My friend and sometime-SO likes to quote Albert Einstein as saying "research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing." I kinda suspect the quote may be apocryphal, but it's also good –– and, more to the point, it's true.
If you already know the answer, what's the point in conducting research?
(And yes, I know, there are people who do what they call "research" just to plug in "authoritative sources" for the stuff they've already decided to say –– but that's not research; at best it's cross-referencing.)
When I set out to develop a new project, a lot of times I don't even know the question.
That's what "discovery calls" and "intake assessments" and "informational sessions" are all ways of finding out.
So Charisse Burton on FB poses the prompt: "How many offers do you have in place for your ideal clients?" and I answer, honestly, "None" –– because every gig, every client, every project is unique.
I've been working on an updated description of my R&A services, and it's been challenging, because people want to know exactly what I'm going to do and exactly how much it's going to cost them –– but the first thing I'm going to do is perform an assessment to figure out what they actually need, so that I can devise a research project that can find the answer to that question, and then I can estimate a project timeline and budget, with appropriate milestones, etc.
I can't do any of that when somebody shows up in my inbox saying, "I want more sales."
No shit. Who's going to call up a Ph.D. and say, "I'd like you to show me how to tank my business?"
(For the record, if you call me with that question, my next call is going to be the SEC.)
So you call me, and you want to do more business, and the way I can help you with this is by asking the questions you never considered. Usually that starts with some flavor of "What are the situations in which somebody would use this thing you're selling?"
Then I have to backtrack to figure out how somebody ends up in those situations. Usually there's more than one way, and a few commonly occurring factors that predispose one to getting into those predicaments.
Once I know at least a few factors that strongly correlate with "going to end up in this situation eventually," then I have a much better idea of who YOUR ideal customer/client is ... which means I can begin to identify likely places to find those folks and estimate how tough it's going to be to find enough of them, interacting with enough frequency, to give you some idea of how long the project will take me and how many total samples of discourse I'm going to analyze.
And THEN I can make you an offer, with an estimate that looks more like what most people are (probably) used to seeing in business documents: Numbers, dates, a range of projected outcomes. Mine will never look exactly like corporate models, because I don't "bro-sell" the "upsides" (I'm told the expected good things are called "upsides") of the project; I estimate likely pitfalls, potential benefits, mitigating or extenuating factors, study limitations, and anticipated obstacles for a client the same way I would for HSR review.
I'll report the results in the same kind of tediously detailed, academic way, too –– and that means you can skip straight to my conclusions or read a Ph.D.'s analysis of your target market's communicative habits; the choice is yours, but you get what you pay for, and I'm thorough as hell.
I've written ad copy and I've made graphic designs and I'll do both again pretty much any time somebody is willing to pay me (the way we pay, or don't pay, educators in this country would be a national disgrace if we had the good sense to be ashamed of ourselves) –– but those are not the skills that are worth the $130/hr that is still a low price compared to what some in my field are charging for arguably less-savory work (depends on the court case, really, but still).
The skills you'd really pay me for –– at least from an enterprise perspective –– are precisely the ones I can't estimate well until I know the scope of your current and intended reach, and how difficult it's going to be to find your "target" market.
I totally understand why people are frustrated when I tell them this ... but the fact that I'll tell you this is precisely why I'm a good choice (provided your business actually needs the research in the first place, because frankly that is not a given). I started to say "why you should choose me over the competition," but come to think of it I don't really have all that much competition in the commercial sector; the people who do related things mostly seem to be working for government agencies. Maybe some private forensics, although those folks get much more into metadata than I do.
That's a topic for another day.
Meanwhile, you should follow Charisse Burton on Facebook –– she's cool –– and you should think twice (maybe three times!) about what "personalized" or "tailored" or "customized" options mean for you, and for your business.