Inside every traditional business plan is a section dedicated to market analysis. This is where entrepreneurs research their target market and collect insights into their audiences’ needs.

A thorough market analysis answers the following questions:

  • Who is in your target market?
  • What do the demographics of your audience look like?
  • Is the market growing?
  • How will your business attract, capture and retain this audience?
  • What do opportunities look like with your market?

If your small business hasn’t done this before, you may feel confused about where to start. How do you research your target market? Are there certain tools you should use? Which websites have the most helpful data? How can entrepreneurs conduct this research for free, or for as little out of pocket as possible?

Good news: There are plenty of resources available to help research your target market. With these nine tools, you can confidently answer the above questions and complete your market analysis.

Getting started: 3 best market research websites

How do you determine who your target audience is in a market analysis? An option is using census data and the information from free market research websites to uncover insights.

1. American Fact Finder

Created by the United States Census Bureau, American Fact Finder provides access to data from the U.S. census. When searching under a specific city and state, findings include: age, ethnicity, education, income, housing, area population and more.

2. Pew Research Center

If you need to have very specific information about your target market on hand, check out the “datasets” provided by the Pew Research Center. Here, you may uncover insight into data surrounding internet usage, social and demographic trends, and global attitudes.

3. MyBestSegments

How does MyBestSegments from Claritas help businesses figure out who their best customers really are? First, by finding your customers through segmentation. You may evaluate market segments by linking consumer behaviors, like shopping, to discover insights into that segment’s lifestyle and demographic traits. Then, try looking up key zip codes to uncover more about the segments that reside in the area you’re trying to strategically reach.

Creating Personas: Up Close & Persona

Now that you’ve conducted research into your target market, it’s time to create personas. You can make your own persona(s) by using the free tool Up Close & Persona.

Not sure what a persona is? This is the ideal customer of your small business. Their personality, habits and lifestyle are based off of your data and research. You might even name your personas, even though they are largely fictional creations — someone real might closely resemble the persona, but it is not 100% based on any one person in particular.

Tracking data: 3 must-have Google tools

You’ve conducted the market research and created a persona. Now, your business has to stay in the loop with its tracked data and the changing trends within its target market. Bookmark these three free tools from the Google G Suite to keep on the right track.

Explore what the world is searching with Google Trends. This allows you to see the latest trending searches from the Google search engine worldwide. Type in a key phrase relevant to your business and hit search. You will see how the term trends over time, the various U.S. subregions it trends in, and related topics and queries to the keyword(s).

2. Google Analytics

How do people engage with your website? Google Analytics can help you discover the behavior of your site’s visitors, allowing you to get a bit more strategic. Let’s say site visitors engage with video content more than they do written posts on your blog. You may create more videos to further drive traffic to these pages in the future.

3. Think with Google

You know what’s trending right now, but do you know what will trend with your customers in the upcoming seasons and holidays? All the insights you need may be found on Think with Google. Individuals that subscribe may explore search data to better understand the (continual) shifts in consumer behaviors, needs and beliefs. Understanding that data can help you reach your target market — and more markets beyond your core audience!

Staying connected with customers: VerticalResponse Surveys

How are you doing? Feedback from your target market will become crucial to your small business as the company grows over time. You’ll need to be able to connect with customers before moving forward on new services or initiatives — otherwise, they can totally flop. Use custom survey makers, like free online survey tool VerticalResponse, to create personalized surveys. You may send these surveys to customers to measure their experiences, request feedback and learn what they’d like to see more or less of from your business.

In review: Customer case studies

You’ve done your target market research, made personas, followed up with what your customers are buzzing about and their behavior on your site, and sent surveys for feedback. Last, but never least, is taking the time to conduct case studies.

Why should a small business have case studies? It’s a lot like wanting to conduct research on your target market. By conducting research for a market analysis, you better understand your audience and how your business may meet their needs.

A case study explores in depth how your offerings actually did meet the customer’s needs and the impact afterward. Some case studies also take an opposite approach. They may go into detail about initiatives that did not meet customer expectations and their strategic approach for pivoting toward a solution. Creating case studies gives your audience a chance to see how your business worked to deliver results. The business is then positioned as an authority in its field, so customers trust the company and become loyal customers. It’s a win-win for everyone — and it all started by researching your target market.

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