One of the very first lessons I learnt about entrepreneurship, is that if I don’t do it, someone else will and that once you do it, everyone else will.
Let me break it down.

The first lesson is probably much easier —someone will, eventually, spot the gap in the market and attempt to fill it. The latter is the lesson a lot of start-up entrepreneurs don’t want to think about. That once you decide to fill that gap, soon everyone else (and trust me, some of them have been sitting on the idea waiting for someone to do it first) will.

This is because you are their case study and now they know the idea does in fact work. A typical first response is usually, “that’s my idea!”, when in fact, we should be thinking about the opportunity that it presents.

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The good news is, if you’re already thinking ‘competition’ and ‘unique selling point’ then you are halfway there.

The answer is research, constant research. From my early high school days, I was obsessed with research, particularly on the Internet. It started with me always wanting to have the answers, because I hate not knowing.

Gradually, it became a very educational and growth-fuelling hobby. Research, although mostly associated with reading, isn’t limited to that. Depending on the industry and sector you want to operate in, it could include you

  • physically getting out of bed and attending seminars or,
  • chilling by the Mall of Africa, watching how people walk, talk, laugh or studying what they are wearing, which shops they visit first and how they arrived there or,
  • stalking interesting people on Twitter.

The business environment is ever-changing and to get with the times, you need to research. Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur or an established one already, there is always room for growth and improvement.

Research in theory

You may not know it, but there are many forms in which research takes shape outside of Google and Yahoo, and these are three of the absolute favourites right now:
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Social media

Yes, it’s not just about the number of likes on your latest pic. Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram can be a huge source of information. It allows you to tap into your (potential) ultimate client/customer’s mind.

You will know what they are thinking and what they want —all of this is embedded in everything they complain about, decode it. It can also be a very good way to see how your closest competitors have positioned their products and services and learn from that.

Trends grow on social media, if I see someone with a 10k followers wearing yellow jeans, I want to buy them. Keep an eye on people with huge followership and influence on societal behaviour, these are people commonly known as ‘twelebs’ and ‘felebs’.

Blogs

The beautiful thing about blogs is, the research is actually done for you (but be sure to verify, remember, if it’s my blog, I can put up anything I want).

Bloggers usually bring the newest trends onto their blogs for their readers, if you comb through their content, you will find that they are communicating to you the gaps that are opening up in the market.

Video driven sites like YouTube

Although most people would instantly associate YouTube with music videos, there is a lot more to it.

Tutorial videos and even more serious documentaries are put up there, it is a great source of information for when you’re looking to do something like write a book or even start a blog on a related subject.

Research in practice

Lerato wants to start an online channel but she doesn’t understand how it could be financially sustainable for her. Also, she has no idea what kind of content she wants to put up on her website/channel.

What can Lerato do to help solve her dilemma? Correct, research!

1. Use the resources you have

Lerato has a Facebook account, but now that she knows she has to research, she doesn’t know how Facebook can be used to do that. Easy, the answer is trends.

First, she needs to zero in on a subject. Does she want it to be a health site, lifestyle, entertainment or news site for example? For that she can visit sites that already exist to see which she feels is more for her.

Let’s say she chooses a self-help/DIY type of site.

2. Ask and answer the right questions

That’s where social media comes in, what do people need help with? Lerato will now study the questions people post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter. She will also check how many of them get the answer they are looking for and how long it takes them to.

Not only is this research in terms of content, but it also allows her to see if there really is a market for the site and if it will be more effective and efficient for the user to go to her site instead of asking for help from his/her friends on Facebook.

Once she is done with her decision, she goes to Google and types in “start an online DIY site”. Voila, a link to an article about how to make money from such sites comes up. Of course she clicks on the link, now she knows where her revenues will come from.

3. Don’t stop researching

A few months later, Lerato’s site, From Your Toolbox, is ready for action. It is an instant hit with her friends and followers, with amazing readership ratings. Soon she starts receiving requests for advertising space, nothing can stop Lerato now.

One day, on her timeline however, she learns that her friend has started an entertainment news site and instantly she is shaken. What do you think Lerato does to deal with this development?

Lerato doesn’t like fighting, so no. Instead, she uses the resources that are available at her disposal.

And that is how she gets into the culture of research, following new trends and watching relevant shows and people. Learning how to better position her business and carry on supplying her followers with relevant information. This is far better than hopping from idea to idea as soon as competition arrives.

Moral of the story?

Research is not like the perfect wedding dress you never stop looking at. In fact, it’s more like a little black pump or whatever pair of soles that tickle your fancy. We all need it and we could always do with another one. I know!

Seriously though, far and beyond the points I looked at above, research could help you learn about the

  • operating laws and,
  • existing policies that apply to whatever industry you’re interested in,
  • funding that is available,
  • related market rates and,
  • the basics that your client/customer is looking for.

(Bearing in mind not to completely write off the old skool journals, newspapers and maybe online news publications —and even textbooks.)

Now of course we are not all like Lerato and maybe it’s going to take you much longer than a few months to get it together. Cheer up, you certainly can Lerato it!

In the meantime, follow those who have already made it, keep surfing the net and remember, even with all this research, there is no set way to do business. Find what works for you and sustain it with what works for others.

Speaking of routine, have you done the deed today?

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