Easy alternatives to a crystal ball (that actually work)

see into the future of your business crystal ball

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” famously said Steve Jobs.

In some cases, that is certainly true, and when it’s true, the results can be phenomenally profitable, as Jobs proved several times over.

However, not every product you offer, or every service you provide can be totally new and unknown to the buying public. Further, lots of times people, in fact, do know what they want and are willing to tell you about it. Companies have made themselves very profitable over the last several decades by conducting market research.

Yet as we know, most small business owners don’t have the money to conduct extensive market research. Fortunately, the Internet has somewhat democratized research. With a few of the tools and a couple of the tactics described here, you can throw your ideas against the wall and begin to get a decent understanding of which will stick.

Conduct polls or surveys

One of the best ways of finding out something is to ask and that’s what polls and surveys are all about. You simply ask questions to gauge what your customers are thinking about with regards to your products or services.

If you run a house cleaning service, you might want to know if your clients would be interested in “all natural” products even if it cost a little more. A pet shop owner might want to see if there is a demand for engraved dog collars. Here are some free or low-cost survey tools a local business or online business could easily employ:

There are a range of WordPress survey plugins if your website runs on that platform. By the way, if you use an online survey app and have a local business, you could have a computer in your location and ask customers to complete your survey. You could offer a small incentive to reimburse them for their time. Also, your email service provider may have a survey function built into its system. I use Constant Contact and they give me the ability to conduct surveys, for example.

Present an online early offer

If you do online sales, another way to gauge interest in a new product or service is to promote it like it’s an existing product. You can do this in a variety of ways, two of the most popular strategies are to create an eBay page or a website landing page.

You need to be clear that the product isn’t yet shipping. Your goal is to collect email addresses so interested individuals will be notified when the product is in stock or you launch your new service. Of course, you do not collect any money.

If you do a landing page, couple it with an inexpensive AdWords campaign. Not only will you quickly see if there is any consumer interest in your new idea, but you’ll also be able to estimate some of your future marketing costs.

One final word: These market research strategies reinforce the importance of having an extensive email list of your customers or clients. We often discuss using email to sell, but I think you’ll find email surveys equally valuable. I also think you’ll discover that the people on your email list appreciate the fact that you take the time to ask them what they think and actually listen to what they have to say.