Don’t let research put you off!

SME Series, by BDRC Asia

Case studies of successful small & medium enterprises and how they have or have not used market research

VP2X4337Audrey Quek had some great assets –becoming Miss Singapore in 1999 followed later with the ‘Most Beautiful Mom’ accolade.

How do you use this to become an entrepreneur?  The first step was when MediaCorp approached her to train up aspiring beauty contestants such as grooming and training them on stage.

“This was all very interesting” said Audrey, “from passion I can turn this into income”she thought, and from this she formed “Audrey Quek Image Consulting” a corporate training and personal development business.

‘Image consulting’is about helping brand owners to build brand values through their representatives, be it the CEO or the front line sales staff, and toalign their image with the organisation’s values.

In all client facing roles, the image that any brand representative portrays will have a direct impact on brand perceptions among customers, such as the perceived value and quality of that brand and how much they care about customers.  Audrey’s clients include banks, financial advisors, hotels, and even those in the public sector such as teachers, nurses and civil servants.

The Singapore General Hospital (SGH) is one of her clients – SGH changed the uniform of their nurses to portray a better image to patients and Audrey was brought in to advise nurses on makeup, hair styles, and even how to walk properly.

Corporate-Branding-s

Audrey comments “many people ask ‘how do you see a return on investment in this consulting’ – well it’s all about the feedback from customers, and in the case of SGH it through the patients who noticed that the nurses ‘looked a lot fresher than before’ and believe it or not patients actually felt a lot better as a result!”

BDRC Asia highlighted two distinct factors about Audrey’s approach to entrepreneurialism that stood out for others within our SME series.

Firstly Audrey places a lot of importance on setting goalsforthe business within specific time horizons.  Such an approach helps business to stay focussed and attain these goals, and by bring in new goalsshe can maintain interest and enthusiasm in her enterprise.

Although many businesses have their own mission statements (often very generic and corning statements about ‘being the best in something’), Audrey sees entrepreneurialism as a journey that should be split into manageable stages – not unlike a term of Government “think in 5 year tranches” that is what you want to achieve in the next 5 years or what you want to do different over this period.

ABC-book-sWhen Audrey started her business in 2004 she set herself the objective of producing a publication within 5 years.  In 2009, Audrey published her first book called “ABC to Your Dream Job”, a handbook targeted at fresh graduates to guide them in not only appearance, but in behaviour and their communications in their interviews for their first jobs after graduation.

Following this, she decided that in the next 5 years she would like to have her own line of clothes.  In her corporate image business she found that corporate suits were very boring, e.g. black and black with an absence of any exciting colours.  From this she started designing her own corporate suits within herown label, sourcing her own fabric from overseas and then engaging her tailor to design more exciting styles that were still suitable for the corporate world.

Audrey comments “because I am now a ‘Certified Image Professional’, next year will be my first time speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Image Consultants that is headquarters in US”.  So the next mission for Audrey is to start consulting image consultants as a ‘train the trainer’.

The second distinct finding from this interview was how Audrey might viewmarket research as a potential barrier to entrepreneurialism.  Audrey understands the role and importance of research, for example in setting up her shop in mall she ought to know about the traffic flow, the price points, who are your potential customers, the competition, etc.

But market research might have put her off going into business – Audrey comments “I try not to keep looking at the competition, because when you look too much, you get afraid. When you’re afraid, you cannot do your work, and you won’t take risks. The more you look, you will not do anything!”

Audrey continues “consumers nowadays are so fast in changing their minds, I’m concerned about this because there’s so much information being factored into business decisions everyday but the customer keeps changing their mind because when they see something different, they move!”

And Audrey’s tips – “Stay positive, believe in what you want!  Stay focused, because many people will come to you and say you cannot do this, you cannot do that, but you can.”

Evidently market research needs to demonstrate to SMEs that research is as much about finding opportunity and being able to keep up with a rapidly changing consumers – let research work for you!