I am extremely lucky to be able to say that my company, Research Through Gaming, celebrated its second birthday on 17th May this year.
As well as feeling lucky, I felt proud and I know my team did too. We went for a much needed celebratory drink after work on that day, as way of metaphorically sweeping the sweat from our foreheads and saying ‘thank goodness we got here.” But of course, there’s no time to sit back, even for a moment. Any business owner knows they must keep going even during times of celebrations as there are always highs, and lows.
Setting up a market research agency does of course have many commonalities with setting up any other kind of business – the entrepreneur needs to think about resources, investment, gaining clients and so forth. But in market research it can, in many ways, be much more complex especially when building a company around a new technique or methodology.
A market research entrepreneur setting up an agency needs to think about the panel – are you growing one yourself or outsourcing to a third party? You need to think about clients – are you working with end-clients only, or other market research agencies, or both? What sets out your methods and practices from everyone else? Our industry is huge and filled with agencies of all sizes, so it is paramount that any new agencies have a strong USP.
These are the top 10 things I would recommend you do when setting up a market research agency. I’m not going to list ‘find clients’ or ‘get some money together because you’re going to need it’ because these are obvious points and related to any other kind of business set-up. Instead, I’ve listed 10 ways you can improve your agency’s chances of getting up and staying up.
Be different, or drastically different. Decide to do something else no one else is doing and become the expert in that field. Or, if you are going to create an agency carrying out tracker-studies, or specialise in ethnography for instance, ensure you do everything you can to be the BEST in your field. What separates you from the rest? Find what that is and shout about it and know it like the back of your hand.
Study. Yes, you may have worked in market research for 10 years but you won’t know everything. As our industry is being strengthened and augmented with technology, it is evolving all the time. I studied while launching Research Through Gaming and over 2 years later I still study games, game development, new research methodologies and findings, emerging technologies, trends and more. Study doesn’t have to be in the form of sitting in a library for hours on end or stuck in front of a monitor. Study can be observation, soaking in the news around you. Pick up a copy of Wired, Fast Company, read the Financial Times. It may not be directly related to market research but now MORE THAN EVER is the economy, technology and privacy issues related to MR, and you have to know about it.
Use Social Media. Use Social Media. Use Social Media. I cannot stress this point enough! When I was 23 and no-one knew who the hell I was, followers/likers etc eventually found out through seeing my name when I was tweeting, or putting up videos on YouTube, updating the RTG Facebook page and Linked In page and now, more recently, through using Pinterest. As a result of using social media, I was invited to speak at conferences and other events aged 24 and so when I started RTG, speaking at conferences was one of the ways I gained clients and drummed up interest. Furthermore, using social media has been the way many clients have contacted me for business and other collaborative projects. For instance, one of my current clients inboxed me on Facebook as her first point of contact, while others like to get in touch through LinkedIn messaging. And what’s more, using Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to promote yourself and your company is free and all are now almost standard marketing tools.
Write. This is another way to further your study, get your name/company’s name out there, start a conversation with your peers and put your mark on the industry as a thought-leader, which is what we all would love to be seen as. Write blogs (and not just for your own company blog but blog for other websites too) and write papers for conferences, write articles. Send these off to other companies to see if they want to publish anything you’ve written and if they don’t want to, there’s no loss – just publish it on your own website. White papers can be written solo or with your clients but it’s important to get at least 2 or 3 white papers out there (or more) or even data reports on any interesting research studies you’ve done.
Speak at conferences. We’re lucky to have an annual calendar glittering with conferences and events in this industry, so use it to your advantage. If you’re company is so different to everyone else, why not stand on a stage in front of 200 people and tell them about it and the interesting things you’re doing? Speaking at conferences will also allow you to network, form part of your study (from listening to other speakers) and help your confidence and presentation skills. It might even gain you a client or two. It’s a win, win, win situation.
Build a good reputation and trust. A market research agency can only thrive when it’s practices are ethical and lawful. If not, you may soon find you lose respondents, suppliers and clients and ALL market research agencies rely, in some way or another, on these three groups. I’m lucky that many of my industry peers work in companies which have a strong focus on ethical work, but there are some horror stories out there. While MR is big, it’s also pretty small too and people talk – your reputation cannot be bought or sold. Work ethically and lawfully and trust will follow.
Haggle and Plan. If you don’t know how to haggle, learn! My Greek family will be happy to teach you. Starting up any business of any kind will have huge start up costs and even if you’re planning to work as an research consultant, you will still have costs to think about such as accounting fees, legal fees and supplier’s fee’s. If you can negotiate lesser costs from the get-go you will be glad for it even a year, or two years down the line. But haggling can also come hand-in-hand with planning. Can your supplier offer you a discount if you give them your next 2 or three projects? These are the kind of things to think about from the get-go.
Build a small network of people who can advise you, preferably people who work in market research. When you start your own agency there will be hundreds of times when you’re not sure about something and will need advice, especially as there will be so many things you will need to do (such as setting up a website, marketing, building a panel, hiring staff) that you’ve never had to do before. Therefore, set up a small team of people who you can trust who have more experience than you, and can help you grow as a person through helping your business grow. I have been very lucky to have such a group of people, some of which are part my company’s advisory board, some of which are not, but I know that they’re there when I need them. Starting an official advisory board, with weekly or monthly meetings is a good idea but having a small group of people advising you just the same is still useful. It’s up to you how you want to go about it, but either way get this group together. And what’s more, when you’re older and wiser you can play it forward too and advise other entrepreneurs starting their own agencies.
Make a decent website. Yes, a decent website. Not a fantastic one and not a poor one but a decent one. When you’re starting out you won’t have the time or the money to create or have someone else create a super-flashy out of this world website for your company but you will still need a website. I would recommend using WordPress yourself to save money as they have lot’s of professional templates you can use. And while starting a website might be obvious advice to some readers, I am shocked at how many entrepreneurs I meet who don’t have one (whether they’re in MR or not!). Ensure your website houses your blogs, information about you, what makes you different and a call to action – something on the landing page that will make people want to call you. After a while when you’re hopefully rolling in the money, you can make a super-fancy website. But don’t use Flash, because no one will be able to see your site on a mobile device!
Get involved As mentioned in point 5, our industry has lots of conferences and events throughout the year. How can you get yourself involved in some of these which isn’t related to speaking at them? Can you help out in some way? Become a committee member for a conference? By aiding existing events or even setting up a new event you will learn, you will network, you will get your name out there and again, that can lead to new clients.
These 10 points aren’t a comprehensive list, and I can’t say follow these and you’ll be guaranteed a great start. But when it came to beginning and growing my business these are the 10 aspects that really helped me get my name out and make some right decisions.
If you’re reading this and you are thinking about starting up a market research agency, congratulations and we all look forward to seeing how you can change the landscape.
Betty Adamou is CEO and Founder of Research Through Gaming Ltd