Do you ever feel like your services are pulling you in too many directions? You’re offering this service to this client, that service to another.
Maybe you want to make your services easier to repeat and scale? Perhaps you think it’s just not possible when it comes to your industry?
Last month, I blogged about 3 red flags that your services are too complicated. But how would you go about simplifying your services even if you do think they’re too complicated?
One of the steps you can take is market research.
For a software developer who’s new to consulting or freelancing, it’s easy to dive into whatever work comes your way. Getting any old work might be a relief at first, but a scattergun approach can take you down a difficult path.
Market research helps you create awesome targeted services that solve real problems. The kind of services that make clients say you made a measurable difference to their business.
And it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are five steps I use to do my own market research.
#1. Find a niche and listen to problems
For solo consultants and freelancers, niche sells, generalist doesn’t. So I look at the niche I have most expertise in and Google networking events where people in that niche are hanging out. Then I go along to them. I have no sales agenda at this point. My goal is listening, not selling.
I get talking to people and ask them how they’re doing. It’s funny how most people are “Doing fine”, right up until the point they talk about a serious problem that’s driving them crazy.
Everyone’s dealing with something – and I feel my goal is simply to listen to what they’re dealing with.
If they talk about problems that are familiar to me and that I could solve, I tell them I’m doing some market research into this problem, and ask if I can invite them for a coffee so I can ask them more questions about it.
#2. Get prepared – don’t just dive in
Once I’ve set up a meeting, I do a bit of preparation. I’ve tried doing market research and interviewing people on the fly, but usually found it a less valuable experience. I forget to ask things, bumble, talk too much etc.
I make sure I’ve got these questions written down in front of me:
- What’s the main problem you’re dealing with?
- Why is it such a problem to you?
- What services are out there that could help you solve this problem?
- Why are you, or aren’t you, using them?
- What would a good solution look like?
I like to record my conversations so I can hear the exact language they use and not worry about talking and writing at the same time, or missing important things they say. So part of my preparation is getting my phone ready to record the conversation and making sure we meet in a quiet place.
#3. Capture exactly what they say
Before I start asking questions, I always check with the person I’m interviewing if it’s OK to to record them. I’ve yet to meet someone who says no, but there’s always that possibility.
Recording means I’m really concentrating on the conversation (instead of writing) and I’m capturing the exact language they use.
Exact language matters, because it’s easy to think I’ve understood a problem. When I listen back to what they say, I often realise it’s different to how I understood it; more nuanced. It’s tempting to project my impressions of a problem onto someone else.
This is a comment I captured during a recording:
One of the problems I’ve got at the moment is that a number of websites I’ve designed need revamps. And the people are saying, ‘I can’t afford it at the moment, it works, I’m happy with it.’
But I remember hearing:
I don’t know how to sell services for revamping websites.
Actually, it’s not the same thing. The real problem is that the person in question shouldn’t be offering website revamps, because there’s no market for it. What he’s telling me is that people don’t want it – it’s not a pain point for potential clients.
Instead of helping him sell services for website revamps, I should be helping him find clients with genuine pain points.
At meetings, I also avoid asking too many follow up questions and talking too much myself during the conversation. I try not to interrupt them or influence their responses with leading questions. Over time, I’ve gotten comfortable with asking a question and then being quiet and holding back.
Once I’ve finished, I go back to my recordings and type up the conversations. I get them all down in a document as close to the original as possible. This stage can be time consuming and boring, but I’ve found it’s worth it.
#4. Arrange and analyse the information
When I’ve finished writing up the interviews, I read back over them and start highlighting the sentences that identify core problems – the ‘problem sentences’. Important ones jump out at me.
Then I start to copy and paste the problem sentences into a spreadsheet, one after the other in a column.
I read through each problem sentence and in the column next to it, jot down the problem condensed into a few words, e.g. hates cold calling, clients are drying up.
Then I start to see if I can group the problem sentences together into half a dozen core problems.
I look out for an overarching problem, e.g. can’t find clients. Finding an overarching problem is a good thing. It’s easier to create one core service that tackles one core problem than it is to have many different services that tackle many different problems.
#5. Create services that solve the top problems
Now, next to each group of problems, I start to identify solutions – services.
I’m always amazed at how, before this exercise, I had a clear idea of the services I wanted to offer. But then notice how different they look after the market research. They stop being what I want to offer, and start being what my market is crying out for.
I try to make the solutions as simple and specific as possible. What do I know that can help solve this problem? I’m especially interested in targeted services that solve specific problems, not complicated holistic approaches with lots of bells and whistles.
I’ve written another blog post that goes into this in more detail: How to create killer services that sell.
Lots of consultants and freelancers jump into services without doing any market research. But then end up offering lots of ad hoc services or complex services. A bit of research can help steer you onto the right track and deliver something that’s truly awesome.