The Five-Step Process to Utilizing Secondary Research

The Five-Step Process to Utilizing Secondary Research

Most people stop doing research when they leave the classroom. Some don’t even do a particularly good job while in the classroom. One of the steps most young businesses overlook, though, is the value of doing research before enacting any new business plan or even getting into a particular market or area.

While primary research will provide the most specific data to your needs, the cost of surveys, interviews, and focus groups can prove to be prohibitive, especially for small businesses, startups, and those negotiating the costs as they enter a new market sector.

The least expensive form of research you can perform is secondary research. Secondary research is the gathering, summary, and analysis of pre-existing research. While you may not get exactly the details you are looking for, with enough effort put in you can find most of your information, and then fill in the gaps with primary research or with educated assumptions.

How should you start your research? Far too many people see the blank, ominous beginning of the process and turn the other way. But it doesn’t need to be scary. First, break down the process into its component parts and then tackle each one individually. The steps are easy enough to follow.

Step 1: Question to Answer

To do effective research you’ll need a targeted goal to find information on. Ask yourself what you want to know. It could be simply that you want to determine the market size and potential profitability of your new pillow technology. So the question you’re answering is who your target customer is. This question will drive your research and determine what you search for.

Step 2: Source Material

Here you search for the sources you’ll be able to use to get the answers to your question. Source material can come from market research firms. For the pillow research example, the easiest information to find, and as a result the most efficient form of research, is from existing data on pillow sales, technology, and users.

Secondary research comes from simply collecting and analyzing market research that has already been done. This can come from anywhere from independent review websites and trade publications to magazines and newspapers. Your search should be broad at first so you can find as much published material as possible. You won’t know immediately where the data to answer your question will come from

As you go through this process make sure to check the validity of your sources as you go. To do this you’ll want to make sure that you verify where the information came from, who published it, when it was published, and for what purpose it was published. If your information came from a company website, for example, make sure to understand if it is reliable material or propaganda. Likewise, even if the information came from an independent publication, check to see if the author has any stake in the organization he is speaking about. Often you can find more unbiased research from domains that end in .org, .edu, and .gov as these organizations are non-profit. Lastly, cite each of these sources as you research so that you can revisit the information or give credit to the organization.

Step 3: Data Collection

This is where you collect any and all information that may answer your question. As you go through this process be unbiased. You don’t want to make the data fit your assumptions. Your job as a researcher is to find an answer, not to support a claim.

Places to find information include the public financial reports of company websites, global databases, government websites, market research firms, and trade publications. Each will provide a different aspect of your answer and the underlying data to inform it. You’ll be looking at financial statements, demographic information, industry analysis and consumer and market behaviors. It won’t all come from one source, and if it did you should be sure that you triple check that source’s validity.

Step 4: Analysis

Once you find and verify all of your data, you’ll have to parse through it to answer your question. Here you’ll look for relevant information and try to pay attention to any narratives you see about target consumers. If you are looking at the target market for your new state of the art pillow you’ll be trying to find information about the buying habits for pillows by age, sex and socio-economic status. You’ll look at geography and the frequency of sales. Analyzing this data will help you paint an image of your target consumer and help better understand how you can reach her.

Step 5: Presentation

Hopefully you’ll find an answer to your research question through the accumulation and analysis of your data. The process of presenting the findings isn’t simply the answer associated with your question, but the reasoning behind that answer and the decision you make as a result. Even in the smallest of businesses, this step should be followed as it helps you to understand your decision making process and summarize it effectively.

About author

Michael Barry
Michael Barry 31 posts

Michael Barry is the Editor-In-Chief at AgeOfTheSmallBusiness.com. Currently living in Boston, Massachusetts, he received his B.A. in Financial Economics from St. Anselm College and his MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine.

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