Who wants your goods and services? You can't know too much about your customers and prospects. This calls for marketing research. Facts and figures can elevate your marketing plans from wishful thinking to purposeful action plans. There is no substitute for hard information.
Your hunches, based on experience and observation, are important. They simplify market research by defining limits and setting directions for further investigation. But they have to be substantiated. Hunches have an irksome way of being half-truths, and half-truths can be disastrous. "I feel that there's a big market for this . . ." and "I have a hunch that we can double sales by . . ." are two of the most common traps small-business owners fall into. Put another way, small businesses aren't destroyed from outside by competitors or a malign fate, they self-destruct.
In order to make good marketing decisions you have to know how your target markets perceive the value of your products and/or services. If you don't know how your company and its products are perceived, you will waste time and aim the wrong products at the wrong markets at the wrong time.
Professional marketing consultants can get this information faster and more cheaply than you can. If your budget is tight, check with local business schools; marketing professors sometimes do consulting work. Since most basic market research questions are the same, this saves you from reinventing the wheel. It should cost you no more than out-of-pocket expenses. They know the questions to ask, how to get the answers, and they will help you put this information to work ferreting out better opportunities for you to pursue-an added bonus for your investment.