Research- Secondary before Primary

Research, now from the name, it seems like a complicated subject. But, like many things in life, the big title boils down to a simple concept, in this case, asking questions and getting answers.

By Paul Jermain, Entrepreneurial Training Program for the Commonwealth of Mass.

Research, now from the name, it seems like a complicated subject. But, like many things in life, the big title boils down to a simple concept, in this case, asking questions and getting answers.

Companies of all sizes do research to improve their results. My experience has been that large companies oftentimes do more than small ones, but all companies can benefit significantly from investing some time and effort in figuring out, among other things, market sizes, customer needs, and competitive offerings.

Business research breaks down into two basic families-secondary and primary. And surprisingly, it’s best to work with secondary research first. That’s because the difference between secondary and primary research is that secondary research has already been completed by some other company, organization, or person and primary research involves asking the questions yourself. Information from secondary research is captured in articles, studies, reports, etc. and unless you’re considering a research career, building on the work of others is usually the smartest first move in the research process, followed, perhaps, by some custom primary research of your own.

Now, it’s clear that we’re surrounded by information these days, some useful and some not. And it’s important when looking for answers to key business questions that you keep focused on the good, useful, stuff. Here are a few ideas on sources of valuable secondary research information.

First, check with your industry trade associations. Typically they have two charters; one, lobby on behalf of the industry to government and other significant decision-making bodies, and two, help their members grow by sharing of industry information. To accomplish the second goal, many trade associations regularly survey their members, and their members’ customers, to see what is going on, and they share the findings in reports which are released annually. The information they provide is excellent and the reports are often priced very reasonably.

Second, look through the trade magazines. Usually there are a couple of key publications that industry participants read to abreast of important developments. In many industries, the research staffs of the magazines periodically implement surveys with subscribers and their customers to illuminate market dynamics and conditions. The research findings are published in annual “state of union” articles featured in December or January edition magazines.

Third, if you’re a small business person, dig into large corporation annual reports. Company presidents and key executives write informational letters within the reports which are supported by solid research delivered by smart, well-paid, professionals within their firms. You can take leverage their time and financial investments in research simply by calling up the reports on their websites and giving them a quick read.

In sum, research is simply the process of getting answers to questions that are relevant to the success of your business. You can ask the questions yourself in primary research, or take advantage, first, of uncovering the answers that others have learned already. There is a multitude of secondary research sources in addition to those outlined above, including: local libraries, colleges and universities, and the government. A former colleague of mine used to say “In God we trust, all others bring data.” His point was that solid information was the key to capitalizing on business situations. Support your success by investing some time and effort in research today.