Market Research on the Cheap

Updated to Business on December 27, 2022.

Have you ever asked yourself these questions?

“What are my customers ready to buy?”

“Which of my three ideas should be a book?”

“What are hot topics for my next blog?”

“What lessons should be in my keynote presentation?”

In a perfect world, you turn to market research, not guess work, for answers.

When I used to wear my consultant hat I got my fill of “real” market research. I remember multi-rater feedback, focus groups, and reams of Excel worksheets in 10pt font. Nasty stuff.

Fortunately, there are better, faster, and cheaper ways to get the information you need to make savvy business decisions. When the chips are high and you can’t afford a loss of time or money, these strategies will save your bacon (and let you sleep at night).

1. START WITH WHAT YOU NEED. The best place to start is with your needs – what would help you in your life, relationships, or business? And then ask what do you notice is missing in the market that you can fill?

Guy Kawasaki knows, firsthand, how hard it is to get your book finished and published, so he wrote APE-how to APEpublish a book. Lori Marrero is a whiz at attracting media attention to her business, The Clutter Diet and now trains others to do the same. My friend, Jeff Hay is passionate about being a Dad and learning how to do it right, so he created a blog to share ideas with other Dads.

I know how hard it is to find proven methods for creating, marketing, and delivering great speeches (from people who are actually making a living as a speaker). So I created Advanced Speaker Academy – a two-day program that teaches other speakers how to be more successful.

2. LOOK AT YOUR RESULTS. Even if your sales are mouse-size (instead of monster-size) you can learn from trends. When I was working as a seminar leader it was obvious that time management was the most popular of my three topics (conflict, leadership, and time). As I worked more on improving my seminars and then adding a keynote about time management my sales increased. From there, I noticed a demand for something different from the usual, mechanical, measurement of time strategies and I created the Give me a break framework.

3. LISTEN TO YOUR CLIENTS. Your best resource is your clients. They know what they want – your job is to ask the right questions. When I meet delegates after one of my speeches I try to always ask the question: “What is one thing you learned that you are going to apply right away in your work/life.” This single question has likely been my best market research tool and provided the riches feedback for my product development.

In the past, some of the answers were: take more pride in my office space, thank co-workers more often, and turn my email off when I need to focus. Here’s the crazy thing – none of these suggestions were in my keynote! People in the audience were coming up with fantastic solutions for issues like: overwhelm, clutter, procrastination and now, because I asked my “One thing” question were sharing them with me. By the way, all of those suggestions are now in my keynote!

4. FOLLOW THE LEADERS. I spent time everyday reading what top bloggers are writing about. Recently, I saw a trend about writing really unique and important content in your blogs and articles in order to standout and be memorable with your clients. That information inspired me to create a course about writing your best speech ever. That program sold out with just two email announcements and produced a nice profit. If I choose popular blogs that are designed for my clients it is like getting free research– the bloggers are working hard to watch trends and I can learn from them.

5. SURVEY THEM. Recently, I helped a speaker client run a short 10-question survey for her next book project. After just one month and only using emails from her list we received 985 responses. She got answers to her seven multiple-choice questions (which, using the survey tool, could be broken down by gender and age), plus, when you add up all the questions, over 2,300 written responses – plenty of juice to build a book around.Survey clip

Of all these techniques described in this article, creating and launching a survey takes the most time, but it is the most rigorous for making tough decisions or learning about your target market. I have been using Survey Monkey for years. It’s powerful, simple, and lets you design and launch a survey in minutes. Recently, I ran a quick survey for my new podcast name and had over 100 responses within 2 hours. The result was the name for this site and the podcast – Expert’s Enterprise!.

6. BOOK SALES RESEARCH. This is a less quantifiable strategy, but still an interesting source for studying current buyer trends. Head over to, select “Best Sellers” (under search tool), choose your genre. Click through to sub-categories to refine your search, for example, I might look in: Books>Business and Investing>Skills>Time Management. Now start looking for trends.

Under Time Management, I’ve noticed that clutter and reducing clutter are showing up as main topics or sub topics. Knowing this, I can either add more content to a speech, write articles, or host a webcast on that topic.

My book Stop procrastination today – 8 fast strategies to get you from avoiding, to doing, to done was inspired from simply doing research on Amazon. When I’m doing this, I look at the first two to three dozen books in a genre so my results are less skewed by the latest celebrity authors I also check out the Kindle book sales for trends. Amazon is selling thousands of books an hour – that makes it a pretty accurate measure of what’s popular.

7. GO WITH YOUR GUT. How you feel about a decision can be just as important as client surveys and book sales. Twice I have cancelled big projects I had been advertising, simply because it didn’t feel right. These were brutal decisions. I had announced the projects to my clients, put lots of energy into them and was really looking forward to their success. At the time it was hard to explain my decision to others. But, in end, those were great decisions that potentially saved me a lot of money, effort, and grief.


I use a one-hour exercise to focus my attention and to challenge me to reach pretty fast conclusions. Here’s how it works.

First, commit to one hour of undistracted time and have a goal. It’s important that you are committed to getting actionable answers from your hour, this will force you to make decisions and to discard ideas that don’t make the cut. This isn’t about learning cool stuff or following tangents—it’s about reaching a decision and turning that into products and sales.

Next, choose one or two of the techniques above. For blog topics I typically start with what my clients have told me and what I’m learning from other bloggers This is when parking yourself in a café, library, or quiet room in your house is perfect – no phone, email, or Facebook allowed.


If you started with a list of possible topics, cross out the obvious duds. The same applies to words that don’t seem popular, or efforts that seem like too much work. For example, I could research and write about how to create better marketing videos for YouTube, but it fails the Go with your gut test and the time investment is too high. When in doubt, delete.

Finally, you have to deal with conflicting options. I use a simple matrix with options down the left-hand side and metrics I am measuring across the top. For example, for this blog topic other topic options included: comparison of on-line survey tools, in-depth explanation of keyword research, how to create an on-line survey campaign, and using Amazon to research your next book. All are great topics and I have some knowledge in all of these. This is where the simple matrix helps me cut to the chase and get started.

In the end, nothing beats market reaction to your idea. But before you invest hours of sweat into your idea these techniques can help avoid duds and increase your chance of a winner every time.

Let me know in the comments below what you are using to research your ideas.