Market Research on the Cheap – How to Do It

In these days of perpetual negative news about the economy and the stock market, one runs the risk of getting caught up in the bad news and foreseeing the same for your business. Yes, business will likely drop, perhaps by double digits if it has not already. However, a declining business in a declining market is not a death knell if you do not let it become one. Now is the time to focus in on your customers. Do NOT cut your prices. When you cut your prices you risk commoditization of your service and product offerings. What you should focus on instead is in adding significant value to your goods and services.

What “value” you could add depends on who your customer is. For B2B companies, the value depends on whether your customers are public works entities or other government entities, large corporations, industrial installations, retail developers, property managers,… and the list goes on. Although these customers appreciate some of the same things, each of these customers have nuances for which certain activities or offerings would resonate more strongly with them than it would another customer in a different category. The key is to determine WHO your customers are, then determine WHAT your customers want.

If you have a large customer base of satisfied customers, start there. Determine what they like and why. Sit down with a few of your top customers and ask them why they keep coming back, what you are doing well and what you could do differently. Are they fully clear on how you differentiate your company from other similar companies in your target geographic area? If not, what can you do?

If you are not in touch with your customer base, then you need to start anew. If you have traditionally pursued the “low hanging fruit” – any prospect who is relatively easy to obtain -, you may not know who your real target customer is. Nor will you know how to access that customer. If this sounds like your company, then you have probably been garnering business based predominantly on price. Now is the time to conduct the research to find out who your real customer (the best customer for your product or service offering and your strength in that area) is and craft a strong value proposition that will help you weather the construction industry downturn and position your business for serious growth when the economy recovers.

Here are some recommendations for conducting that market research affordably:

1) Get back to basics. A lot of the most valuable market research comes directly from prospective customers, not from a 50-page industry research report. Identify who your target customers are, build a list of people or businesses to call, craft a questionnaire to get the answers you seek and dial for dollars. Enlist the help of employees, temporary staff, or use a virtual assistant if the list is lengthy.

2) Use Hoovers.com or similar website to determine who the larger companies in your industry providing a similar good or service are. Many of those companies are public which means they must publish detailed quarterly (10-Q) and annual (10-K) financial reports. You will find these in the investor information section of the companies’ respective websites or on the SEC website at www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml These reports are filled with significant current industry and market information that is often directly applicable to your company.

3) Some of the best research involves competitors. Obviously, no direct competitors in your area of operation (i.e., construction companies in Georgia) will freely share information with you but often direct and indirect competitors in completely different regions of the country will willingly answer questions that could help you assess the market, identify prospects, and avoid pitfalls. Find out who they are and call (preferred) or write.

In an economic or industry downturn, many times business as usual doesn’t work. So many industries – the construction industry, the automotive industry, the real estate industry, the heavy goods industry – are cyclical. During a down cycle those companies that focus on good fundamentals – which includes identifying and keying in on the most appropriate customers and ensuring your company has an excellent value proposition for them – continue to do well relative to their peers and ultimately position themselves to excel when the market shifts.

Direct Marketing – New Move-In Lists Work Well For Doctors and Professionals

I just ran into one of my cousins at our local bagel shop (breakfast is the best time and place to meet people and get some early morning work done). He’s a podiatrist (foot doctor) and tells me the best, most effective method he’s used so far to reach new potential patients is through direct mail.

He goes after a specific market segment — people who have recently moved into his area. These people haven’t set up a doctor-patient relationship yet. So he figures (rightly so) that new move-ins are the best prospects for a podiatrist. He’s also interested in runners and older patients — both have their own unique needs. But his best source of business still comes from new movers.

Thinking this over, I contacted some other doctors in my area and found that when a practice serves a general clientèle rather than one specific specialty, people new to an area are good prospects as new patients. There was a tendency, however, to favor new homeowners over people in apartments. This was especially true for dentists who need to develop a several-year relationship to offer effective care and, to put it bluntly, make some money from a stable patient base.

Fortunately, these lists are all available, and even selectable by age, income, and, if it’s important to your marketing, a presence of children in the household. Cost for this type of list average less than a quarter per name, and much less in large quantities.

Another possibility, but one that is usually too expensive for small offices, is the phone company’s phone book ride-along program (check with your local phone company for availability). Whenever a new phone is installed in a home, the phone company delivers a new set of phone books, wrapped in plastic or placed in a mailing bag.

Costs are reasonable (usually less than the cost of renting your own list) but you generally have to commit to a minimum 10,000 delivery or more in your area, and you have to cover the entire delivery area. If you’re only trying to reach a small area — such as one or two zip codes — the phone book ride-along program is not for you. Renting a targeted list and mailing to them yourself makes much more sense.

Wayne Stoler is head of Letter Perfect Mailing Services, a company that handles mailings for over 2,000 companies. Letter Perfect also sells mailing lists, and specializes in small to medium size mailings. Wayne’s clients keep coming back because he has years of experience in getting mailers read, and even more years in dealing with postal regulations. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] or call him directly at 800.397.8973.

How to Open a Self-Directed Or Real Estate IRA

While it’s common knowledge that building the “nest egg” for retirement is a goal for many investors, most IRAs and employer-sponsored plans don’t allow the diversity needed to protect your hard earned money from the long-term ups and downs of markets and economies. Limited to stocks, bonds and mutual funds, investments through a traditional IRA can be volatile and unstable.

Real estate is a popular option to provide steady, passive income to meet retirement goals, but how do you fund those purchases when the majority of your savings are locked inside a traditional IRA or 401k? Self-directed or real estate IRAs can help solve that dilemma by “unlocking” the funds in traditional retirement accounts. Self-directed IRAs allow for diversification, protecting the account from economic instability and enabling account holders to invest in the real estate market using their IRA funds.

While it may seem intimidating, setting one up is usually easier that many other investment accounts. Keep reading and we’ll show you how.

Education

The key to success in any investment endeavor is education. The more one knows about what they’re doing, the more likely they’ll be to capitalize on prime opportunities.

The best time spent in research on self-directed IRAs is looking up specialized custodians and custodial firms. If you already have a traditional IRA, then you’re familiar with the role of a custodian, but with self-directed IRAs, it’s imperative to find someone that knows all the quirks of this unique account AND is a part of a reputable financial institution. It’s your retirement, so a little extra legwork is worth it!

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is, “You get what you pay for.” Discount services may be available, but they may not fit your plan or have the knowledge needed to carry it out. A competent custodian can advise on the rules surrounding real estate purchases with IRA funds and help you avoid “rookie mistakes.” The cost may seem frivolous, but in the end, it will save you from making a mistake that could jeopardize the tax-advantaged status of your IRA.

Paperwork

When you find an individual or firm that you like, request an information kit and necessary forms for opening a self-directed IRA. There will usually be an IRA agreement, fee schedule, disclosure statement and various authorization forms required for any future real estate transactions. If you’re planning on rolling or transferring funds from another IRA, look for the IRA Transfer/Rollover Request form. There will be a lot to look over and it will all be very technical, but your custodian can help you if any questions or concerns pop up.

Carefully read all the documents and fill them out. Be sure to pay close attention to “beneficiary designation” i.e. who or what will reap the returns of your investments. If not specified, the beneficiary defaults to who or what the custodian has designated in their generic IRA agreement. If you have a specific beneficiary in mind, be sure to write it down.

When all your paperwork is completed and checked over, send the package in for processing. If you plan on using any funding from another IRA, let your new custodian touch base with the old custodian. They’ll work out the paperwork needs between them, and your new custodian will let you know if anything else is needed.

Funding

Now that your new account is open, you’ll need to fill it with funds. There are several ways to do this, but the most popular is to use money you already have in your existing IRA or employer sponsored plan. This can be accomplished through a transfer or rollover.

A transfer is a tax-free move of an account from one custodian to another. Your existing IRA becomes a self-directed IRA when transferred to your specialized custodian. It’s like taking a box full of money from one person and giving it to another person.

Rollovers are moving funds from one IRA account or qualified retirement plan to your self-directed IRA account. You have 60 days to get the funds into another IRA account before you have to pay taxes on the amount withdrawn. It’s like taking the money out of one box, putting it in your pocket without spending it, then into another box before the timer runs out.

Purchase Properties

Your self-directed IRA is now open and funded. Time to go shopping!

Once you find a property you want to purchase, let your custodian know. They’ll have you fill out an Investment Authorization form to give them permission to make the purchase. Once the purchase is initiated, it will be funded with the self-directed IRA, either through a check drawn on the account or via wire transfer to an escrow company.

Erika D. Napoletano is the Director of Communications & Content for InvestorLoft.com. As a former holder of multiple FINRA/SEC licenses such as the Series 7, 66 and 31 as well as being a former Registered Mortgage Agent, she possesses a deep knowledge of both investments and real estate. InvestorLoft.com ([http://www.investorloft.com]) is dedicated to providing the most relevant search results for the real estate investor on the web and offers the most comprehensive tool set available today. From smart, investment-centric property searches (search InvestorLoft listings by cap rate, cash flow, cash on cash return, down payment ad more) to the most in-depth, real-time financial calculators available online, InvestorLoft is committed to meeting the needs of the real estate investment community as well as the real estate professional.