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5 Ways to Conduct Research on a Shoestring Budget - (Entrepreneur Series)

I'm not trying to put myself out of business - but let's face it, market research and user experience research can be very expensive. Founders often get sticker-shock when I tell them what a typical market research study cost....imagine a new compact car. Most start-up stories are like mine - there's no unicorn, I wasn't in my 20's and the only VCs I know came from my dad's Vietnam war stories. So in support of entrepreneurs, like myself, I'm sharing my tips for conducting good research on a shoestring budget. I've been doing research for 20+ years and I love it. It's taken me all over the world and I never get tired of asking questions and uncovering the underlying motivations for why we all do the things we do. Good research, even on a shoestring budget, can improve your product or service, or help you come up with new ones.

1. Use diverse social media groups for research e.g. LinkedIn groups, Google Groups, Facebook Friends, etc. - the more diversity across platforms, the less bias your results will be.

Lots of students and academics use social networks to deploy surveys or recruit participants for their studies with lean budgets - there's no reason why you can't leverage them as well. A survey with at least 106 survey responses is still considered decently representative at the 85% confidence level with a 7% margin of error. Our standard in market research is normally at the 90% confidence level with a <5% margin of error. What that means is that if you have an overwhelming majority of respondents who feel a particular way, you can worry less about the margin of error, but if you have a very mixed response like 45% Agree but 55% Disagree, you'll have to collect more survey responses for better predictions. For the record, you'll need 275 survey responses to increase your confidence level to 90% at a 5% margin of error. We normally target ~500 survey responses when we help start-ups pitch for funding - because it allows us the ability to slice and dice the data if we need to drill down e.g. males vs females, millennials vs Gen-X, etc.

Start with people you know on social media - they are less likely to ignore you, but ask them to refer one or two acquaintances that might be willing to share their opinions as well. We call this snowball recruiting - because your target audience recruits additional participants from among their acquaintances. Thus your participant group grows like a rolling snowball and reduces your bias.

You can incentivize people just like they do on Kickstarter - increase the reward depending on how much time and effort you are asking for their participation. You can give them a discount when your product goes to market - or have a raffle drawing for some cool prizes. Yes there are laws around drawings and raffles, but if you are doing this among friends, families and colleagues, you'll most likely not have to worry about the "terms and conditions".

2. Use text messages to reach people you know, it's much more effective than emails. Think of it like a focus group - but try to find people that you think would be your target audience.

Make sure your questions are short & mobile friendly. Most of us are on our phones and devices about 5.4hrs per day and check our phones 63 times per day. We are more likely to answer texts than notice all the spam emails we get in our inbox.

3. Invite participants to a Facebook group, a Yammer group or a zoom call and conduct your online discussion just like like a focus group. These platforms are practically free - so why not leverage them?

There's no learning curve for Yammer, it works just like Facebook, but it's private and practically free. Furthermore, Yammer was built for social exchanges, not by researchers - so it's even better than any proprietary research platform for sharing stories and opinions. There's even a Yammer app for mobile participation from almost anywhere in the world.

Try to make it fun and engaging, while encouraging everyone to be honest and respectful of each other's opinions. Use visuals or videos - they are highly engaging and easy to post. Make sure you have a script ready so your discussion flows smoothly. Start broad and then go more narrow - this helps reduce bias. Try to ask more open ended questions rather than questions that will give you short one or two word answers. We will tackle best practices for asking questions in a subsequent article.

4. This one will have to wait til Post-Covid.. but I'm putting it out there anyways. Go to high traffic areas & ask people to answer a few short questions. Where is the best captive audience that has time on their hands... the beach, the park, the bus, the train & the airport.

Go several hours early before your flight or stay late after your flight. There's an actual success story about a woman and her butter dish & how she used the airport to conduct market research. If you see people lounging at the park or beach, try an ice-breaker like "Can I get your opinion on this.. it will be just a few minutes... it will help me by.....". Keep your questions short and fun - ask them in-person and type in their answers into a tablet, or ask them to take a short survey on your tablet. Bring chotskies to give out as thank yous. If your product/service targets teens or kids, make sure you approach the parent and ask if their kid can join the parent in providing feedback.

5. Conduct your own Intercept interviews outside of retailers that target your audience (this may also have to wait til Post-Covid)

Sometimes we do intercept interviews outside of retailers - if your target audience shops at a particular retailer, try "intercepting" them when they exit a store to ask them "2 or 3 questions" or if you are waiting in line for something. After about 30 or so interviews, you should start seeing some trends.

If this was helpful, please share it and let us know - so we can do more in this series of quick tips for entrepreneurs. Look out for my next one - where I focus on how to ask the best questions in user experience and surveys for Start-Ups. If you'd like us to alert you on the next article or have ideas on topics we should cover for entrepreneurs - send us an email here



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