To be successful in business you need to do your research. And these days there is a huge research industry to help you do this, in a host of different ways. The catch is the cost. A budget for even a small-scale piece of research would generally be over £10k and it can be much more. You might feel this puts research out of the reach of your business. But certainly in the case of qualitative research (smaller sample, greater depth) there are ways of doing research for much less but still with very good results:
All research is about finding out what people do, think and feel. So there's nothing to stop you talking to your friends or family. Or observing people shopping in stores. Or asking people why they bought what they bought. Of course, it helps to have some experience of doing this. But the bottom line is it's just asking people questions and listening hard when they answer.
Moderating research groups definitely does require experience. But it's amazing how much can be learnt from just a couple of groups of 6-8 people. And if what you really want is that killer insight into people's behaviour, attitudes or needs, a good researcher often doesn't have to do a ton of fieldwork.
Companies often forget that their own employees are consumers too. They may not exactly match the people you're targeting but they're still probably a good cross-section. And even if they appear different to your customers, they probably have similar needs underneath. Who doesn't sometimes have a need for comfort? Or adventure? Or freedom? Or control?
A few research companies organise something called Consumer Closeness for companies. This is when each member of a client team is sent off to spend a few hours with one specially recruited member of the public, either in their home or out shopping (or both). The idea is not just to ask them lots of questions, it's to put yourself in their shoes. You need a training session beforehand and a feedback session afterwards. But there's no better way to get immersed in your customers' lives.
You may well know more about your customers than you think. You may be able to imagine how they feel about the products and services they use. It just needs drawing out of you. So there are workshop techniques a good facilitator can use to help you project yourself onto your customers. And there's no better place to be if you're trying to discover an insight that opens up a whole new business opportunity.
• There is more guidance on a video called Six top tips for DIY research, created by the ICG, a group of over 400 market researchers.