Local Businesses: Get Out of the Office and Explore

Local Small Businesses: Market Research by Walking Around

Local businesses find themselves in a little bit of a silo. Unlike large multinational brands that are tasked with reaching customers in all corners of the globe, local businesses are right in the middle of an isolated market. So, why do so many of these companies waste time doing online market research, when everything they actually need to know is waiting outside?

Say No to Spreadsheets and Pie Charts

For large businesses with lots of resources and pretty predictable national consumer bases, paying a market research firm to conduct in-depth demographic and psychographic analysis makes sense. There’s value in gathering insights and making calculated assumptions based on the data collected. But the same isn’t true for small, local businesses. When a market research firm calls you and asks to speak about general market research, just say no. Say no to spreadsheets and pie charts and instead take a progressive approach that actually uncovers relevant insights.

You’ve heard of Uber, but what about MyUberLife — the business consulting firm? Launched by Winston Peters, Jey Van-Sharp, and Kwasi Gyasi — three guys who look more like powerful nightclub owners or renowned jazz artists than successful Manhattan consultants — MyUberLife thrives on an alternative approach to consulting — particularly when it comes to consumer research.

According to Peters and his partners, successful businesses need to consider elements like “culture spotting and ideation” just as much as other traditional components like management, branding, marketing, PR, sales, finance, and technology.

“Our consulting style analyzes these business elements and the cultural zeitgeist,” MyUberLife explains. “We evaluate your business needs while investigating the cultural phenomenon that matter to your customers through the lenses of fashion, music, art, design, consumer goods, politics, popular culture, emerging culture, and other enigmatic trends. Using this process, we provide you with business solutions and business opportunities.”

Do Market Research by Walking Around

See, instead of conducting formal focus groups and accessing online research to help clients identify strategic opportunities, the MyUberLife consultants spend time at cafes, art galas, bars, nightclubs, and sporting events watching and engaging people to get a better grasp of who people are and what they want. It’s a progressive and innovative approach, but one that has produced incredible results.

Why can’t you take a similar approach? While you may not be able to spend all day and night at local events and parties, there are plenty of small ways you can get out of the office and explore. In doing so, you’ll almost certainly learn more about your target market than if you were in a cramped cubicle or office in front of your computer.

Get Out of the Office

At first, getting out of the office and exploring your city may seem like a waste of time. But when you consider all of the time you spend doing market research in your office, you’ll soon realize that you should be spending some of that time actually immersing yourself in your target market. Here are a few ways you can get out and explore:

1. Ditch the Car for a Bike

Commuting to work in your car is super convenient. Depending on traffic, it can be fast and efficient. It’s also quiet and comfortable. But the problem with driving in a car is that you don’t get a chance to fully experience your surroundings. You miss so many of the sights and sounds that make your city what it is. That’s why you should ride a bike to and from work.

Bikes allow you to explore your city by engaging all of your senses. Suddenly you see the homeless people trying to stay warm underneath the bridge. You smell the fresh aromas from the coffee shop on the corner. You hear people talking about yesterday’s news as they wait at the crosswalk. You notice just how cold it is at 8:00 in the morning. And all of these factors can shape how you view your city and the people in it.

2. Grab Lunch Somewhere New

We all have our favorite lunch spots that we cycle through on a weekly basis, but you should really broaden your horizons if you want to get a feel for the city.

“When we travel we are often forced to try new places and things to eat,” blogger Rebecca Vandemark notes, “so why not do this in your own city? Check out your city and see what the local newspaper says is the best ‘hole in the wall restaurant’? Instead of eating at your favorite restaurant why not try a dinner cruise in your town? Think outside the box and explore your city by trying to eat something new or different just like you would if you had traveled somewhere new.”

Not only will you find yourself eating new food, but you’ll also discover new groups of people. You’ll notice what they wear, how they pay, and what they talk about. Take notes and use your lunch hour as a learning opportunity.

3. Attend Local Events With No Agenda

Small businesses often attend things like farmer’s markets, festivals, and other local events in order to sell or advertise products. But when was the last time you attended one of these events without an agenda?

Next time you see a local event — whether it’s in the middle of a workday or on the weekend — attend the event with no business agenda. Instead, just immerse yourself and take notice of the people and what they’re doing. Talk, listen, and observe. You’ll get an opportunity to see how they interact, which tells you something about which business strategies work.

4. Grab a Drink

While we don’t necessarily want to encourage day drinking during the workweek, there is some value in grabbing a drink at a local bar — perhaps on a Friday afternoon. The key is to go solo. This forces you to actually sit at the bar and interact with the people around you.

People are much more willing to have a conversation with a stranger when they’ve had a couple of drinks. This gives you an opportunity to have meaningful discussions about the city, current events, or whatever else is relevant. You’ll learn a lot from these random conversations.

Piecing it All Together

Research is an important component of running a successful small business, but you don’t have to mindlessly marinate in graphs and research studies. There’s something to be said for getting out of the office and exploring the city where your business operates. This allows you to understand people and better serve their needs. It’s also a lot more fun than sitting in a cramped office for eight or nine hours a day!

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Larry Alton Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

One Reaction
  1. Another great article. I’ve visited this site a number of times over the years and follow a lot of the advice. As this article says, attend local events. I not only walk around the neighborhoods where we have a project, knocking on doors and leaving fliers but we also put a yard sign in front of the home where we’re working. We’ll find out if the community has any “local” events and participate. Last month we found a Tucker Community Days and set up a table to meet local neighbors. Get out of your truck/car. Walk around. See what’s going on where you’re working and you’re bound to find some great ways to connect with neighbors and become better known in the community.