One of the first questions I ask my coaching clients when they present a problem in our session is generally; ‘What does your research tell you?’ The reason being is that good solid market research will tell you a great many things about; your customer, your products, your competitors and the market place and if you have been paying attention you may already have the answer to your question.
The more I talk about research, the more my clients start compiling their research better and finding the confidence to answer some of the more basic questions for themselves. You see, part of my job as a craft business coach is to show you that confidence is learned by doing… something which I strongly believe in.
With this in mind I thought it a good idea to compile a list of the most common mistakes I see in business owners’ market research.
15 Common Mistakes to Avoid
1. Not being clear on what you are really looking for.
Don’t ask ambiguous questions at the beginning of your research, this can lead to really poor data collection. Instead every time you sit down to look at some market research, make sure that you give yourself a clear remit. You could start with a simple question, like; ‘what new products are my direct competitors releasing?’
Direct Competitors – Other sellers who sell the same product to the same target customer. The competitors’ products will be your toughest competition, because they take sales away from you.
Fringe Competitors (or indirect competitors) – Other sellers in the market place who sell products to your target customer. These competitors should always be in your periphery vision, because they can take sale opportunities away from you, but they do not offer your unique product and so it sets you apart in your customers’ mind.
To give an example say I make 100% wool yarn, hand dyed in tonal or variegated colourways. A direct competitor is someone who is producing the same product (maybe different colours and patterning) to the same customers. Whereas a fringe competitor could be someone who is selling commercial yarns to my target customer.
Going back to my point, being really clear on what it is you are searching for will help get you the right information in your research.
2. Not understanding the types of research and their meaning.
Ther4 reasons why good research improves your sales.’ These are;e are 4 main types of research as I discussed in my last blog post, ‘
- Customer Research – looking into a better understanding of your customers’ wants, needs and desires. An understanding of their buying behaviour and their brand loyalty.
- Product Research – looking into a better understanding of how to create and produce your products, as well as knowing how they are received and where they sit in the market.
- Competitor Research – looking into direct and fringe competitors to understand gaps in the market, marketing opportunities and ways your sales might be affected by competition.
- Market Research – looking into the industry you sell into and establishing trends and opportunities for growth and marketing.
3. Not being thorough.
I remember reading The Merchant of Venice for an English class at school… I was probably about 14/15 at the time. I struggled with the language in this book, more over some of the other Shakespeare plays I had been asked to read and so going into my mock exam that year I was pretty nervous that I’d be asked to write an essay on this particular book. I was really hoping that we might get a choice of essay prompts as we had done in previous end of year exams. So during my preparation I made sure to reread the other books on our curriculum.
As I turned over my exam paper and scanned the questions to see what the essay prompts were, to my horror the only prompt was a character assignment based on the relationship between two of the main characters in The Merchant of Venice! Immediately my heart sank, not only was I unprepared, but because I had struggled with the language I decided to focus my revision elsewhere. Needless to say I was lucky to barely pass that exam!
Sometimes when we set to work on something we let ourselves get carried away, or we miss the point entirely, or worse still we make a decision that something doesn’t need to be looked into further. This can happen with our market research and can lead to some very dangerous mistakes, like investing in and launching the wrong product. So make sure that each time you sit down to work on your research that you give yourself a clear remit and that you refer back to it when you decide which data to record. Do not leave your research half done either; make sure you have strong answers for your original question.
4. Not keeping your references up to date.
This is a common mistake people make when they launch a new website, or a new product line. They spend some time doing their initial research and then spend longer implementing what they think their very best version of a website, or product might be. For some this might take them as long as 6-12 months to produce. In that time they fail to notice that their idea is outdated and their launch falls flat, because they haven’t kept their research up to date in understanding what their customers and the market wants now.
Let’s think of it in simple terms; Say I wanted to write a new blog post on Facebook business page marketing for your Etsy shop and I base it on a lot of work I did on the subject in late 2017 and call it; ‘How to get your FB page to show at the top of your followers feed’. I go into great detail about Facebook’s 2017 algorithm (the process by which they choose to filter your news feed specifically) and what you need to do to get seen at the top. I launch this blog post today without realising that Facebook are making a major change in 2018, as Mark Zuckerberg announce himself on 11th January 2018. How much traction or quality customer service do you think I would achieve? I’d probably do more harm to my credibility as a marketing expert than good I would imagine.
The same is true with your craft business and research is how you keep bang on trend every time.
5. Referencing badly to begin with.
The thing about keeping your research up to date is that you can see clearly what’s happening in the market place, not only in trends but also in which of your competitors are doing better and those who are missing the mark. This means that you can target your research to the specific points of information that will help you the most.
6. Relying on one source.
Image that you make some soap and your mum really loves it and she prompts you to open an Etsy shop... does one person make a customer base? No. So you need to widen your consumer testing base before you get carried away making soap for an empty audience.
Let’s take this idea further and say you ask your BFF and a few of your work colleagues to try this soap, all the feedback comes back positive. Do you understand the level of competition you will have to compete against in order to sell the amount of soap you need to make a sustainable living? Have you established if your ingredients are on-trend? Are you really clear on whom you are targeting your marketing at? Or is it just anyone… ‘We all buy soap, right?!’
You can see where this line of thought falls down.
But what if you just widened your research… you can read the same scenario over again and have a plethora of opinion to work with. What a better soap business launch that would be!
The same is true if we follow just one competitor. I can promise you, even if they look like they are doing better than you the chances are they make their business decisions based on a good amount of balanced research, which leads to a more educated guess. They might still get things wrong and they will occasionally, we all do! Following more than one competitor will show us so much more and we will be able to spot good practice and good decision making over bad, leading us to spot more opportunities to improve our own game.
This brings me to copying.
As if I need to state it, right? DO NOT COPY.
I had a few copy-cats plagiarise my work back when I was running my hand dyed yarn business, Sara’s Texture Crafts. The first time it happened I felt hugely annoyed and upset… in fact I burst in to tears. This had come from someone who had become a ‘friend’, which is the term this person used to worm their way into my life and my business. In fact she started out as a very good customer. Unbeknown to me (very naive looking back) she was slowly recording small facts about my dye method and recipes. I only found out about it because several of my customers pointed out her Etsy shop to me… the truth was I hadn’t thought to look at her shop, because I saw a lot of her work and I knew exactly what she was using my spinning fibre for and the types of fibre she might need in the future. Needless to say I suddenly stopped taking her orders and then her calls.
I didn’t make a fuss about it, instead I watched her shop for a few weeks and realised that whilst she was attempting to copy me, she was missing a few very big points;
- She didn’t understand the product and so was selling really sub-par quality in terms of dye manipulation and fixing. In fact dyeing spinning fibre before it becomes yarn is a tricky thing, it matts at the slightest motion, or overheating and I could spot the lack of knowledge in her method from the photos alone.
- She underestimated how educated her customers were… they spotted her immediately and boycotted her Etsy shop, passing her info on to others as someone to avoid (against my wishes I have to say, but they were incensed). What’s more is they could also spot her lack of technique.
- She didn’t understand the market… most of what she copied were colours she liked and not my best sellers. In fact most of the colours she was dyeing I had already put on a soon to be deleted list in my shop, as I had already designed new on-trend colourways.
I think it was week 4 or 5 and she closed her shop down having sold maybe just one or two bumps of fibre from at least a stock inventory of 100.
Anyway the upshot of my point here is that copying doesn’t mean that you suddenly ‘know’ exactly how to make that product well, or how to sell it and who to sell it too. It only shows your lacking.
So if there’s a new soap making trend towards organic cold-press and you don’t have the knowledge, or the understanding, instead stick to the melt and pour method you have been using and explore organics that way.
Only implement what makes sense, in your style and let it come from a wide range of research data.
8. Forgetting to reference research at times when you need to make big business decisions.
We have partly covered this already, but I will say it again. A wide range of data collected in your research will help you see the bigger picture and answers to your questions will be much clearer and well defined.
9. Losing focus.
Try to always keep on point with your research. This will help you search for the right answers to your problem.
10. Thinking you are too big to worry about the little guys.
I love this one! I was working a 2 day craft event and one of the other stall holders came over, someone I had never met. She introduced herself as an on-line customer and wanted to show me her stall, so I could see how my products look in her designs. I love speaking with customers, so this was a great opportunity to mentally note down what she was using and what I thought she might need. I remembered she was big into my merino fibre. We got to the stall and I was both in awe and a bit conflicted, because she was making beautiful batts using my fibre, but they were direct competition for my own batts (although a very, very different in look – she had definitely not copied me). We talked for a while and I was genuinely impressed, she had been really practicing her art and discovered a whole new customer base and a different angle to presenting the product. She did really well that weekend and it didn’t make a dent on my earnings (phew, right?!)
The fool in me might have said oh she is nothing to worry about, she has a very tiny business and I’ve turned 5/6 figures at this point in revenue, but that would have proved to have been stupid, because by the end of the year she was easily one of the go to names for producing her product.
So don’t rule out competition research based on size.
11. Not courting your customers.
Your customers are always key to the decisions you make, in fact I believe this select group of people should be your first port of call when you have a question relating to your products, their needs and what they want to see next. If you court them and make yourself accessible, then they will give this information freely.
12. Assuming you already have the answers.
Research is not the time to seek affirmation or validation for answers and instincts you assume to be correct. Instead it’s an opportunity to take an open look at what’s happening out there. You might be surprised with what you find!
13. Going off on tangent.
Research is the never ending pursuit of answers and going off point just opens up more doors with more questions. So be open to what you find, but be clear about what you are looking for to start with and keep on track.
14. Lack of motivation.
If you are struggling to get your research done, then take a look at my recent article on how to avoid a lack of motivation. As I say research is a big project and to get to the bottom of searching for specific data you are going to need to be motivated.
15. Over simplifying your results.
Don’t miss the point by simplifying your research data too much, instead note down details to remember later on. This will help you refer to your research in the productive intent you originally planned for and help you to establish how best to answer your problem.
Research is a tangible way to answer the biggest questions you will face in your craft business. Being open and willing to put in the time and effort to keep your research up to date and always on point means that you will never feel too far removed from the answers you need.
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