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Don’t Be Intimidated by Market Research

Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist,Growing Your Business,Starting Your Business | Comments (1)

Posted on January 26, 2010 by admin

There is a show I have recently become addicted to watching. It’s Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. While most tech entrepreneurs gush about Shark Tank, I think that Kitchen Nightmares is one of the best shows about entrepreneurship imaginable.

For those unfamiliar with the premise: restaurant owners with struggling restaurants (usually on the brink of going under) invite celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsey, to spend one week in their establishment on an aggressive turn-around effort. Gordon’s formula is pretty simple: come in, try the food, observe how the organization functions, dig into what is going on ‘behind the curtain’ (so to speak), evaluate what it will take to distinguish the restaurant from its competition, and then set about an updated plan of attack, culminating in a “re-launch” that is centered around a new menu.

The reason I think ths show is such an amazing example of entrepreneurship is because of the following:

  • The restaurants are all small business.
  • They started off as being someone’s passion and dream (often at the expense of their savings and fiscal stability).
  • One way or the other, the owner must take responsibility for the condition of the business.
  • In almost all cases, the owner is on the brink of bankruptcy.
  • In all cases the owner is either directly or indirectly at the root of the problem.
  • Fixing the business requires changing how the owner functions within the business.

There is one particularly interesting phenomenon that often occurs in episodes, though, that is a specific point of interest: the market research.

For many entrepreneurs, the phrase “market research” is a big, scary term that conjurs up visions of expensive consultants conducting all kinds of behind-the-scenes black magic to give us answers to mysterious questions. On Kitchen Nightmares (in both the US version, and it’s British predecessor), Chef Ramsey’s version of “market research” usually involves walking down the street and talking to random passers by, sometimes having them sample food and getting their feedback, but always by asking them questions.

  • He asks if they have heard of the restaurant.
  • If so, he asks what they have heard of it (to understand its reputation).
  • He asks when the last time they ate there.
  • He asks why they don’t continue to eat there.

If he’s got new food samples, he’ll often also ask them what they think and what they’d be willing to pay for something on the menu.

At no time during this process does Chef Ramsey use the phrase “market research,” and yet that is precisely what he is doing. It’s very simple. It’s very straight-forward. It’s very unassuming. And it cuts right to the heart of the matter.

The key, of course, is listening to the results and acting on them. Sometimes the answers that come back upset the restaurant owners (usually around food quality and price), but the ones who put their ego aside and make the changes their prospective customers want are always the most successful.

This is a point Seth Godin recently made in his post, “The ubiquity of competition.”  Your customers always have alternatives.  If you are not meeting their needs, you can always be sure that someone else will.  You don’t have to like that fact, but it simply is a fact.  And if you are not talking to them and getting their feedback on how you can improve, then you are missing out on opportunities to build your business.

So when was the last time you spoke to potential customers to find out what it would take for them to patronize your business? No exhaustive surveys, nothing fancy, just a conversation. I’d be willing to bet that asking a few basic questions is a sure-fire way of getting some valuable ideas on ways to help grow or update your business.

The first step, though, is to ask.

Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.