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  • Writer's pictureMaria Alejandra Cova Terán

Why Market Research Isn’t Just For Big Companies

Sharon: Hello, everyone, this is Sharon Heller with Network in Action in Denver, and I'm here today with Lara Fordis with Fordis Consulting. Hello, Laura.

Lara: Hi, Sharon. Thanks for having me. Sharon: Thanks for joining me today.

Sharon: I think it's a great time to be talking to you, so that you can educate us a little bit today about market research and why it's not just for big business. Maybe we can start off with you just giving a really brief summary for the many business owners out there who still don't know what is market research. Can you just define that for us?

Lara: Sure. I should have brushed up on that. But essentially, market research it's consumer insights as it pertains to business to business B2B as well as B2C. Most market research, I would say, is done in the B2C category and it can range from anything. There's sort of two buckets, there's qualitative research, which is focus groups, in-depth interviews, ethnographies. And then there's quantitative research, which is surveys or telephone, whether that be done on telephone or online or via the mail. Typically now only a small amount of surveys is really done other than online. I'm fortunate to be methodologically agnostic, so I do both qualitative and quantitative research. Often times people fall into one or the other, but a lot of times that's why people end up coming to me because they don't know exactly what they need. And they want someone who doesn't have a conflict of interest in terms of guiding them in one direction or another.

Sharon: Awesome. So with that foundation of having some basic understanding of what market research is, based on your really good explanation, I still always thought that market research was more for those big brands. You know, I think about Domino's Pizza and I think about Coca-Cola, you know, these big companies and, of course, they've got a big budget and they can invest in market research. But why would I, as a small business owner, consider doing it?

Lara: Well, you should definitely only do it if you can get a return on investment. That's sort of the litmus test for anything. But oftentimes people think of market research as being the purview of big CPG companies and places like that, but it really doesn't have to be.

There are lots and lots of small agencies. When people think of agencies, they may think of it as a big one, that has tons of millennials running around and having unlimited coffee and pool tables and lots of overhead. And there are lots of agencies that don't have that and aren’t looking for those big-budget clients. So the reason to do market research, even if you're a small business, is because you want to optimize your expenditures on marketing and product optimization.

So I think of it as beginning with the end in mind, that sort of Stephen Covey's Seven habits of successful people: Begin with the end in mind. And then looking at marketing as something in the middle and market research is sharpening the saw. So if you take a beat, invest what can be a relatively nominal amount of market research, projects can be anywhere from three thousand dollars, and up there. We're not talking about tens of thousands of dollars for the average small business. And understanding your target consumer and what they want and what messages are going to resonate with them.

I've had multiple occasions where people have come into business completely well-intentioned, entrepreneurial spirited, and so they assume that their business offering is going to appeal the target audience for whom it was designed.

Sharon: Right.

Lara: So I'm thinking of right now of a product that happened to have been designed for people who smoke joints, which is legal here in Colorado and some other states. And it was designed in mind that it was going to appeal to connoisseurs, people who are really particular about cannabis and the dampness of it and the freshness of it. But when we tested this device, it was actually best suited to parents who don't want their kids to smell that they smoke weed. So it had an attribute that had an unintended benefit that appealed for a much larger target than what it was originally intended for. That happened with another product that I dealt with earlier this year, where it was assumed to be for one thing and the actual most revenue-generating potential audience was different than that.

So if they went into their branding and marketing and sales strategies, without understanding that they had a different optimal target audience than what they expected, they would have missed out on a lot of potential revenue, because they were thinking myopically, not small, but just myopically about who their product was intended for.

Sharon: Right. That's really interesting and really important because I think we often think we know, who our audience is, or we know who we think we're shooting for. But if it's something different than that, that's so vital. And, you know, I know a lot of people out there who are using free surveys like Survey Monkey or they're even doing polls on Facebook and they're there are saying, "help me with some market research." What's the downfall of going about it in that way?

Lara: Well, unfortunately, that happens quite a lot where people use Survey Monkey, or similar free or low-cost platforms and then they decide they're using templates which can be quite flawed. I actually did a presentation on the downfalls of using Survey Monkey templates, for a conference a few years back. And then they're using what's called a self-selected sample. So if you're surveying people who are in your orbit because they're on your Facebook page, or they are friends or friends of a friend, or an uncle's first cousins, husbands, friends with friends, you know, like it's still in your orbit and it's not a representative sample. So then you run the risk of making drawing conclusions and extrapolating about the findings in a way, that's flawed. And that's not to say that even using big providers of survey sample doesn't have its flaws, but they're going to be at a much smaller margin of error.

Lara: Whereas if you're using a self-selected sample, like on your Facebook page, that's really dangerous. That can lead you to have an inflated sense of it's potential, and then you can quit your job, spend your life savings, and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, it doesn't turn out well. And we've all heard stories of that. You know, that cliche, you know, Aunt Karen makes an awesome carrot cake. And so, you know, she's going to open up a bakery, and then everyone's fueling Karen's passion and, unfortunately, just because everyone loves something doesn't mean they're willing to pay money for it. So they're not likely to have done secondary research on the competitive landscape and, they obviously didn't do primary research on people's willingness to pay for it. And as much as it's a bummer for me to have to tell a startup that their product isn't financially viable, I actually just had that experience on Sunday. I did some in home-use testing on a board game prototype, that's a great idea. But luckily the startup understood that it has some limitations and so it's not going to go forward now. But better to learn that early than to roll out something and have it be like a freight train with no end. But obviously, my preference is to do market research and have it turn out to be an optimization of a great product, or great service, or the packaging, or marketing of that product.

Sharon: Right, right. And of course, that's the entrepreneur's hope, too. But I really agree with you that to find out sooner than later, if it's not a viable product or a viable business or whatever is being offered, is so important to save people that time and money and grief.

Lara: Oh, yeah, it's invaluable. And, you know, sometimes people have single-mindedness and they're going to go forward no matter what. But the clients that tend to come to me, are through word of mouth, or through a trademark agent, or an intellectual property attorney, or however they get to me, usually have enough savvy to know that they need to do some preliminary primary custom research.

Sharon: Yeah, and why would someone want to reach out to you? How would they benefit reaching out to you versus another market researcher out there? What do you have to offer?

Lara: Sure. That's a fair question because there are lots of us out there. One point I alluded to before, is that I tend to weigh the pros and cons of everything and I'm not attached to a particular methodology. So while I may be more passionate about doing focus group or in-depth interviews, I also have been using Qualtrics as a survey platform for almost 10 years to do quantitative work. What I found is that a lot of times the best thing that I'm able to do that's different than most researchers: Number one, I'm much more affordable than a typical agency because I don't have the overhead to which I alluded to earlier, but also I take a really outside of the box approach to market research. I think that a lot of times you need a multi methodology approach.

For instance, I'll do focus groups initially to understand and explore what's going on and then, use surveys to either validate or disprove what we found in the qualitative research. And so what I like about being able to provide that is that people, especially in different roles, are inspired by different types of data. Some people like to hear the voice of the consumer, some people like charts and tables and are strictly data-driven. So being able to marry those two approaches so that the output is more holistic, more well-rounded, I find really resonates with my clients. And that's why I've been really fortunate to be entirely word of mouth for seven years. And I've been a market researcher about twenty-two years, but on my own for about seven.

Sharon: Oh, well, a few things that I hear that I just want to highlight are, you have tremendous experience and you offer a really well-rounded kind of a holistic approach that it sounds like it's very customized to each client. And I love what you said about your out of the box kind of approach and really being able to hone in and find what's going to be the most accurate approach to take for each client. And, you know, it's an important thing to underscore that you're affordable also because I think there is that misconception out there that a small business owner is going to have to come up with ten to fifteen thousand dollars to do market research, and it sounds like that's really not the case.

Lara: No, it's not the case at all. It doesn't have to be prohibitive. And that's why a lot of times people come to me and they want a proposal. And I don't want to give someone a Mercedes Benz proposal when they're a startup and I know they're on an IKEA budget. And so I really take the time to explore with potential clients what their unmet needs are, what their goals are, what are the business decisions that they're going to be making as the result of the research, and then work backward, so that I can give them a sort of an a la carte sense of what you can do. And things can be in phases they don't have to be all in. So sometimes doing a focus group, followed by a two hundred person survey is a very affordable way to go, as opposed to doing four focus groups and then a thousand surveys. You can have a sort of final approach to it and see where it takes you.

You can always do more, but I want market research to be perceived as an investment that delivers returns, not a line item expense because I want people to be able to take a step back and say, wow, as a result of this, our increased revenue was X, Y, Z. And like some things, are not as concretely measurable as that, but I always make sure that my clients are satisfied or that I've exceeded their expectations. And that in the event that I ever didn't, I would always go back and make it right. And sometimes we've had to add on here and there in order to get a more nuanced view of something. But because I've been doing this for a long time, I usually know what's going to work and what's not going to work, but I'm always open to course-correcting when something doesn't go as planned, which sometimes it doesn't. A lot of it is how do you handle it when it doesn't go exactly the way it expected. How do you make it right.

Sharon: Thank you, Lara. Well, this was very informative, and I hope this video inspires small business owners to at least consider market research for them to reach out to and perhaps just have a conversation to explore. How would someone go about reaching out to you?

Lara: Oh, well, you can find me on LinkedIn, Lara Fordis, or you can go to our website, which is Or you can call me old fashioned way at 720-460-7393. I love talking about market research, I'm passionate, I'm kind of gregarious data nerd. So I really enjoy talking to people about what the possibilities are to increase their success and to be part of it.

Sharon: Thank you, Lara. Your enthusiasm comes through. And if I was going to hire some to do market research, I would want them to be enthusiastic about the work. So thank you very much for your time today and I look forward to speaking again soon.

Lara: Ok, thanks, Sharon. It was great chatting with you, too. Bye.

About Lara Fordis:

Lara Fordis, Founder of Fordis Consulting speaks with Sharon Heller about how market research is important for small businesses. Lara is known for her commitment to finding creative, cost-effective solutions, her ability to execute on unconventional market research projects, and her knack for translating research findings into actionable marketing insights. Lara is known as a results-focused, analytical professional, with extensive experience and proven expertise in all facets of qualitative research and experience in quantitative research. Recognized for outside-the-box strategic thinking and problem-solving skills for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits. To contact Lara please visit:

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