An essential part of launching a business and ensuring its survival is understanding the market. If you're putting together a business plan you need to do your market research to help with the planning process and also to prove to investors that your idea is viable. If you’re considering entering a new market you need to know what you're getting yourself into and whether it makes sense to take the leap.
For more developed countries, finding market data is relatively easy. Pretty much everything you need is online and you can find a lot of information on just about any industry. In less developed countries like Zimbabwe, however, there is generally a laissez faire approach to the publication of data.
In my time writing business plans, proposals, investment reports, etc. I've faced a number of challenges getting the information I need. A Google search might yield some results but more often than not the information is out dated and, with how quickly our environment changes, probably no longer relevant enough to give a reliable picture. Doing a market survey would be the best way to get the most recent information but that requires resources that sometimes aren’t available. So I had to figure out ways of getting around this and these are some of the lessons and tips I've picked up in my work as a business writer doing market research in Zimbabwe:
1. It's never going to be 100% accurate
Even within developed countries where information is readily available, when it comes to market research for documents like business plans where you make assumptions about market potential, you will never be spot on. Things like estimating market size will always come down to educated guesses. But if you want to convince an investor of the potential you need to ensure that those guesses are supported by hard data. Where hard data is out dated you may need to make deductions about what the likely current market conditions are by analysing data about other factors that influence the variables you’re interested in.
2. Call, call, call!
There are agencies in Zimbabwe that record and report on most of the information you’ll need but half the time you won't find it online; at least not the most recent information. The data is there, however, so sometimes it will come down to you picking up the phone to call the relevant agency and ask for the reports. You'll find that they are usually quite friendly and willing to share the information but be prepared to make a few follow up phone calls if they haven’t emailed the information to you, there's a good chance they'll forget.
3. Piece it together
You will hardly ever find the exact data you are looking for in the form you need it in. Most times you will have to take bits and pieces of data from several sources and put it all together to come up with deductions that are at least somewhat reasonable and can be worked with.
4. Read the news
While a lot of information won't be readily available in report form agencies are quite good with announcing key statistics and this often ends up in the paper. You probably won't find the latest inflation figures on the RBZ website yet but there is definitely an article that covers it.
Really great online sources for market research in Zimbabwe include the RBZ website, Zimstats Quarterly Digest and ZIMRA reports. But you will need to be a little patient with finding what you need when doing market research, particularly for countries like Zimbabwe. You will have to sift through a lot of irrelevant data before you find the information that you really need.