A Cheater’s Guide to Learning Any New Industry Instantly

Fast Jet

You’re thinking of launching a new business. Or your boss wants you to take over a new product you know completely nothing about. Perhaps, you’ve been offered a new job in a different city. We’ve all been there. Learning about a new industry or market is challenging and very time consuming.

What if there’s a simpler and faster way to acquire the knowledge you need. A hack to fast-track your way across this steep learning curve? Here’s how to prepare for and supercharge your understanding of any new industry or market:

To learn any new industry you must lay the right groundwork

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Laying the groundwork for success is not complicated. First, you have to understand very clearly what you want to learn. Do you want to know the market size? Are you looking to understand who the competitors are in this new industry? Or are you looking at product-market fit? You need to know what you want before you can ask the right questions. This is an important step as it sets up the basis of your search.

If you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Second, you should always do some preliminary secondary research. This simply means you have to google for all the free information available and find out what you need to pay for (and what you don’t). If you haven’t, here are a few good resources:

  • Google – Always start here.
  • Quora – Great general question and answers site
  • Youtube – You can find almost any type of topic here but be sensitive to difference in quality between different content producers
  • Google Trends – This shows search interest in any industry term over time by region/country.
  • Industry forums and Facebook Groups – Find out what people in this new industry are talking about.   

Alright, groundwork laid. Let’s supercharge your understanding about this new industry pronto!

Learn from knowledge gathered by a personal research assistant

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Let’s face it, unless you’re a big shot investment banker, chances are you won’t have access to an in-house research team. The term “in-house” has a different and probably more literal meaning for ordinary folks like us. Having the luxury of a research assistant to gather, organise and summarise information from multiple primary and secondary sources is certainly not something our budgets could possibly entertain. Or could it?

Introducing Wonder, the research service that delivers on-demand, quick research to those looking to “gain strategic knowledge when they need it most”. This is a fancy way to say you get a personal research assistant minus the hefty pay checks, long term contracts and employment headaches. The service works on a membership basis and flat fees for simple 1-hour assignments. Voilà – personalised quick insights and data delivered directly to your email inbox. 

Another option is to hire a research assistant through the freelancing platform Upwork. There are plenty of individual researchers here to choose from and the prices range from US$5 to $35 per hour. However, be sure to read the ratings and reviews before committing. You want to avoid any misalignment in expectations.

Finally, I don’t want to sound like a broken record but I cannot stress any harder why you should do your groundwork before approaching the service providers above. You wouldn’t want to end up paying for something that you could have easily googled for on your own. Be specific in your research objectives and always insist for data-backed proof for any anecdotal insights provided. 

Learn from talking to industry practitioners and subject matter experts

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We’ve all heard about the big business consulting groups i.e. McKinsey, Bain, BCG, yada yada yada. As great as these companies are, it’s not normally something we can afford. However, sometimes working on a shoestring budget has its own merits. For instance, it forces us to find better ways to spend our hard earned money than to pay a team of polished 20-year-old Ivy League educated consultants to talk us through a deck of templated powerpoint slides.    

Enter micro-consulting. For me, this definition sums it up best, “micro-consulting is a short burst of work that is focused on a specific topic, priced to your budget and is delivered and acted upon quickly… think of it as an easy means to supplement your team with specific expertise or intellectual horsepower”. Companies like Maven and AlphaSights have been providing specific knowledge to their clients through their network of vetted industry practitioners and experienced professionals. In most cases, the service format is a session of questions and answers with an expert over video conferencing or phone. Clients are charged on a per hour basis and the rates depend on the experience of the expert.

This is a great way to speed up your understanding of any new industry. You’re getting first hand information from someone experienced within the industry itself. However, you should make sure you’ve done the groundwork before you engage such a service. There’s no point asking about things you can get for free through Google.

Learn from potential customers

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Move aside Kantar and Nielsen. You can now gather the opinions and preferences of your target customers living in far away markets by simply logging onto an online platform. All from the comfort of your desk.

Companies like SurveyMonkey and Pollfish are trying to upend traditional market research solutions by providing affordable easy access to faster and high quality feedback. By doing so, they’ve opened up to an entire new segment of customers, small business owners or aspiring ones who are looking to run smaller budget surveys. Folks who are willing to work with a self-service online survey platform for a lower price point. Surveys are charged based on price per response and this depends on the number of targeting options used.

Please do not mistake my use of the term “self-service” or “DIY” to be an indication of poor quality. The level of demographic targeting options on these platforms are wide-ranging and their respondent reach broad. For example, Survey Monkey boasts their ability to tap into over “80 million people in 100+ countries using over 50 attributes”.

That being said, an online survey or customer research is only as good as how it’s been set up. Goals need to be clearly established and the right type of questions need to be asked. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, do your groundwork and don’t waste money on anything unnecessary. Once you’re clear about what you want to find out, you will need to craft the questions properly. This will help to cut out poor and unclear responses. These platforms are useful tools for understanding any new industry but you first need to know what their limitations are before you can effectively use them.  

Your new journey starts today. May the force be with you.

Below is a process checklist of the groundwork required and the steps involved in obtaining knowledge through the 3 online platforms above.



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