No market research budget? No problem.

By Stephanie McLean (Founder, Trendy Treat)

What does your customer want? The answer to this is arguably the million dollar question for every entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are generally in the business of solving a customer’s problems. The goal is to provide an exceptional solution that a consumer will spend their money with you over a competitor. As an entrepreneur, you have to see potential where other see problems.
It’s a classic chicken and egg problem. Identifying the problem is less challenging than identifying a solution. And that solution has to do more than solve the problem. It has to be something customers are willing to pay for.
Many entrepreneurs develop solutions before connecting with the customer to understand the problem. Often, entrepreneurs develop a business and then try to sell it to consumers as their solution. I was guilty of this.
Initially, I thought I had found the most amazing concept for my startup. Trendy Treat would provide affordable ready-to-wear clothes for women who find it hard to find clothes that fit. In the excitement of it all, I lept full speed ahead. My focus was skewed so heavily towards product development, that I forgot one gigantic element: my customer. What does she really want?
These three tactics have helped me tremendously to connect with my customer, so I can better understand and serve her.

1. Facebook Groups

While I was feverishly consuming every entrepreneurship blog post my e-mail inbox and eyeballs could accommodate, it failed to dawn on me that Facebook would be one of the best places to connect with customers — and for free.
Facebook Groups are the new school focus group. A large portion of the world’s population is hooked daily to Facebook, sharing their joys and tribulations. What’s even better is that they congregate in groups based on their interest.
Finding a thriving group and becoming an invaluable member there can give great insight on your consumer. Trendy Treat offers affordable made to measure clothes for women, with petite, plus size and tall women being a large focus. As a single person, I can’t possibly fit into all those categories.
While I understand my personal experiences and needs as a tall woman, I don’t have an intimate understanding of being petite or plus size. Facebook groups have provided me a free way to really understand those customers and alter my offerings to better suit their needs. For the modern entrepreneur, Facebook groups are what focus groups were in the ‘90s.

2. Embrace Free

Entrepreneurship can be akin to months of ramen and Red Bull. Having worked hard to develop your product, the last thing you may want to hear is that you should give away product.
I’m a firm believer that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. When I was working on a new product line, I wanted some feedback. So I created a budget and decided to give some product away for free to people I connect with for business. Getting their feedback has worked remarkably well. It usually results in a purchase, they’re bursting at the seams with gratitude, and they often become product evangelists.

3. The Instagram Test

Like Facebook, Instagram is also a great tool for finding out what your customer wants. Trendy Treat’s Mogul In The Making is an independent fashion brand. I don’t have the budget of a Versace or Armani. A great challenge for my business and other independent designers is determining what to make and how much. I’ve developed what I’ve coined the “Instagram Litmus Test.”
When launching new items, I was make several samples, then do a photoshoot. If I’m not too sure about moving forward with a particular product for boutiques, I post pictures on Instagram.
I’ll either outright ask for feedback, or simply keep an eye on which pieces generate more likes and responses.
If an item gets a lot of activity on Instagram, then I’ll place a larger order so that I can place it in stores. It hasn’t failed me yet! The items usually do well once place in the boutiques.
I also use the opportunity to strike up relationships with customers and get a better understanding of what they are looking for using the private messaging feature.
Happy customers are integral to the success of your business. Always continue to ask what your customer wants and how you can improve on your offering.

About the guest blogger: Named a Ms Tech #Monday Maker and a Lumiary Maker, Stephanie McLean has always been a lifelong lover of travel and a style enthusiast. After law school, she combined her passions and launched  Trendy Treat , a socially conscious lifestyle portal for globally glamorous modern women.