Below are four of my "favorite" questions that Growthink's Insider Circle  members asked me in 2011 via both the "Ask the Experts" service and our live member call-ins [to clarify "favorite," there were many questions that required me to spend 10 minutes or so to answer them on one of our live calls; I couldn't include any of those here or this essay would be way too long].
Q1. What's the best way to cost-effectively increase awareness of our products as we expand into other markets?
A. I would use PR, contests and sampling.
1. PR: PR is mostly a matter of finding an interesting "hook" that the media finds exciting. Figure out what a listener of the nightly news would find interesting about your product, and use that to pitch multiple media sources.
2. Conduct contests on Facebook. If done right, this could get you awareness among tens of thousands of consumers (and businesses). Two great tools to use for this are Strutta.com and Wildfireapp.com
3. Sampling. For many products and services, customers need to sample it in order to realize they want/need it. So identify a highly defined target market, and let them sample your offering.
Q2. What are the best ways to find the market research I need?
A. To find Industry sizing and overview information, use the following queries in Google to find the market size, trends and the names of key competitors in your industry:
Most industries have industry portals, typically top trade journals and associations, that offer tons of great industry information. Search the following queries in order to find these industry sites:
To find more competitors that you may not know about, do this: Once you have a partial list of competitors, expand your list by doing a search on Google that includes the names of the competitors you already have. For example, search on:
This will often result in a page that includes those competitors, hopefully as part of a bigger list of competitors.
Also, doing the following Google search on one of your competitors will find related sites and possibly new competitors:
Q3. What online marketing tools do you recommend?
A. Here are a few tools I really like:
1. KeywordSpy.com (http://www.keywordspy.com/ ) and Ispionage (http://ispionage.com/ )
Both of these tools allows you to see how your competitors are marketing themselves online. Among other things, you can see the keywords they are advertising on, their estimated ad budgets, their advertising copy, and what keywords they rank organically on.
This analysis allows you to identify where your competitors are getting their best online traffic, so you can replicate it.
2. SnapEngage (http://www.snapengage.com/ )
SnapEngage offers online chat on your website. We've been using this with for the past few months with excellent results.
3. BrowserCam (http://www.browsercam.com/ )
BrowserCam allows you to see how your website looks in any browser / operating systems combination (e.g., how it looks when someone views your site on a Mac using Safari or on a PC using Chrome, etc.).
4. Compete.com (http://www.compete.com/ )
Compete.com allows you to see how much traffic a website is getting, how that traffic is changing over time, and how it compares to others in the market.
Within the premium (i.e., paid) features of Compete.com, you can see the demographic profile of the visitors to your and your competitors' websites, and the sites that refer the most traffic to them.
This is really cool; particularly since if you know the sites which refer the most traffic to your competitors, you can contact them and try to get links to your website included there too, so you can "steal" some of their traffic.
5. Quantcast (http://www.quantcast.com/ )
Quantcast allows you to see the demographic profile of visitors to your website and your competitors' websites.
You'll learn whether visitors tend to be male or female, the age breakdown of visitors, their ethnicity, whether or not they have kids, their income levels and their level of education.
If your competitors get a fair amount of website traffic, Quantcast can also show you some cool additional data, including other sites which visitors to your competitors' websites also visit, and traffic frequency (e.g., % repeat vs. one-time visitors).
Q4. What's the best way to grow my business?
If I had to give you just one tip for growing a successful business, it's figuring out how to get residual revenues from your customers.
The vast majority of entrepreneurs and small business owners serve customers once and do a terrible job getting the customers to come back. Rather they waste tons of time, energy and money continuously searching for new customers.
The most successful companies have fewer customers and serve them over and over again. Figure out how you can maximize the lifetime value of your customers. How will you nurture them and stay in touch with them over time (e.g., direct mail, email)? How will you get them to refer more customers to you (e.g., referral programs)? How will you get them to pay you over and over again (e.g., monthly/annual service contracts; book/wine/product/service of the month club, etc.)?
Once you figure out how to generate residual revenues from your customers, you'll be off to the races.