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Market Research Strategies in Uncertain Times #5: Market Research on Shoestring Budgets - 10 Tips for 2010

Firms operating on shoestring budgets can still create positive change if they follow the mantra of THINK

By Frances Gretes
January 26, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in an exclusive series by industry research specialist Fran Gretes.


As firms begin to accept the realities of the next decade’s “new normal,” you should be launching a new blueprint for winning work and building business. No one knows for sure what lies ahead for any of us, but if you know truly who and where you are in this crowded landscape and enthusiastically embrace a smart strategy that includes market research, you will be better prepared for what is on the horizon and have a stronger chance of achieving success.


Revenue growth and cost-cutting will remain primary goals for firms in 2010, so how can market research fit into your tight budget? Most firms do not have anyone on staff with enough time or appropriate training to perform research tasks, but acknowledge that it is an essential service. Although outsourcing research functions to specialists provides the greatest return on investment, some firms prefer to do it on their own to economize.


Small firms operating on shoestring budgets can still create positive change if they follow the mantra of THINK and try some of the tips listed below.


Track trends

Hunt for clues

Investigate opportunities

Network to broaden your knowledge and connections

Keep trying


10 tips for conducting low-budget market research in-house:


1)                 Set up Google Alerts. Set up alerts using key words or phrases that have a high probability of relevance. You may need to tweak your search terms until you find the ones that produce the fewest false hits. Results will be delivered to your electronic mailbox daily, weekly or as-it-happens. Select “Comprehensive” as your search type for best results. This technique is free and often effective if you structure it strategically for potential leads or client investigations.


2)                 Search the Social Media Tools. Routinely run search engines such as Bloglines, Blogpulse, Google Blogsearch, and Twitter Search. Not only might you pick up clues on future projects, you will get a better idea about what your prospects and competition are thinking or doing. A direct approach would be to track the blogs and tweets in the specific industry sectors you are tracking.


3)                 Bookmark Sites that Announce RFPs. This is essential if you are pursuing government or institutional work. Link to the organizations you are interested in and bookmark the pages that post new requests for proposals or qualifications. Then set up a daily or weekly routine to review the sites.


4)                 Browse News Aggregators. Browse specialized sites that aggregate news in a particular industry or enter key search terms to find news in general news aggregator sites. A selective list of these sites can be found at


5)                 Create Event Calendars. Create your own schedule of upcoming events that will help you network with potential clients. In addition to checking the events announced in architecture publications, you should consider expanding your search to event directories that list events by industry and provide excellent venues for meeting people in your target markets. Examples of these sites are, Real Estate Conferences, Trade Show News Network, and Trade Shows Worldwide. A more focused approach would be to check the websites of the professional and trade associations which post their event calendars.


6)                 Read Industry/Market Forecasts. Many survey articles and reports on trends and forecasts are published for free online or in print, particularly between November and January, by think tanks, real estate consultants, journalists, and government agencies. Expensive publications that provide detailed, in-depth research can sometimes be read for free at local public or university libraries.


7)                 Practice Integrative Thinking. Go beyond the boundaries of your field and concentrate on the interconnectedness of things. This is a hot new trend at business schools that is producing positive results. Mix-and-match ideas between one industry or culture and another.


8)                 Analyze Changes. Think like a sociologist or psychologist about how uses will change when a business moves, a former trend becomes passé, or a population changes. Build your analysis using demographic or economic data which is freely available on the Web.


9)                 Plant Seeds. As you explore, you will uncover many problems, challenges, and issues that are waiting for your design or technical solutions. Be proactive in addressing these challenges and propose bold new ideas to people who might be receptive and in a position to collaborate.


10)             Network. Stay curious and talk with lots of people. Develop your skills in asking questions and always follow up to confirm what you have learned and to strengthen the relationships.



Even on a limited budget, if you know where your prospects are, what they are thinking, and where trends are heading, you are in a better position to create a successful action plan.


Fran Gretes is founder and principal of Gretes Research Services, a full-service consultancy that provides market and competitive intelligence and strategic thinking skills to professionals engaged in services for the built environment. You can reach her at


See also:

Market Research Strategies in Uncertain Times #4: Client Research - The Secret to Turning Prospects into Clients
If you carry on a dialog from an informed position, you will project confidence and immediately earn a position of trust.


Market Research Strategies in Uncertain Times #3: Strategic Market Research - Preparing for the Rebound 
Are you ready for the rebound? Whether you are a sole practitioner or principal in a large firm, now is the time to sketch out your blueprint of where you are and where you want to go. The mechanism for determining these positions is the strategic plan.


Market Research Strategies in Uncertain Times #2: Finding Leads
Finding leads that one can act on right away is a difficult task, especially during tough economic times, but these strategies can help.


Market Research Strategies in Uncertain Times #1: Now More Than Ever 
Why market research is so critical to a firm's success.



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