Geri Stengel

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Surveys Are a Great Marketing Tool: Ten Tips for Doing It Yourself

With the right survey, you can gain interesting insights into a market. For nearly 30 years, I've conducted mail, online and telephone surveys for organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, MasterCard, Mathew Bender, the New York City Chapter of NAWBO and Governance Matters. For the first time I’m putting my skills to use, conducting a survey for my own company, Ventureneer.
online surveysHere are ten ways I’m ensuring that Ventureneer’s survey gets results. You can use them in the research you conduct.
  1. Determine the Purpose of Your Survey: Identify the information needed and from whom it will be collected. There is little research available on the value and application of small business and nonprofit leaders' resources (e.g. business association membership, enrolling in classes online or in person, networking, seek advice/guidance from professionals or peers, etc.). How much are each of these resources used? How strong an influence do these resources have on an enterprise leader and what is the impact to their organizations? Shedding light on the resources used by leaders is the purpose of the survey.
  2. Choose the Method for Your Survey: How you conduct your survey depends on availability of lists for the market you want to research (email lists are more expensive and not always available for your target market), response rate (rates are dropping for mail and phone), timing (mail surveys take longer to field and tabulate) and your budget (telephone surveys are the most expensive and online the least expensive). To save time and money, I chose to conduct Ventureneer’s survey, online using, an inexpensive survey tool.
  3. Determine Your Sample: You can use your own internal lists or buy them from a broker. If you are conducting an online survey, you can select the participants yourself (advertising on Web site pages, newsgroups or traditional media to find participants) or randomly (in which the sample is emailed a survey because it’s representative of the population being surveyed). Ventureneer is conducting its survey among entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. As a startup company, we don’t have a large internal list so I’m supplementing the list by doing outreach on Twitter (follow me @ventureneer), LinkedIn (search Geri Stengel), Facebook (search Ventureneer), participating in blogs and writing articles. I’m asking everyone and anybody to forward the survey to small business and nonprofit leaders.
  4. Determine the Size of Your Sample: The larger the sample, the more reliable the data. For example, a sample size of 100 has a 10% chance of error; a sample size of 1,000 reduces that margin to 3%. In addition, if you plan on segmenting data, you’ll need a larger sample. You can help me reach 1,000 responses by participating in the survey and forwarding to other small business owners and nonprofit leaders.
  5. Should You Identify the Sponsor of the Survey or Not?: This is a very basic question. Your answer will be determined by whether the respondents’ knowing the sponsor will bias the results or improve the response rate. Ventureneer is a startup company. I felt that letting people know who was conducting the survey would not bias the results and if anything might help increase response.
  6. Write a Questionnaire That Gets Answered: Make sure questions are straight forward and clear. Open-ended questions take more thought and time to answer, so limit their number. In general, shorter surveys are more likely to be answered than one that is longer. This is a simple nine question survey. I usually require as few questions to be answered as possible, but I broke my own rule in this survey. In order to do a meaningful analysis of the results, I needed to require answers to several sensitive questions. Of course, the survey is confidential and results will only be used to form a composite picture.
  7. Organize the Questionnaire: Ask general, easier-to-answer questions first. This will prepare respondents for more detailed questions that follow. Hold personal, more sensitive questions (such as age and income) until the end. Organize questions into sections that flow logically. I organized the questionnaire into two sections: the first is about the participant’s use of resources and the second, demographics.
  8. Use Plain English: When writing the survey and invitation, use language that anyone can understand, such as "a survey" or "a few questions" instead of "research study." Avoid industry buzzwords and MBA- and tech-speak.
  9. Increase Response Rates: Response depends on many variables, including the sample, sponsor and questionnaire design. But other factors can also come into play. Use an incentive – offer to include the respondent in drawing for $100 or a Palm Pre. For each survey completed, you can also make a contribution to a charity. Offer to share results with the respondent. A summary of the results will be shared on Vistas, Ventureneer's blog by late August 2009. Or you can request the full report, by simply submitting your email address.
  10. Attend to the Details: For mail and online surveys, be sure to check the logic and skip patterns to ensure that the respondent can complete the survey easily and successfully. For example, make sure respondents are not asked about a product or feature when they had indicated no interest. Most commonly encountered errors in logic and skip pattern can easily be avoided.
Please note that if the previous to link to the survey isn’t working you can cut and paste this one into your browser: