BA 150, 250 & 278 - Sickert: Customers & Market

Resources for entrepreneurship

Researching your customers

How do you find out information about your target customers? It's an art and a science! There are many places to look and you may have patch together information based on a lot of different sources.

Customer Demographics

You'll need to find out some details about your potential customers in order to figure out how large your customer base can be. There are many ways to gather this information. Here are a few ideas.

The Census Bureau has a website called the Census Business Builder. It uses data from the census to tell you about different specific geographical areas, typically by zip code. 

There's even more in-depth information at the main Census Data website. It can be challenging to navigate, but there's a lot of good info there! 

Look for the websites of relevant professional organizations. This list of professional online publications is a good place to start.


Finally, Google is your friend here. See the box below for advanced Google Search tips. Try just asking Google for the demographics of your group, for example your search could be: demographics of people using personal trainers. That takes you straight to the professional organization of personal trainers and they have that information at the ready. Double check to make sure you have a reputable site. Take a look at our Fake News Guide


Sizing the Market

As we discussed in class, looking up the NAICs code for your industry is an important first step as some databases allow you to search by NAICS.  The databases listed to the right under "Databases for Market Research" all have some information or features that could be helpful.  Business Insights Global, in particular, has industry reports that can be helpful.

It's not always easy to find size information for markets, especially on narrow/niche or emerging markets. When that happens, search for Business Source Premier and Nexis Uni to see there are articles that talk about your market. Industry associations often provide estimates. Google is great at picking up news, blog posts, and press releases that may mention specific numbers.

You may also need to infer from broader market data and come up with your own estimates, esp. for new products/services that don't exist yet. Below are tutorials tutorials on how to size a market:

You can use Census data to get information about numbers of potentials customers:
  • Census Business Builder
    • A suite of services that provide selected demographic and economic data from the Census Bureau tailored to specific types of users in a simple to access and use format
  • Census Business and Economy
  • Census Data search
    • You can also directly search for data by region and demographics

American Community Survey

This is another product of the Census Bureau with extensive data about population demographics.

Advanced Google Searching

Advanced Google Searching

Search specific phrases by putting a whole phrase in quotation marks. For example, if you were researching the food company United Natural Foods, you could put "United Natural Foods" in quotations to make sure you only get articles that have those three words together as a phrase.

Add a plus sign (+) to the words you MUST have in your results and a minus sign (-) to words you DO NOT want in your results. For example, if you want to search for information about Jaguar the car company but you don't want results about jaguars, the cats, your search can look like:

               jaguar -cat +car

You can look for resources only on certain types of websites, like Educational (.edu) or Government (.gov).

To do this, add site:edu or site:gov to your regular Google search.

For example: 

  • If you do an ordinary Google search for nutritional supplements, most of your top results will be commercial (.com) sites trying to sell you vitamins.
  • If you search for nutritional supplements site:gov , the top results (except for the sponsored ads) will be sites such as the National Institute of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, which are authoritative, unbiased sources that are not trying to sell you anything.
  • If you search for nutritional supplements site:edu, your top results will be from universities providing research on nutritional supplements

You can use this same trick for searching a website. So say for example you were looking on the Oregon state website for information about grants for small businesses. You could search: 

       site: small business grants

Learn more Google Search tips from "6 Google Tricks That Will Turn You Into an Internet Detective" in the New York Times.