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Market research is the most critical element of successful business planning because it provides the basic data that will determine if and where you can successfully sell your product or service and how much to charge. It is a process that involves scrutinizing your competition and your customer base, and interviewing potential suppliers.
There are a number of benefits to conducting market research such as helping you create primary and alternative sales approaches to a given market, making profit projections from a more accurate base, organizing marketing activities, developing critical short/mid-term sales goals, and establishing the market's profit boundaries, but first, you must define your goals and organize the collection/analysis process.
Your research questions should revolve around the demographic data of your customers such as age, location, and income (what they can afford). Your research should also address larger questions such as what type of demand there is for your product, how you might generate demand. In addition, you will want to find out how many competitors provide the same service or product and whether you can you effectively compete with regard to price, quality, and delivery.
You also might want to ask yourself whether you can price the product or service so as to assure a profit. Finally, it is helpful to understand the general economy of your service or product area and the areas within your market that are declining or growing.
Every component of a service or product has a different, specific cost. Many small firms fail to analyze each component of their commodity's total cost, therefore failing to price profitably. Once this analysis is done, prices can be set to maximize profits and eliminate any unprofitable service. Cost components include material, labor and overhead costs.
Material Costs. These are the costs of all materials found in the final product.
Labor Costs. Labor costs are the costs of the work that goes into the manufacturing of a product. The direct labor costs are derived by multiplying the cost of labor per hour by the number of person-hours needed to complete the job. Remember to use not only the hourly wage but also the dollar value of fringe benefits. These include social security, workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, insurance, retirement benefits, etc.
Overhead Costs. Overhead costs are any costs that are not readily identifiable with a particular product. These costs include indirect materials, such as supplies, heat, and light, depreciation, taxes, rent, advertising, transportation, and insurance. Overhead costs also cover indirect labor costs, such as clerical, legal and janitorial services. Be sure to include shipping, handling, and/or storage as well as other cost components.
Part of the overhead costs must be allocated to each service performed or product produced. The overhead rate can be expressed as a percentage or an hourly rate. It is important to adjust your overhead costs annually. Charges must be revised to reflect inflation and higher benefit rates. It's best to project the costs semiannually, including increased executive salaries and other projected costs.