If you've taken advantage of all the literally priceless research you could get your hands on, but still need more, you'll be forced to pay for at least a little custom work by a pro. Here are the four techniques for keeping the price down:
* Do some of the work yourself. If you wanted to determine whether a certain country lane would be a good location for your store, one of the first things a market researcher would do is spend a couple of days counting the cars that pass by the site. You can do the counting yourself -- then later the researcher can tell you what your findings mean. Anytime you do the grunt work, you're going to lower the bill.
* Don't hold the researcher to a useless standard of care. When a Fortune 500 company commissions market research, it wants findings carried out to the third decimal point. Odds are, you don't need anything that precise. You can hire a researcher who will give you a "best guess," based on less-than-total data. If you can live with an answer that predicts about two-thirds of your target market will be like your idea, as opposed to one claiming you will have an approval rating of 69.438%, you probably can save some money.
* Buy pieces of a study. Say you're in the bagel business and want to know everything there is to know about bagel buyers, but the only research on bagels is contained in full-length studies of the bread industry. Do you need to pay for the whole loaf? Probably not, says David Learner, chairman of MRCA Information Services Inc., in Stamford, Conn. Learner is one of the researchers who will sell you slices of his database.
* Offer the egghead equity. Heads of market research companies are also business people. If you look like you're a good bet, they may be willing to trade you extremely reduced fees for a small piece of the action. Of course, there are plenty of drawbacks to diluting your ownership, but if you're going to need research on a continuing basis, it may not be a bad trade.