Using Surveys to Identify Opportunities for your Small Business

Every small business owner wants to grow their businesses, but it isn’t always easy to identify the right opportunity. Before a large corporation makes any sort of decision, they spend numerous hours and thousands of dollars on market research. Don’t let that scare you off though, as having a small budget doesn’t mean you have to skip the research phase altogether.

With a wide variety of inexpensive primary research tools available online, it is simple conduct your own survey. Done correctly, sending out a survey to current and potential customers can be a great way to unlock insights and determine a path for your business. While you may think you know what your customers really want, you may be surprised by what you can find out if you give them a chance to provide their input.

Start with the Objectives

When you create your questions, think carefully about what information you want to be able to uncover. If you ask random or arbitrary questions, you risk fatiguing your respondents and losing sight of actionable insights. Setting goals and working backwards to design your survey will help you achieve results that you can use.

Once you are ready to start creating your questions and answer choices, make sure that they are simple, straightforward, and don’t include any technical jargon that your customers may not understand.

It is important to collect some demographic information as well; this will help you analyze your results. Use open-ended response questions sparingly; while they do collect interesting responses, they are much harder to interpret in your results.

Send your Survey at the Right Time, to the Right People

Who are you sending your survey to? If it’s to previous customers, it’s relatively easy to simply send out a quick e-mail to your database requesting that they provide their feedback. Assure them that the survey will not take long (a specific time estimate is good, to manage expectations) and explain how their comments will be used to improve your product or service.

If you want to reach a wider range of individuals to include potential customers, you can post your survey on your website, or on your Facebook and Twitter account to take advantage of your social media followers. Many survey companies like SurveyAct will also allow you to purchase a panel of respondents based on criteria that you specify. These tools can help you reach a statistically significant number of responses, as you may not be able to garner actionable insights based on only a handful of opinions.

You don’t want to come off as intrusive or annoying so make sure that if you put your survey on your website, it doesn’t pop up the minute someone visits.

Analyze your Results

You can collect thousands of responses, but if you don’t know how to analyze them properly, you haven’t achieved anything.

Let’s use this survey as an example.

Here is an example of what your survey results may look like:

Survey Results Example

At face value, there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful insights to be extracted here. But you can use filters and cross tab analysis to narrow down these results to a more granular level. For example;

  • How many females vs. males are planning to buy a smartphone?
  • How many customers over the age of 65 are planning to purchase a television?
  • What percentage of customers who rate return policy as a very important factor in purchasing electronics are planning on purchasing a tablet?

Once you analyze the data on that level, you can retrieve many valuable insights that will help you grow your business.

Try running a survey for your own business. SurveyAct ( is one of several survey solutions that is currently free to use!

Image courtesy of {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}, Flickr.

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