[Kyle’s note: Remember that product ideas are business ideas. Sarah knocked it out of the park with this post, I think you’ll love it. Sarah’s]
It’s daunting, isn’t it?
You want to start a business, but you don’t have the time or money to test idea after idea only to discover that they won’t be profitable.
You don’t want to be a statistic: just another wantrepreneur whose business idea failed.
But what if I told you that you can learn exactly what people want?
That your target market will practically come to you with ideas. And that if you do the right research, your idea is almost guaranteed to succeed.
And the best part is that you can do it in a weekend.
After reading this post, you will know exactly how to do this research to find the perfect business idea that people will actually pay you for.
You don’t need a 160-page business plan. You don’t need focus groups. You don’t need to shell out thousands of dollars to test the market.
You just need to get into the minds of your target market.
Luckily, that’s easier than ever before.
4 Free Tools To Get Into Your Target Market’s Heads and Find Out Exactly What They Want
When you are frustrated with something, or have a question, what do you do?
Chances are, you’ve tried to find a solution online.
Maybe you’ve asked a question on Twitter or searched Google to find experts who can answer your question or fix your problem.
If you’ve ever done that, you’re not alone.
That is why it’s actually easy to get into your target market’s heads to find out exactly what they struggle with.
Which is great because successful businesses all have one thing in common: they solve a problem that the target market is experiencing.
And when you can discover problems your target market is experiencing, you can develop a business that solves those problems – a business you know will be successful.
You just need these four free tools that you may already using.
Read on to learn which tools will leave you with a profitable business idea.
Tool #1: Use Reddit to Snoop Your Target Market’s Conversations
Have you ever found something so useful to you that it almost feels like cheating?
You feel like you’re snooping or taking shortcuts, even though what you’re doing is completely legitimate.
That’s how Reddit is for market research.
Reddit is a social networking, news, and entertainment community that allows users to submit links, images, and questions.
Reddit sees over 174 Million unique visitors per month.
The volume of users on Reddit and the nature of the site make Reddit an incredibly useful tool for market research.
You can use Reddit in two different ways to find a successful businessƒ idea:
- Search Reddit
To illustrate both of the ways Reddit can be used to find the perfect business idea, I’ll use an example of finding a business idea with my target market of photographers.
Subreddits are smaller communities within Reddit surrounding a specific topic.
A Subreddit can be found two ways:
- Typing in the Subreddit keyword using this formula: com/r/[keyword]
- Using the Subreddit directory.
For example, with my target market of photographers, the photography Subreddit is: reddit.com/r/photography.
The photography Subreddit is nicely laid out, so you can sort the different topics: questions, official threads, info threads, and wikis:
Note the up and down arrows beside a question or link, with either a number or a dot between the arrows. That shows how many times the comment has been “upvoted.”
The more a question has been upvoted, the more likely other people have the same question.
Start by copying and pasting every question you see into a spreadsheet.
As you use all of these tools, paste the entire question, including the wording that the asker uses.
Click on the question to find out more about what they’re asking:
Not all questions are problems that need to be solved. Sometimes, they are rhetorical or conversational, so only make note of the questions and statements that qualify as questions, as opposed to conversations, like the example below:
There is often more than one Subreddit that will meet your needs. In the photography example, /r/itookapicture, /r/photocritique, and /r/analogphotography may also be helpful.
Spend a couple of hours combing through these Subreddits.
Because Reddit is an extremely active community and some of the larger Subreddits (like the photography Subreddit) consist of hundreds of thousands of users, valuable questions will be pushed down to other pages quickly.
Since these questions represent the problems your target market is having with your topic, you don’t want to miss out.
Using the method outlined above, going through several pages will score you dozens of questions to paste into your spreadsheet, but to ensure that we’re finding the best idea of the problems your target market experiences, it’s important to dig for as many as possible.
To capture older questions, or questions in a different Subreddit, use Searchreddit.com as a search engine to plug in some keywords.
In the example below, I typed in “should I” and “photography?”:
As you can see, the search brought up a myriad of questions.
We all phrase questions differently.
For example, I might say “How do I change the shutter speed on my camera”, whereas you might phrase the same question as “how can you adjust the shutter speed on a camera”.
Therefore, you’ll get the best range of questions if you search different phrases with your keyword.
In addition to my original search, I also searched “what should I do photography?” to find a different result from above:
Typing in “photography” will also bring up results for “photographer” and “photographs.”
Try your keyword with the following:
- How do I [keyword] ?
- How to [keyword] ?
- Can I [keyword] ?
- What is [keyword] ?
- What are [keyword] ?
- Which [keyword] ?
- Is it possible [keyword] ?
As you continue to enter different keywords, you will find a treasure trove of questions.
Use alternative keywords as well. In the case of my example, I might use “camera,” “photo editing,” “DSLR,” “lighting,” etc.
Just as you did with the results from Subreddits, copy and paste these questions into your spreadsheet.
After you’ve accumulated a number of questions from Reddit, another great place to do some amazing market research is on blogs.
Tool #2: Use Popular Blogs to Pan For Gold
Popular blogs with active, engaged communities are one of the best free market research tools.
In fact, I used this method to come up with the idea for this post.
If you aren’t aware of the popular blogs in your topic, read on to the next section. If you already know of popular blogs in your topic, move past it to the Finding Popular Posts section directly after it.
How to Find Popular Blogs In Your Topic
To use popular blogs as a market research tool, you first need to know which blogs are popular in your topic. Use Alltop.com’s search field to find out.
See the screenshot below demonstrating how I used Alltop to find the most-popular blogs about photography:
Alltop will bring up related topics, as you can see in the screenshot. Some may be useful to you. In the case of our example, I could also look in the Photoshop category.
See the screenshot below for a list of top blogs related to photography:
In our photography example, top relevant blogs include:
- Digital Photography Review
- Advancing Your Photography
- Improve Photography
- The Phoblographer
- Digital Photography School
- The Online Photographer
There are other blogs, but they don’t fit within the scope of what I’m looking for.
Alltop lists the most recent blog posts for each of these blogs, so you can usually determine relevance by the post titles.
For instance, the blog Stuck in Customs showcases travel photos, which I could see by the titles of their latest articles.
The target market is not photographers; it’s travel enthusiasts and people who appreciate the art of photography, so it’s not useful for my research.
When you’re finished noting the popular blogs that fit within the scope of your topic, it’s time to start finding popular posts and scour the comments section for gold.
Finding Popular Posts
Visit the first blog on your list, and check for a “popular post” section on their sidebar or homepage. If it doesn’t have one, use a tool like Quicksprout.com to find the most popular posts on the blog.
In Quick Sprout, enter the URL of one of the blogs and press Search, and then click on the Social Media Analysis tab.
The results are a list of the most popular posts on the blog based on social media shares.
If the post has 2,000 Twitter shares, it will usually have a lot of comments as well.
In this example, Digital Photography School’s top post is: /21-sample-poses-photographing-female-models.
This is simply the end of the URL after digital-photography-school.com.
So when you type the URL in, it will look like this: http://digital-photography-school.com/21-sample-poses-photographing-female-models.
As you can see on Quick Sprout, the post has over 2,000 Twitter shares, but the amount of Pinterest shares knocks it out of the park with almost 67,000 repins.
The next step is to type in the URL of the popular post as I did above, and find the comments on the post to get to the good stuff.
Find Gems in the Comments Section
On popular posts, the comments section is usually full of questions from the audience of that blog. Sometimes, they want to know more about the topic of the post, and sometimes they are more general questions for the blog owner.
Now, here is a trick so you don’t waste hours scouring the comments section, reading every comment and finding that half of them are useless:
Use the “Find” function by pressing control+f (or command+f on a Mac) and type in a question mark.
That will find each question mark on the page – including in the comments section – and bring you straight to them.
Sure, you might miss a few good questions where the commenter forgot a question mark, but this method will save you hours.
Every post will have its debates, so you’ll have to vet which comments are actual questions and which are not useful to you.
For instance, you’ll see that my finder found a question mark (highlighted) in the below screenshot. This isn’t a question related to what I’m looking for, so it wouldn’t help me:
Paste the questions into your spreadsheet like you did with Reddit.
Repeat this exercise for at least three posts on three popular blogs for a total of nine posts and you’ll have a great list of questions.
The more the merrier, so if you have extra time, don’t stop there. And once you’re done with the comments sections of popular blogs, you can move on to the next helpful tool.
Tool #3: Use Facebook to Stalk Your Target Market for Tons of Ideas
Facebook is one tool has been right under your nose this entire time.
It’s been disguised as a time-waster, a procrastinator’s dream, but it’s so much more than that.
Don’t worry; you won’t be using it to stalk your high school girlfriend.
You know what Facebook is, but you may not know how useful a tool it is for market research.
While I was planning for the launch of Unsettle, I decided to join a course put on by Jeff Goins at Goinswriter.com about intentional blogging.
I’d been a blogger for years, and while I did okay with my previous blogs, I was committed to doing Unsettle right. I was going pro and taking my education to the next level by learning from an incredibly successful blogger.
One of the best parts of the course for me, besides the connection I was able to make with one of my favorite bloggers (Jeff), was the private Facebook group for course members.
My target market on Unsettle is people who want to become online entrepreneurs, and while not all members of the Facebook group wanted to become online entrepreneurs through their blogs, some of them were starting blogs for that reason.
So the discussion that took place and questions they asked in the Facebook group were gold for me.
They were indirectly coming straight to me with their problems.
Finding tight-knit groups with a sizeable amount of members (over 500 if very active or 1500 if not as active) is a source of ongoing inspiration and market research specific to your target market.
With our photography example, a quick search of “Photography” in the Groups section of Facebook brought up dozens of results.
Become a member of the larger closed groups.
I used this method to find the idea for my Etsy shop. I ended up finding the idea in a wedding buy/sell/swap Facebook group, and the shop made $5,000 within the first three months – with zero effort on our part. No advertising, no professional photography, and we didn’t even have the product to sell yet.
Facebook groups are a wonderful method of market research, and once you’ve spent some time scouring the Facebook groups, it’s time to check out Quora.
Tool #4: Search Quora to Have Your Target Market’s Problems Served to You on a Platter
Quora is the one tool that is so perfect for market research that it’s almost as if the target market’s problems are being served to you on a platter, begging to be solved.
It actually lists questions under various topics, straight from the target market’s fingers — no digging required.
Quora is a community of people asking and answering questions. Within Quora, you can subscribe to different categories and find dozens of questions and answers around that topic, making it easy to see patterns.
People can “upvote” or “downvote” questions, so if you see a high number of upvotes, you’ll know you’ve come across questions that many people share, just like with Reddit.
To use Quora for market research, use the search bar at the top to type in keywords related to your niche.
In our example, I searched “Photography:
Comb over relevant topics as well to attain the best breadth of questions. In the example below, I’ve typed in “photo” for a list of suggested topics:
Quora makes research even easier than the other tools because when you click on the question, it brings you to a page that lists related questions:
Copy and paste the questions directly from the “Related Questions” bar on the right into your spreadsheet, thereby eliminating some legwork.
Rinse and repeat until you have 50 or more questions from Quora.
And after you’ve spent some time combing Quora, you will have conquered these tools, and you should have hundreds of questions asked on your chosen topic.
How to Turn Your Research into a Killer Business Idea
So you’ve done the research.
You’ve peaked into the minds of your target market.
You know what they’re struggling with. What they want. What questions they have.
Now, you’ve arrived at the fun part:
Find patterns within your spreadsheet of questions, and begin to brainstorm solutions.
In the photography example, I happened to find a pattern of 8 or 9 people asking for posing guides for men.
They don’t know how to pose men for photos.
- An eBook on how to pose men
- A course on how to photograph men, including the top poses
- Posing props for men
- An App that shows different posing techniques for men
Repeat this process for any worthwhile patterns that seem to come up within each category. If you are unsure what makes a worthwhile pattern, consider:
- Are the askers willing and able to pay for the solutions?
- Did more than 4 people ask about the problem?
- Are there solutions you’ll be able to charge for?
In my research, four people also asked whether they should take photography in college. So the problem these people are experiencing is indecision as to whether or not they should take photography.
While this is a pattern, it’s not worth pursuing for two reasons:
- The market with the problem is more than likely going to be recent or soon-to-be high school grads, who don’t have a lot of money (so they may be willing to pay for a solution, but not able).
- I could not generate even one idea off the top of my head to solve this problem that you would be able to charge for.
Even factoring out the problems that aren’t worth pursuing, you should have dozens of business ideas that solve common problems by the end of this exercise.
And that’s what makes a successful business.
And the only thing left to do is pick an idea and validate it.
It’s Time to Let Your Market Choose Your Winning Business Idea
Nothing is guaranteed.
No matter how much market research you do. No matter how well you understand the problems of the target market. No matter the validity of your idea, you will never know 100% whether you’ll be successful until you launch.
But you can boost your chances of choosing a profitable business idea.
By hanging out where your target market is, getting into their minds, and letting them feed ideas to you straight from their thoughts, you will skyrocket your chances of success.
And the sooner you start doing this research, the sooner you’ll have a winning business idea.
And your soon-to-be customers will be begging you to take their money.