So you’ve narrowed it all down and decided what you want to spend the rest of your life doing – or at least the next several years. We can now abandon generalities and start digging down into specifics.

Before we actually begin developing this business of yours, we need to make sure there’s a market for it, and that the market isn’t already saturated. We did some superficial market research back in step 7, “Brainstorming Your Business Niche.” In this step, we’ll utilize a number of research tactics to go much broader and deeper, revealing more about your target market, customer needs, and competitors.

So just how do you find out if there really is any demand for your business idea?

At the top of the list: Just ask!

1.    Ask forum members directly, if the forums you belong to relate to your niche. Find other forums for that topic, and join. Read past posts and comments to check for:

  • Feedback
  • Complaints
  • Wishes
  • Questions

These will provide important clues – if you know how to listen.

2.    Use social media to ask friends and followers who are also in your target group what they want, need and miss. Ask them any question you like related to your business, and ask them to share it.

TIP: Include a photo with your question and include your keyword in its description – it will make sure Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm shares your post with more of your targeted followers. (We’ll explore more about EdgeRank in Module 10, “Marketing Your Business.”)

Tweet the same question. Share it on your blog, and ask for comments or answers through social media.5.    Check online job directories and see what sorts of jobs are being posted. Sites such as Elance and oDesk will also show you what kind of competition you have, how many jobs they’ve taken on through that directory and what sort of rating they have.

3.    Create a poll using a Facebook app; EdgeRank likes polls too.

4.    Create surveys using sites such as Survey Monkey, and direct people to your survey via posts on social networks and in any niche-related forum you belong to.

5.    Check online job directories and see what sorts of jobs are being posted. Sites such as Elance and oDesk will also show you what kind of competition you have, how many jobs they’ve taken on through that directory and what sort of rating they have.

Reading their profiles can help you determine what to include – and not include – in your own job description! You can also see data such as:

  • What rates your competitors command
  • How many hours they’ve put in
  • Their average rating
  • What proportion of their job hours comes from repeat customers
  • What keywords seem to get them in the directory’s top results

Also see what services are being asked for in online job markets such as Snagajob and Workopolis.

6.    Do a search for your product or service online, as if you were a customer. Find all your competitors, big and small. Check out:

  • What their customers are saying
  • What the complaints are about their products or services
  • What their customers are asking for
  • What they’re not doing or supplying, that you could provide or supply
  • Also check out their good points along with the bad

What do you perceive as these competitors’ strengths and weaknesses? What could you do better? If you can’t surpass them, what can you do that would make it easier or more satisfying for people to shop with you instead? How can you supplement or complement what’s already on the market, without going head-to-head with existing products and services?

TIP: Some of these competitors could make perfect joint venture partners in the future, so make a note of them for later.

7.    Use sites such as Alexa and Quantcast to study your competitors’ customer demographics, as well as other sites and businesses these customers visit.

Alexa in particular will also show you high impact search queries. Select “View the complete Search Analytics” and scroll down the page that opens up for even more searches and specific details.

The more research you do, the better you’ll know if your idea is viable. It should be starting to take shape now. In fact, you may have disqualified your original idea to focus on a more promising variation, which is exactly why we’re performing this step before making your final decision.

Continue fleshing out your business idea. Don’t get hung up if you can’t definitively answer all the questions yet. Go ahead and fill out what you can; you can always update it later. The important thing is you’re systematically assembling the ingredients for your business “recipe” – when you’re finished, you’ll know whether or not you have all the ingredients to “bake” it successfully!

Excerpted from:

Starting A Business 1-2-3
The premier step-by-step interactive training system
for starting your business with confidence and clarity

Module 1: Research and Development