private organizations regarding the state of specific markets, industries or innovations. 
  • Internal sources: Data you have collected through everyday business operations. Everything from financial statements to Analytics reports can qualify.

What’s better primary or secondary research?

Neither primary nor secondary research is better than the other. They simply have different use cases. You want to leverage a healthy mix of primary and secondary research for an effective market analysis and should use them together to understand the full story of your place in the market. 

When you’re first starting out, focus on conducting primary research to make sure you are getting the necessary information to validate your business. Compare those findings to secondary resources such as industry benchmarks , market reports, and any internal data you’ve already collected. From there, you’ll likely leverage secondary research more consistently, but it’s wise to run primary research initiatives from time to time, especially when approaching a strategic decision.

Types of market research

So what type of market research can you conduct? Here are a few useful options.

I mentioned this before but the best thing you can do is get out and talk to your potential or current customers, virtually or in-person. Be sure that you have a refined set of closed and open-ended questions ready and be sure to consider the interviewee’s tone, body language, and interest alongside their actual answers.

Focus groups

Similar to interviews, focus groups can provide direct feedback from your customer mix. Rather than receiving answers or reactions in a bubble, you get to see how customers may act when influenced by others in the market. You can simply ask questions, run product tests or have them watch a demo.

You may include questions about pricing when conducting interviews or focus groups, but you can also specifically develop research around pricing. This can be anything from A/B testing different pricing options on your website, offering discounts to exclusive segments, or running ad campaigns with different pricing positions. The goal is to understand what your customers are willing to pay and understand what they consider to be a fair price.

This type of research is about understanding if your target market knows about your brand and how much they happen to know. What do they associate with your brand? What competitors come to mind first?

It’s a great way to understand your current market penetration and who your competitors really are. You can integrate this type of questioning within your other tests, or run surveys attached to an incentive to get this kind of data.

Customer interest

As part of your initial validation process, you should try to understand current customer interest, ie. are customers willing to buy your product or service. You can simply ask questions and look for yes or no, but it may be wise to run a limited-time sale or pre-sale to actually line up initial revenue for your business. You can offer the chance to purchase during your interviews or focus groups, as well as run pre-orders through a simple landing page or by measuring engagement with a paid ad campaign.

Customer satisfaction

This research will help you understand current customer loyalty and what it will take to get customers to come back. Again, you can do this research within focus groups or interviews, but you can also just test loyalty programs, limited-time promotions, customer service initiatives, and other ways to improve customer loyalty. 

How do you find market research data?

Finding market research data really depends on the market you are targeting and the industry you are in. Here are a few of my favorite sources for market research:

  • U.S. Census : If you’re opening a business in the U.S., the U.S. Census site is a goldmine of information. Check out the Census Business Builder to get not only population data but data on how much people spend in a given area on your type of business.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics : Another U.S.-centric resource, but a fantastic site for information on specific industries: hiring and expense trends as well as industry sizes. If your target market is other businesses, this is a good place to look for data.
  • Consumer Expenditure Survey : If you want to know what people spend their money on, this is your source.
  • MyBestSegments : This tool from Claritas is a great resource for finding out what demographic and psychographic groups live in a given zip code or where the highest concentration of a given segment lives. While the most detailed data is not free, you can get a lot of great insights from the free version.
  • SBDCNet Business Snapshots : You’ll find a great collection of industry profiles that describe how industries are growing and changing, who their customers are, and what typical startup costs are. You should also check out their list of market research resources, sorted by industry .
  • ZoomProspector : This tool can help you find the ideal location for your business, or find new locations similar to where you already are for expansion and growth.

Make market research a consistent part of your business

Effective market research can help you avoid costly mistakes early on in the life of your business. But it should remain a core practice that you regularly implement when approaching crucial business decisions, growth opportunities, or just reaffirm your understanding of the market. 

Have you done primary research? Do you have a great market research resource? Tell me about it on Twitter @noahparsons .

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated for 2021.

AvatarNoah Parsons

Noah Parsons


Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. You can follow Noah on Twitter .

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How to Do Market Research for a Business Plan


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Blog / Small business tips / How to conduct market research for your business idea

how to do a market research for a business plan

How to conduct market research for your business idea

If you don’t know who you’re selling to, you may miss important acquisition opportunities. Market research helps you to uncover key information about your target market so that you can reach, engage and ultimately convert your ideal customers into buyers.

The internet has made it easy for customers to find out information about brands online. The same is true for small business owners looking to figure out how to do market research for a business idea .

Market research will help you to discover who your ideal customers are, where they hang out online or in-person and how and why they make purchasing decisions. Armed with this information, you can get in front of your ideal audience in the right place at the right time, thus grabbing their attention and motivating buying behaviour.

In this article, we’ll explain what market research is and why it’s important, outline several types of market research and detail how to do your own market research to boost reach, drive conversions and increase revenue.

Top Tip: Conducting market research is a key part of ensuring that your start-up idea is something that people actually want and/or need. Once you’ve finished your research, you’ll need to get into the nitty gritty of creating a brand for your business, choosing your company formation structure, educating yourself on business laws and regulation, sourcing funding (if necessary), and marketing your business. You can learn how to do all of this and more in our guide to 10 effective steps to start your business in the UK 📌. 

Table of contents:

What is market research.

  • Why is market research valuable? 

Types of market research

  • How to conduct market research in 5 steps

5 common market research questions

Wrapping up.

Market research is the process of identifying information about your target industry as well as your target customers. 

When starting a new business, it will help you to answer the following questions:

  • Demand: Is there a desire or need for your product or service? If so, what problem or pain points does your offering solve and how can you better align it to suit this demand? 
  • Market saturation: How many similar options are already available to consumers?  Further, what are those businesses who are already in the space doing well and where are they missing opportunities? What can you do differently to fill in these gaps?
  • Market size: How many people would be interested in your value proposition? This will help you to forecast your startup budget or, for businesses that are post-launch, this new product or service budget. From there, you can also predict revenue and profitability.
  • Economic indicators: What’s the income range and employment rate of your target audience? This is the first step in customer research and it will help you to create detailed customer personas (more on these later on).
  • Location: Where do your customers live and hang out, both geographically and online, and where and how can your business reach them?
  • Pricing: What do potential customers pay to your competitors? This will help you to figure out exactly how to price your products or services so that you can stay competitive and achieve profitable markups. 

The results from this research will help you tailor your marketing efforts and brand messaging to better engage your audience. And, it will help you to design and package your product or services in a way that aligns with your audience’s needs. All of this leads to better conversion rates, sales and revenue. 

how to do a market research for a business plan

Why is market research valuable?

Understanding your customers is the most effective way to drive engagement and increase loyalty. Knowing their desires, needs and pain points helps you create a better user experience and cater to audience demand.

Market research is invaluable because it gives you compelling insights into user behaviour. While data and analytics give you a high-level overview of behaviours, market research goes a step deeper and uncovers what drives user intent. If you can unearth user intent, you can speak directly to your consumer with personalised messaging that motivates them to take action.

Market research also helps you uncover industry trends, ensuring you’re staying in line with what customers want and need out of similar products or services within the same industry. 

Competitor research like this helps you figure out what your competitors are doing well and where there are gaps in their strategy that you can fill. Plus, getting a sense of small business trends in your target market will help you to understand how they will impact your revenue and profits. 

There are two main types of market research methods: primary and secondary. Primary research entails speaking directly to the source, or direct-to-consumer, and secondary research is the act of gathering data from existing third-party sources. 

Both main types of research utilise qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.

Qualitative research focuses on data from first-hand observations, such as interviews, focus groups and questionnaires.

Quantitative market research , on the other hand, focuses on collecting and analysing big data from larger sample sizes, such as demographics, spending behaviour and opt-in rates.

To conduct the most well-rounded market research, you should incorporate both types of research and methodologies. It’s easier to start with secondary research and move into primary research once you have an idea of general industry and consumer trends. As secondary research has already been compiled and published by others, it’s less time-consuming and often cheaper than primary research. 

If you’re starting a new business, whether a full-time endeavour or a side business for extra income, this market research will be critical when creating a market analysis section in your business plan . Showcasing exactly what your competitors are doing, how your business will fill industry voids and your plan to attract your target audience will help to generate interest in your business idea.

Let’s dive into the two types of market research in more detail.

Venn diagram illustrating primary and secondary market research

Secondary Research

Secondary research is third-party data that gives you a high-level overview of your target market. This data can be found in trend reports, market statistics, industry content, your own sales data if your business is post-launch, studies by government agencies, trade associates or other businesses. 

There are two main ways to access secondary research data.

  • Public Sources: These include government statistics, academic databases, news sources, published books, published studies, and so on. Publicly sourced information is often free and you can find it online or in libraries. Such sources in the UK include the Office for National Statistics , the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses and more. 
  • Commercial Sources: These sources are often in the form of statistics from private-groups that you have to pay money to gain access to. Such companies include Forrester , Gartner , International Data Corporation (IDC) , Everest Group , Mintel , Euromonitor , YouGov and more. You can also use online sources (both free and paid) that analyse online behaviour and trends like Google Trends , Product Hunt , Social Mention and SimilarWeb .

Primary Research

Primary research is research you conduct yourself in order to gather more detailed information about your specific target audience. You should begin primary research only after you’ve completed secondary research as it’s meant to fill any missed gaps from third-party sources.

There are three main ways to do primary research.

  • Exploratory research: This involves talking directly with people. You should have an initial sense of your target audience from your secondary research, so this is the first time you’ll be communicating directly with them. Start with broad, open-ended interviews in an attempt to narrow down this group into a more niche audience.
  • Specific Research: Once you’ve generated this smaller, more niche group, use the same methods that you applied to your exploratory research. But this time, ask more specific questions to get more valuable and intent-driven answers. 
  • Internal Sources: If you’ve already launched your business and are conducting market research to see if the industry has changed since launch, collaborate in-house to see what your existing customers are saying. What were their challenges and pain points at launch and how have they changed? What are your customer’s biggest needs now? What do they say you can be doing better? The idea is to learn from and improve upon your original research by combining historical with updated customer-driven insights. 

how to do a market research for a business plan

How to conduct market research

There’s no one specific way to do market research. Generally, you want to start broad and narrow your research as you learn more. 

Once complete, you should be able to define your buyer persona, know their specific needs and pain points, understand how your competitors are positioning themselves in the market and identify your opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.

Here are five steps you can follow to organise and optimise your market research process.

1. Define your buyer persona

The key to driving brand engagement and purchasing behaviour is the ability to connect with your target audience. Otherwise, you’ll be promoting your product or service to a wide array of potentially uninterested parties, wasting valuable time and money.

Defining your target audience is the first step of your primary research efforts. Once you understand who you are selling to and what their interests are, you can and subsequently reach out directly via your secondary research initiative (we will explain how to do this in step 2 below). 

From there, you can begin to create a buyer persona. Use your target audience research to create buyer personas that answer the following questions:

  • Who are your customers and why are they interested in buying your product or service?
  • What characteristics, interests, desires, pain points and needs do they share?
  • Where do they live?
  • How old are they?
  • What is their education level?
  • What is their income range?
  • Which types of websites do they frequently visit?
  • Where do they currently buy similar products?
  • Which languages do they speak?
  • What industry do they work in?

Use the aforementioned public and commercial resources to gather and compile this data. Once complete, you can build your customer persona. This step is important because you can distribute a detailed, shareable document amongst your team or potential investors to guarantee everybody clearly understands your target audience. 

You can use online tools like HubSpot’s customer persona creator , Xtensio , Userforge or Smaply to build basic buyer personas quickly. 

Screenshot of a buyer persona builder from UserForge

Top Tip: This is the first step in building a marketing strategy that will help you gain traction and boost brand awareness. To learn more about how to attract your ideal audience, read our guide on how to build a go-to-market strategy .

2. Engage with a small target sample

Now that you’ve completed your initial customer personas and market research, it’s time to dive deeper into your audience’s behaviours. This is where your secondary research efforts come into play.

You can reach out to your target audience in several ways across many mediums. Remember to begin with exploratory research by asking open-ended questions and follow up with specific research that unveils invaluable insights. 

  • Surveys: Use online surveys to ask a group of people a set of questions. Often, an online survey is delivered via email, but it can also be posted on social media platforms or online forums. Surveys are easy and cheap to conduct, the results come in quickly and the data is straightforward to analyse. You can use platforms like Survey Monkey , JotForm , Google Forms , LimeSurvey and more.   
  • Emails: Send a cold email asking if they will be open to answering some of your questions. You can attach your survey to this email and/or use it as a platform to schedule a more in-depth phone interview. 
  • Phone calls: Phone interviews allow you to speak directly with your potential customers. Use their answers to formulate your follow up questions to dive deeper into intent and expose insightful trends. 
  • Face-to-face: This will be exactly the same as the phone interview, but one-on-one in person. In-person or interviews via video conferencing can be more valuable than phone calls as they give you the opportunity to see body language. Sometimes, you can learn more about what a person is feeling based on their body language rather than their words. Observation is key in face-to-face meetings.
  • Focus groups: Focus groups bring together a group of selected participants to answer questions in real-time. Usually, a trained moderator will lead the discussion and ask questions about your product or service, user experience, user expectations, competitor products or services, marketing and branding messaging and more. 
  • Call for participants via social media: Post on social media platforms to generate interest about participating in any of the above methods. Make sure you are posting your questions in the places that your target audience hangs out online, such as LinkedIn , Facebook groups, Twitter , Reddit , and so on, so that you attract people that align with your unique customer personas.
  • Leverage your network to get participants: Apply the same methodology as your social media call for participants when leveraging your own network. Reach out to friends, former coworkers, family members and more to see who among them fits into your customer persona and is willing to participate.

3. Identify competitors

Gathering information about your competitors helps you figure out who their audience is, how they communicate with them and how they position themselves in the marketplace. This will help you to learn from their successes and failures so that you can replicate the fruitful tactics and avoid messaging or branding that received negative feedback.

There are two types of competitors to identify.

  • Industry competitors: Industry competitors are those that saturate your target marketplace. For example, if you are selling a SaaS video conferencing tool, your competitors will be businesses like Zoom or GoToMeeting.
  • Content competitors: Content competitors may not be competing in terms of the products or services they sell, but they are competing in terms of content creation. For example, if you run a leadership training business, a content competitor will be a business that creates content about how to be a great leader. This content competitor could run a finance business, a retreat business, a SaaS business or so on, but because they create content that targets similar keywords, they are a competitor in that specific space. 

It’s important to understand as much as you can about your competitors so that you can make better decisions. Learn everything about your competitor’s audience and apply those insights to your branding and marketing strategy.

4. Analyse data

You will amass a ton of information throughout this process. Make sure that you are using a system that helps you organise it so that it doesn’t become overwhelming.

Here are some ideas on how to do this:

  • Sort your data into groups to better understand the big picture
  • Create several distinct customer personas if you learn that you have more than one audience type
  • Build a matrix chart to see how often pain points, desires, needs and attributes overlap 
  • Generate a customer journey map to outline the journey from awareness to purchase, using free or paid tools like LucidChart , HubSpot or Visual Paradigm .

Once organised, you can draw meaningful insights from your data collection. This will help you to further shape your offering and messaging. 

5. Summarise findings

Summarise your findings in a simple and shareable format. Draw inspiration from the common themes you discovered to help tell a story about your target audience. 

This will guide future marketing and branding efforts and help your team and potential investors develop a clear picture of who your ideal audience is in their minds.

Add in quotes, diagrams, call clips, video clips and more to amplify the audience’s voice. Outline who you talked to, common themes and if you will stay on course or pivot based on any common feedback threads. End the summary with immediate next steps and action items.

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The most effective questions get to the heart of the matter and help you obtain invaluable insights. These insights will affect who you target, where you position your brand, what your messaging will be, what voice and tone you will use and much more. 

Here are some common market research questions.

1. What do you look for in a brand?

This will help you figure out what matters the most, at a high-level. For example, does your audience care about engaging with brands that support a good cause, or do they prioritise quality above all?

From this answer, you’ll have a better idea of what to include in your messaging. If your audience prefers brands that support a good cause, you can forge partnerships with nonprofits or charities and commit to donating a portion of your proceeds to them. Then, add this messaging on your website or in your content to make sure your audience is aware of your stance.

2. What are the reasons or actions that drive you to make a purchase?

Based on that answer, you can ask more specific follow up questions such as:

  • Do you prefer testing products with free trials, or are explainer videos sufficient to pique your interest? 
  • Do you prefer when a company is active on social media or do you not care so much?
  • How much does a business’s customer service response influence your brand loyalty?

Use these answers to uncover desires, expectations and experiences that influence your focus in these areas.

3. What problem were you trying to solve or what goal were you trying to achieve when you purchased from [COMPETITOR]?

This answer will help you understand your competitor’s audience to see what their intent was before making a purchase. You can use these insights to position your business as a better solution to their problems.

4. What challenge(s) at work has [COMPETITOR’S] solution failed to solve?

From this answer, you can identify pain points that your competitors have yet to build a solution to. Ideally, you can get to market before them and present your product or services as the solution that will fix their ongoing problem.

5. What does your day look like?

While broad and open-ended, this question will help you learn more about your target audience in general. You need to not only understand what drives their buying behaviour, but who they are in a larger sense. 

This will help you build empathy for your audience, which will only serve to help you when speaking directly to them and personalising messaging. Plus, you may uncover something you didn’t previously know about their buying habits from this answer.

Market research is crucial in order to identify, understand and segment your target audience. Further, it allows you to gain a high-level understanding of your target industry as a whole, giving you the data you need to competitively price your products and forecast revenue.

Without market research, you will be selling blind. The most successful companies not only understand their place in the market and exactly who they are selling to, but how and where to target them. 

Plus, they know why their target audience makes certain purchasing decisions, helping them to skew their messaging in a way that captivates, engages and produces results.

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How to Create a Market Research Plan

Table of contents.

how to do a market research for a business plan

You may think you have the best idea ever for a business or product, but without laying the proper groundwork, it could easily go the way of the Edsel. Not only do you need to size up the competition, but you also need to identify who will buy your product, how much it will cost, the best approach to selling it and how many people will demand it.

To get answers to these questions, you’ll need a market research plan, which you can create yourself or pay a specialist to create for you. Market research plans define an existing problem and/or outline an opportunity. From there, the marketing strategy is broken down task by task. Your plan should include objectives and the methods that you’ll use to achieve those objectives, along with a time frame for completing the work.

A market research plan should provide a thorough examination of how your product or service will fare in a defined area. It should include:

  • An examination of the current marketplace and an analysis of the need for your product or service
  • An assessment of the competition
  • Data about customers
  • The direction for your marketing in the upcoming year
  • Goals to be met

How to create your market research plan

Doing business without having a marketing plan is like driving without directions. You may eventually reach your destination, but there will be many costly and time-consuming mistakes made along the way.

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe there is a big demand for their service or product, but, in reality, there may not be, or your prices may be too high or too low, or you may be going into a business with so many restrictions that it’s almost impossible to be successful. A market research plan will help you uncover significant issues or roadblocks.

Step 1. Conduct a comprehensive situation analysis.

One of the first steps in creating your marketing plan is to create a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), which is used to identify your competition , to know how they operate, and then to understand their strengths and weaknesses .

When developing a market research plan, it is essential that you do your homework to determine your possible customer base, to gain knowledge about the competition and to have a solid foundation for your marketing strategy.

Step 2: Develop clear marketing objectives.

In this section, describe the desired outcome for your marketing plan with realistic and attainable objectives, the targets, and a clear and concise time frame. The most common way to approach this is with marketing objectives, which may include the total number of customers and the retention rate, the average volume of purchases, total market share, and the proportion of your potential market that makes purchases.

Step 3: Make a financial plan.

A financial plan is essential for creating a solid marketing plan. The financial plan answers a range of questions that are critical components of your business, such as how much you intend to sell, what will you charge, how much will it cost to deliver your services or produce your products, how much will it cost for your basic operating expenses and how much financing will you need to operate your business.

In your business plan, be sure to clearly describe who you are, what your business will be about, business goals, and what your inspiration was to buy, begin or grow your business.

Step 4: Determine your target audience.

Once you know what makes you stand out from your competitors and how you’ll market yourself, you should decide who to target with all this information. That’s why your market research plan should clearly delineate your target audience. What are their demographics and how will these qualities affect your plan? How do your company’s current products and services affect which consumers you can realistically make customers? Will that change in the future? All of these questions should be answered in your plan.

Step 5: List your research methods.

Rarely does one research avenue make for a comprehensive market research plan. Instead, your plan should indicate several methods that will be used to determine the market share you can realistically obtain.  This way, you get as much information as possible from as many sources as possible. The result is a more robust path toward establishing the exact footprint you desire for your company.

A good market research plan involves using more than one type of research to obtain the information you need.

Step 6: Establish a timeline.

With your plan in place, you’ll need to figure out how long your market research process will take. Project management charts are often helpful in this regard, as they clearly divide tasks and personnel over a timeframe that you have set. No matter which type of project management chart you use, try to build some flexibility into your timeframe. A two-week buffer toward the home stretch comes in handy when a process scheduled for one week takes two – that buffer will keep you on deadline.

Step 7: Acknowledge ethical concerns.

Market research always presents opportunities for ethical missteps. After all, you’ll need to obtain competitor information and sensitive financial data that may not always be readily available. Your market research plan should thus encourage your team to not take any dicey steps to obtain this information. It may be better to state “we could not obtain this competitor information” than to spy on the competitor or pressure their current employees for knowledge. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with simply feeling better about the final state of your plan and how you got it there.

Outsourcing the work

If the thought of trying to create your own market research plan seems daunting or too time-consuming, there are plenty of other people willing to do the work for you.

You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars for assistance crafting a market research plan. University business schools often provide free resources that can assist you.

Market research firms can charge into the thousands of dollars for a market research plan, but there are ways to get help more affordably, including:

  • Outline your plans carefully and spell out objectives.
  • Examine as many sources as possible.
  • Before paying for any information, check with librarians, small business development centers or market research professors to see if they can help you access market research data for free.
  • You may think you’ll need to spend a hefty sum to create a market research plan, but there are plenty of free and low-cost sources available, especially through university business schools that will guide you through the process.

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how to do a market research for a business plan

How To Do Market Research For Your Business

how to do market research for your business idea

Before you start a new business, new product, or service, it is important to conduct thorough and accurate market research. Market research includes research into the target customer of the product or service as well as any competitors that may already be providing a similar product or service.

In this article, we will give you some tips on how to go about conducting market research for your new business.  

What is Market Research?

First, let’s take a look at what market research actually is. Market research is the process of collecting information about a particular market sector or industry. This information can be used to help you understand your target customer, their needs and wants, as well as any potential competition.

Why Do Market Research?

There are a few key reasons why it is important to conduct market research before starting a business:

  • To understand your target audience and what they want/need
  • To understand the size of the potential market for your product or service
  • To identify any potential competition and how you can differentiate yourself from them
  • To understand the costs and revenue potential for your business
  • To develop a marketing strategy

It is important to remember that market research should not be conducted solely to sell your product or service. The purpose of market research is to help you understand what customers want and need, as well as how many potential customers there are in your target area. If a business does not meet the needs of its customer base, it will lose out on a lot of revenue.

Primary and Secondary Research Methods For A Business

There are two main types of market research methods – primary and secondary research.

Conducting Primary Research

Primary market research is the process of gathering information from people who may be interested in your business or potential customers directly. This type of market research can be done through a number of different methods, including:

  • Focus groups allow you to find out what consumers think about a product or service. In a focus group, a small group of people are brought together to discuss a particular topic.
  • In-depth interviews are one-on-one interviews with potential customers about their needs and wants when it comes to your product or service.
  • Questionnaires allow you to gather information from a large number of people in a short period of time.
  • Online surveys involve emailing potential customers and asking them questions about their needs and wants with regard to your new business.

Exploratory Primary Research

Exploratory primary research provides you with the opportunity to test your great business idea before starting up. This method of primary market research is conducted on people who are not customers yet but could be in the future. It typically involves collecting information about consumers’ needs and wants when it comes to a product or service that would meet those needs.

Specific Primary Research

Specific primary research is conducted when you already have a product or service and are looking to find out more about it. This information can help you identify any areas of improvement for your product or service, as well as provide insight into where the market will be in the future.

Conducting Secondary Research

Secondary market research is the process of gathering information that has already been gathered by someone else. This information can be found in a number of different places, including:

  • Market reports analyze data from a particular market or industry.
  • Company websites can be a great source of information about your potential competitors.
  • Trade journals contain articles about specific industries or consumer markets.
  • Government websites often have market statistics about various industries.

Public Sources

There are several public market data sources available including directories, databases, and other websites that provide publicly available information.

  • Business directories allow you to find a list of other companies in a particular industry.
  • Product review websites can help you understand the quality of your competitors’ products.
  • Market research reports give you current data on a particular market or industry.
  • Government census reports can give you valuable insight into industry trends.
  • Databases allow you to search for a particular company or product.

Commercial Sources

There are commercial secondary data sources that provide a vast amount of information on various industries, but you have to pay for a subscription in order to access their database. These include:

  • Industry-specific databases allow you to search a number of different sources for information about a particular market or industry. These types of databases can be very expensive.
  • Trade magazines contain articles that are mostly targeted at business owners and managers, while trade journals tend to target academics and other professionals in the field who want to gain new consumer insights.
  • Market research firms offer a variety of services, from providing market analysis to conducting focus groups.
  • An industry trade association often has market research reports that are available to members only.

Once you have a general understanding of the different types of market research, you need to decide which type(s) will work best for your new business. The following questions can help you make that decision:

Do you have a product or service to sell?

If you have a product or service to sell, then you will need to conduct specific-problem research in order to understand how your product or service meets the needs and wants of potential customers.

What is the target market for your product or service?

If you know who your target audience is, then you can focus your research on that particular group of people.

What are the needs and wants of your target market?

To understand what the needs and wants of your target market are, you will need to do some exploratory research. This involves talking to potential customers about their needs and wants, as well as researching what is currently available in the market.

What are your competitors’ products and services?

If you know what your competitors are selling, you can use that information to understand the needs and wants of your target market. You can also use it to identify any areas where you may have an advantage over your competitors.

Types of Market Research

There are several types of market research including:

  • Specific-Problem Research : This type of market research is most commonly used for new products or services. It involves understanding the problems that customers are having with existing solutions, and how your product or service can provide a solution to those problems.
  • Exploratory Research : This type of research is used to gain a better understanding of a particular market or group of customers. It involves talking to potential customers about their needs and wants, as well as researching what is currently out there.
  • Competitive Research & Intelligence : This research is used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your direct and indirect competitors, in order to help figure out how you can differentiate your company or product.
  • Market Segment Research : Market segmentation involves separating your potential customers into groups based on similar needs, wants, or characteristics.
  • Product Positioning : Product positioning focuses on how you want your product to be viewed in the market by your target audience.
  • Economic Research & Analysis : This research is often conducted when deciding whether or not to start a business in a particular industry. It involves understanding the economic factors that could impact your business.
  • Marketing Research : This research is used to understand consumer behavior, including what products or services they are interested in, and how much they are willing to spend on them.
  • New Product Development : This type of market research is done during the development stage of a new product or service, and involves testing different options with consumers to determine which version would be most successful on the market.
  • Social Research & Analysis : This research focuses on understanding the impact that your company’s social actions have on the public and how to use this information in a positive way.
  • Distribution Research : This type of research is focused on understanding where consumers purchase products and services, and how to gain access to those distribution channels.
  • Allocation Research : This type of research focuses on understanding which distribution channel will best reach your target audience.
  • Market Forecasting and Trends Analysis : This research looks at historical primary data to determine future market trends.
  • Pricing Research : This research is focused on understanding how much your target audience is willing to pay for your product or service, and what the competition is charging for similar products.

Once you have identified the type of research you will be conducting, you need to decide who your target market is. This can be done by doing a customer profile, which will help you understand what your target customer looks like. You will also need to determine where to find these target customers and how to reach them.

How to Do Good Market Research

Let’s take a look at the market research process. The following steps will help you get started:

Determine the purpose of your market research

To start the market research process, you need to determine the purpose of your research. What do you want to find out? What are your goals?

Define your target customer

The first step in conducting market research is to define your target customer. This is the group of people that you are hoping to sell your product or service to. You need to understand who they are, what they want, and what needs your product or service can meet.

Gather data about the market

Once you have defined your target customer, you need to gather data about the market. This data can include detailed information such as population data, demographics (age, gender, income, etc.), purchasing power, and what products and services are already available.

Analyze your data

Once you have gathered data about the market, you need to analyze it to see what trends it brings to light. For example, if your target customer wants a product that is inexpensive and easy to use, this information will be useful when you are deciding on your product features. If you are providing a service, you need to research the average salary in your target area so that you can price your services correctly.

Perform a SWOT analysis

Once you have gathered your data and conducted your interviews, you need to perform a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis will help you consolidate all of the information that you have gathered and identify your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Conduct a competitive analysis

Once you have analyzed the specific market research data, it’s time to conduct an analysis to better understand the competitive environment. This entails researching other businesses in your area that provide similar products or services and understanding how they operate. It is important to understand what makes your business different from the competition and how you can capitalize on it.

Create a business plan

Once you have completed your market research, it is important to include the findings in your business plan. The business plan will help you to determine if your new business is feasible and how you will go about marketing and selling your product or service.

This document will outline your business goals, marketing strategies, and how you plan on achieving them. Your market research should be included in the appendix as a supporting document for your claims within the business plan.

Market research should not be conducted solely to sell your product or service. The purpose of market research is to help you understand what customers want and need, as well as how many potential consumers there are in your target area.

Do Market Research Regularly

Once you have started your business, it is a good idea to conduct market research on a regular basis. This will help you identify any changes in consumer behavior and adjust your marketing plan accordingly. You can also conduct market research to identify your target market, which will help you to tailor your product or service to them.

Don’t Forget the Business Plan!

Once you have completed your market research, remember that it should be included in your business plan. Your business plan provides a method for showing investors that you are qualified and competent to start and run a business. The market research should be included in the appendix as a supporting document for your claims within the business plan.

Market research is an important step in starting any new business. By researching the target customer, the market, and the competition, you will be able to create a well-informed business plan that will help you to start and run a successful enterprise.  

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Conducting market research is an essential step in starting a new business. By following the steps outlined in this article, you will be able to gather the information you need to make informed decisions about your product or service.

Some businesses may be tempted to conduct research themselves as opposed to hiring outside agencies. However, that is not to say that there are no businesses that should conduct their own market research. Instead, it all depends on the type of business and who makes up your target audience.

All businesses need to take an active interest in understanding their target customers and how they behave so they can provide products or services that will best suit their needs. Market research will help you to understand your customers and the market that they operate in.

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how to do a market research for a business plan

Home QuestionPro Business

How to Do Market Research for a Business Plan

Business plan research.

For a successful market research and analysis business plan, you will need answers to many critical  market research questions . What demographic is your product or service most likely to appeal to? What is the forecast for the industry you are in? How have other products or services similar to your own done over time? What are your competitors doing right or wrong and how can you capitalize on any market openings?

All these questions have to be addressed to have a strong Market Analysis section within the business plan. If not, when it comes time to deliver your business plan to a potential investor, they will quickly spot the lack of factual data to back up your business promises and they will most likely walk away. To get a strong Market Analysis section, make sure to do your homework and include relevant data, graphs, and charts to make your case.

How to Get Started with Market Research

First, you need to gather your resources and collect data to get the numbers right. Let’s go over how you can do market research for a variety of topics included in your Market Analysis section. They are:

  • Demographics – If you have been managing a website, you already know a bit about the demographics your niche attracts. Using Google Analytics or you can find out not only your own demographics, but those of your top competitors. This can help you find ways to create different sales channels and campaigns to target different demographics from income level and age to other important factors.

Do Your Research

  • Product or Service Review – The product or service lifecycle will need to be reviewed to make sure you are not trying to promote a product or service in an over-saturated market. You can look at product sales on different websites that specialize in specific industries. For instance, if you’re thinking of promoting a new electronic device, you can obtain market research on product sales information from the Consumer Electronics organization at
  • Competitors Analysis – You will have to visit your competitor’s websites and do analytical research for traffic, sales, and niche to make sure you can compete successfully. You can also get valuable insights on how well their business is doing by simply adding your name to a marketing list so that they will send you their news more often.
  • Risks and Opportunities – This will take a bit of thinking to determine how you can best exploit your competitors weaknesses and emphasize your strengths in the marketplace. You will want to differentiate your offering enough from your competitors so that your target audience has a clear choice. Never compete solely on price as that is a failing strategy that ends up with the lowest price driving everyone out of business. Instead, look at the features and services your competitor offers and improve upon them and/or find a way to widen your market share geographically in ways that they cannot, for whatever reason.

Select your respondents

A business plan is not a document written once and then forgotten. Economic and market forces in your day-to-day operations will cause you to review the document every year to see where you have met your objectives, where you haven’t, and how to revise the business plan when you find out more about the market conditions. New market conditions will also impact how you proceed and will need to be included in a newer version of your business plan so that your business stays nimble and is flexible enough to meet new challenges with clearer insights than before. This will ensure the survival of your business in the short-term and provide a good basis for long-term prosperity.


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How to Write the Market Analysis Section of a Business Plan

Alyssa Gregory is an entrepreneur, writer, and marketer with 20 years of experience in the business world. She is the founder of the Small Business Bonfire, a community for entrepreneurs, and has authored more than 2,500 articles for The Balance and other popular small business websites.

how to do a market research for a business plan

The market analysis section of your business plan comes after the products or services section and should provide a detailed overview of the industry you intend to sell your product or service in, including statistics to support your claims.

In general, the market analysis section should include information about the industry, your target market, your competition, and how you intend to make a place for your own product and service. Extensive data for this section should be added to the end of the business plan as appendices, with only the most important statistics included in the market analysis section itself.

What Should a Market Analysis Include?

The market analysis section of your small business plan should include the following:

  • Industry Description and Outlook : Describe your industry both qualitatively and quantitatively by laying out the factors that make your industry an attractive place to start and grow a business. Be sure to include detailed statistics that define the industry including size, growth rate , trends, and outlook.
  • Target Market : Who is your ideal client/customer? This data should include demographics on the group you are targeting including age, gender, income level, and lifestyle preferences. This section should also include data on the size of the target market, the purchase potential and motivations of the audience, and how you intend to reach the market.
  • Market Test Results : This is where you include the results of the market research you conducted as part of your initial investigation into the market. Details about your testing process and supporting statistics should be included in the appendix.
  • Lead Time : Lead time is the amount of time it takes for an order to be fulfilled once a customer makes a purchase. This is where you provide information on the research you've completed on how long it will take to handle individual orders and large volume purchases, if applicable.
  • Competitive Analysis : Who is your competition? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the competition? What are the potential roadblocks preventing you from entering the market?

7 Tips for Writing a Market Analysis

Here is a collection of tips to help you write an effective and well-rounded market analysis for your small business plan.

  • Use the Internet : Since much of the market analysis section relies on raw data, the Internet is a great place to start. Demographic data can be gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau. A series of searches can uncover information on your competition, and you can conduct a portion of your market research online.
  • Be the Customer : One of the most effective ways to gauge opportunity among your target market is to look at your products and services through the eyes of a purchaser. What is the problem that needs to be solved? How does the competition solve that problem? How will you solve the problem better or differently?
  • Cut to the Chase : It can be helpful to your business plan audience if you include a summary of the market analysis section before diving into the details. This gives the reader an idea about what's to come and helps them zero in on the most important details quickly.
  • Conduct Thorough Market Research : Put in the necessary time during the initial exploration phase to research the market and gather as much information as you can. Send out surveys, conduct focus groups, and ask for feedback when you have an opportunity. Then use the data gathered as supporting materials for your market analysis.
  • Use Visual Aids : Information that is highly number-driven, such as statistics and metrics included in the market analysis, is typically easier to grasp when it's presented visually. Use charts and graphs to illustrate the most important numbers.
  • Be Concise : In most cases, those reading your business plan already have some understanding of the market. Include the most important data and results in the market analysis section and move the support documentation and statistics to the appendix.
  • Relate Back to Your Business : All of the statistics and data you incorporate in your market analysis should be related back to your company and your products and services. When you outline the target market's needs, put the focus on how you are uniquely positioned to fulfill those needs.

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How to Do Market Research for a Business Plan

Back to Business Plans

Written by: Carolyn Young

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by: David Lepeska

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

Updated on September 13, 2023

How to Do Market Research for a Business Plan

What to Research

Writing a business plan involves considerable research, much of which is about your industry or market. You’ll need to examine your competitors, your potential customers, what sells, and what doesn’t, and more – all of which will go into the market analysis section of your business plan.

But where to begin? Luckily, this handy guide explains how to conduct market research that will result in sharp, informed strategies and put your business on the path to success.

Be ready to examine your entire industry or market, including customers, competitors, trends and more. 

The Overall Market

You’ll want to find out exactly what’s happening in your industry, such as its growth rate, market size, and latest trends. Where is the industry expected to be in 10 years?

You should be able to find sources online offering data for the U.S. and global markets. IBIS World and Statista are good sources that often provide free statistics, or you can pay for more in-depth information. To find trends in your industry, both good and bad, you can search for news stories or industry websites that discuss current trends and those that may be on the horizon. 

Then consider your company’s place in the market. Is your product going to fit a certain niche? Is there a sub-industry your company will fit within? How will you keep up with industry changes? What share of the market do you think your business can capture?

Target Market Research

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to know your potential customers. If you don’t know who might be interested in buying your goods, how will you ever sell them? 

It’s best to know as much as possible about your target demographic, so you can craft a marketing strategy that will resonate with them and entice them to buy. If you’ve already made some sales, you can start to collect data about your customers and find common characteristics. 

First, dig into your market with some more online research. Do some Google and Bing searches about your target demographic, where they shop and live, what appeals to them and so on. 

Next, check out your competition to see who they’re marketing to. It may help to study their marketing through the eyes of a consumer. 

What need do they fill? Who would find their marketing appealing? Where do they advertise? If their ads appear on TikTok, they’re looking to attract a younger market. 

This market research should give you a general profile of your target market – but that’s not enough

To learn more about your target market, go straight to the source – potential customers. The best way to learn their needs and wants, why they’d buy your product and how they’ll use it, is to ask them via a phone or email survey. 

If you’ve yet to make any sales, it’s probably best to post your survey online then promote it on social media by offering a small reward, such as a gift certificate. Just make sure you ask the right questions to get the information that you’re looking for. 

You can also hold in-person focus groups and offer your goods at a discount for participants. 

Now it’s time to build detailed profiles of your target customers. You may have found that your product will appeal to more than one group of people. These are called customer segments, and all your segments together make up your target market. 

Create descriptions of each group with all the information you’re learned. These profiles should include:

  • Pain points: the problems they have that you’re solving
  • Benefits your product provides
  • Their interests: what do they care about?
  • Buying patterns: where do they shop?
  • Age, location, income level, other factual information

Research the Competition

Research your competitors to find out more about what they offer, how they offer it, and to whom. You can get this info on the companies’ websites, social media, marketing, and any news and financial reporting.  

Their marketing should also help you to identify their value proposition. 

Read customer reviews to learn more about what they’re doing right, and more importantly, areas in which they fall short. You might even want to buy some of your competitors’ products.

Compare your competitors’ products to your own, examining the features and uses, as well as pricing, quality, and market placement. This should show you how your product stacks up and give you ideas about how to improve it, perhaps with new features or added options.  

Now you should be able to figure out where your business can gain an advantage. What does your company offer that they don’t? What can you do better than they do? 

It could be something your business already does or has, or something you need to implement to gain an edge. Either way, it’s critical that you identify at least one differentiator that will persuade customers to choose your business. 

Some potential competitive advantages could be:

  • Customer service
  • Technology 
  • Convenience
  • Rapid innovation
  • Unique features
  • High quality 
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Empathetic marketing
  • Eco-friendliness
  • Employee expertise

You should be able to choose at least one of these now that you have a thorough understanding of your market.

A robust, deeply researched market analysis can serve as the centerpiece of a strong business plan, so if you completed yours in a single afternoon, you probably haven’t been thorough enough.  

If you want your business to succeed, take the time to do some serious market research and craft a plan that offers real insight on your market, your competitors, your customers, and your own vision. This will give you the best chance of attracting the financing you may need to succeed. 

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Want to Invest in a Rental Property? Do These 5 Things First. Make informed decisions regarding your next rental property with these five essential tips.

By Dave Spooner • Sep 26, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Five tips to help you choose a rental property that's worth the investment

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Are you looking to invest in a rental property but aren't sure what the telltale signs of a good investment are? In this article, I'll share five tips for how to evaluate whether a property is worth your time and money and what to look for in an investment property .

From market research and risk analysis to comparing local rentals and calculating your Net Operating Income (NOI), this guide equips you with the knowledge to evaluate your next investment wisely.

Related: 3 Things to Consider Before Buying an Investment Property

1. Do thorough market research

It's vitally important that you conduct thorough research on your new property before taking action. Real estate investments can be lucrative, but they can also be a money pit without proper planning and preparation. That's why the first step in how to evaluate an investment is to take the time to figure out exactly what goals and ideas you have for the property.

You should have an idea as to whether you would like to rent the house out long-term or have a series of short-term renters. Long-term tenants serve as a consistent income stream, and you don't have to dedicate as much time or effort into finding tenants to fill vacancies as often. However, short-term tenants allow you to raise rent prices between periodic leases, plus you have the opportunity to remove tenants who you'd rather not rent to again, even if you don't have proper grounds (or funds) for eviction.

You should also start investigating the market you'd like to invest in. There are many factors that influence how appealing a particular area will be to renters — for instance, an influx of new construction might lessen the demand for your rental, while attractive amenities, restaurants or school systems in the local area could increase the demand for and value of your property .

It's also important to realize the potential costs that come with a new rental. Do you want to offer a furnished unit? The cost of furniture and cleaning associated with a furnished unit can add up. You'll want to consider these costs plus appraisal fees, inspections and other fees that can put a dent in your capital.

2. Conduct a risk analysis

Building on the last tip, conducting a risk analysis is a great way to plan for potential risks and be better prepared for hiccups when they happen. The real estate industry is known for being volatile, so to best protect your investment, expect changes in the following factors:

Essential service prices, like gas and electricity

Local employment rates

Property taxes

State and local laws

Quality of applicants

Government real estate policies

A good way to quantify the level of risk for each factor is to assign each one a score of, for example, one to five — five being the highest level of risk. If a property has a higher risk factor score, be aware that it could potentially lead you to spending more money than you're comfortable with.

Related: How to Get the Most Out of Your Rental Property Investments

3. Use comparable rentals in the area

An important step in evaluating your new rental property is to see how it stacks up against the other properties in your local market. In doing so, you can keep your expectations on expected cash flow in check.

Conduct a sales comparison by finding properties that are similar to yours and calculating the price per square foot that they sold for. Be sure to look at properties that have been sold within the last month so that your numbers are as accurate to the state of the current market as possible. When looking for comparable properties, try to find units that have approximately the same number of bedrooms and quality of amenities as yours.

Additionally, consider whether the location that you're researching is the right location for the type of renter you're looking to attract. For instance, if you're primarily targeting local families for your rental, you'll want to evaluate whether the school system nearby is high quality. If you're targeting young professionals, however, you might investigate whether the property is close to public transit. An excellent location can upgrade a mediocre property to an extremely desirable one, so don't overlook this step when choosing where to invest.

4. Calculate your NOI

Your property's NOI (Net Operating Income) is the total amount of income that it will generate, minus general operating expenses. It is calculated by taking your total rental revenue over a certain period of time and subtracting all regular operating expenses required to maintain the property over that period, such as the cost of repairs, property management fees, insurance, property taxes, etc.

If you divide your NOI by the original price you paid for that rental property, you get the capitalization rate , which measures how long it will take for you to make back your initial investment. If you have a high cap rate, you have more revenue and a strong overall investment.

However, it's important to remember the few factors that could skew your cap rate calculation. When you use cap rate to evaluate a property prior to purchasing it, you'll need to estimate the potential rental rate and total expected income. That means that you'll have to find the cap rate after you research what similar properties are charging in your area. Also, if you intend to flip a low-value home, your cap rate will not include the cost of renovations or the fact that you will not be renting the space out and are selling it instead.

Related: How to Start Investing in Rental Properties — Your Step-by-Step Guide

5. Consult a professional

As an investor, you need to understand how a property's current state will influence what it could be valued at in the future and how much you can profit from it at the time of sale. One of the ways to do this is to hire experts who are experienced in this field to give you an estimate.

A professional property valuation estimates how much capital you'll need to maintain a property. Maintenance costs are a significant factor in determining your overall profit from a rental property. A property valuation will take stock of larger assets like the roof, insulation or HVAC system to see what condition they're in and how much you may have to spend to keep them functioning. You can also request a formal appraisal to have a professional estimate of the true value of the property based on factors like location, demand and lot size.

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co-founder of Innago

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