A friend and I want to start a consulting business. We can do data analysis. We both have Masters degrees and several years' work experience in research environments.
Our basic skills are mathematics, statistics, programming and data presentation. Basically, we have the type of skills you would need in a research environment.
One of us is an epidemiologist. The other is a mathematician.
We can also write so making ourselves understood to non-technical people isn't a problem. We aren't too sheltered and we think we could function in a business-oriented environment.
We have two problems:
Can you help us figure out how to get started?
Start with what you have been doing. What industries have used the research you have been involved in?
Finding the right target market and then offering the services they need will be your biggest challenge. When you discover this, a lot of the other parts of your business will become clear.
Market Research is a very competitive business and the more specialized it gets the harder it is to break in. Consumer products market research is overly saturated -- don't waste your time. Stay away from Pharma -- too many big players. Find your niche. Once you land the first client, use their name on your site as "Client" -- it'll help you tremendously with getting the next projects from someone else. Approach large firms and see if they any work to outsource to you, but that will only help a little with cash flow, won't be much help in establishing or expanding your business.
Build your web presence. I run a site that has been consistently in top organic search results for years now. It is for a niche market research business, and when I mean top positions in search results, I mean 1-5. This site has been the main lead generator for this business for the last five years.
Best of luck.
I believe data analytics is the space you should be looking at. Its a huge trend here in India. I know a couple of multi-million dollar ventures that have sprung up in the last 2 years. Incase you are interested, please revert. I am working on setting up a venture in this space
I agree with Susan Jones (start with what you know). Also look for ways to apply your skills to solve difficult business problems. Pick industries that interest you as a researcher and read up/conduct informational interviews. Being a blogger gives you a great excuse to contact people with questions (also try LinkedIn's groups, etc.). What are the pain points? Do you have ideas to use research/analytics to provide insights around these problem areas? If these types of questions don't excite you much, you may need a CEO type on your team to transform your research skills into marketable solutions.
Your question sounds like the classic entrepreneurial problem: you have specialized skills that are valuable and potentially very lucrative, but your skill set does not include sales and marketing so it's not clear how you get from "skilled employee" to "skilled consultant" because you're used to thinking in terms of steady jobs rather than selling products and services.
If that sounds like the case, then you may want to take an honest inventory of your connections and your capacity to do find and close new deals. First, are there people you know personally and professionally that would be willing to be your first 1-3 clients? Set a friendly, discounted project rate and make it clear that you will solve some type of business problem for someone you know in exchange for their testimonial and some marketing material (think case studies or whitepapers that you can put on a website and LinkedIn to start building a reputation). The first clients are the hardest to get.
If you can't find anyone to give you a contract for an initial project to test the waters, then you will need to get into more aggressive prospecting, networking, and marketing efforts. If sales scares you or is a big turn off, go with your gut feeling and admit your team needs a CEO/Marketing type to round out your offering. If one or both of you have a feeling that you could sell people if you tried, then go for it. Advertise what you can do, and don't be afraid to suggest your services to people and ask for their business if they decide they're ready to get serious about data mining and analytics. Almost all business people today understand the value of BI and analytics, but very, very few know enough about it to implement anything more than some Google Analytics code on their website (which by the way is why there are a bajillion scammy "web analysts" out there now who know nothing about real research methodology and barely understand statistics... your scientific research background could be a huge selling point for your brand).
Anyone with the CEO perspective will also help solve your issue of not knowing exactly where you might apply your research and analysis skills. Right now there are so many amazing opportunities to sell your skills (and as a CEO/Marketing type, trust me that someone will want to partner with you and sell your skills as there is far more data being collected today than there are top-tier analysts who can interpret and generate actionable insights from it). The person who sees how to package and sell what you can do is also the same type of person who will see who to target for sales, so that might be a win-win if you can find the right partner or consultant (again, you might even know someone who can help part-time from your existing personal or professional network).
Hope that gives you some ideas to get started. Good luck! :)