Concept shot for DIY research
CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

Research and business planning are things we all should do—and do repeatedly for various reasons and at various stages of our organization’s life.

The good news is that there are lots of online DIY market research tools at our disposal. Surely you’ve seen one or more of the following brands show up in your own “in” box. One of the most ubiquitous and longest-tenured online survey tools is SurveyMonkey. Competitors include SurveyGizmo, QuestionPro, EngageForm, Formstack, KeySurvey, Zoho Survey, Typeform, GetFeedback and QuickTapSurvey. Additionally, some other online technologies, such as the Constant Contact email marketing platform, incorporate survey functionality.

So, lots of options also mean bad news—since lots of options require examination and decision-making. You might streamline your research by asking your peers which tools they’re using. Also consider whether the tools might integrate with your other relevant software, i.e. email marketing or a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.

DIY market research image
CC image courtesy of Warren Sukernek on Flickr

These tools are relatively powerful, forcing positive questionnaire construction via their templates and functionality and offering tutorials or helpful hints besides. But, technology is not an absolute substitute for a bit of specialized knowledge. Just as the existence of drag-and-drop graphics and web design tools don’t make all of us into fabulous designers, having similarly easy survey tools doesn’t automatically make us all master researchers.

DIY market research: The how & why of customer surveys

Some basic understanding to have and use alongside your survey tool:

  • Begin with the end in mind, borrowing a popular phrase from Stephen Covey. You’ve got to know why you’re surveying and what you’re trying to accomplish in order to create the proper survey. Sometimes it’s about what you want to accomplish, but it is ALWAYS about answering a question. If you don’t have a question that you are attempting to answer, you might as well not do the research.
  • Similarly, you’re looking to generate actionable insights. Curiosity isn’t a good enough reason to include a particular question. What’s the goal of each question? What will you do with or about the answer? DON’T ask a question if you will not DO anything with the results.
  • Ask one question at a time. It’s common to tangle more than one idea into the same question. Break each question down to its simplest element. That may mean editing one question into two – or into a single question that’s formatted differently, for example, with multiple choice answers.
  • Doing some secondary industry research may help you focus your survey and may provide some industry benchmarks that you can measure against.
  • Ask only for as much personal data as you really need.
  • Include a question that asks respondents to opt-in to be contacted for further discussion.
  • Test the questionnaire on someone!! Don’t launch a survey until you’ve done a trial run with people you trust serving as your “fake” respondents.
  • Thank people for their time and effort and be respectful of the same (perhaps expressing that sentiment in a paragraph that introduces your survey and your goals for the research).
  • When you analyze your results, look for trends and gaps to try and turn results into actionable insights. Then act on your findings!
  • Mine your research process and results for content marketing ideas relevant to your audience!

“Ask the right questions to get the right answers.”
Jim Hall, Design Research Manager at Quill, a subsidiary of Staples

Some of the many reasons you might want to survey:

  • Market research (market size, market share, community needs, etc.)
  • Brand awareness
  • Customer needs and “pain points”
  • Donor/volunteer feedback
  • Fundraiser event planning/feedback
  • Social media/consumer behavior
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer retention
  • Product need/demand
  • New product concept analysis
  • Purchase analysis/tracking
  • Customer attitudes or motivations
  • Gap analysis—to determine both what’s important to your customers and the current report card of “how are we doing?” on those same attributes.

More on gap analysis:

If customers consider something important, but they think you are doing a bad job—equals a huge gap that needs to be corrected. In this case, you’d want to commit resources to improving on customers’ attitudes toward the attribute. If it’s not important, but you are doing a stellar job, you can ask yourself “why bother?” And in this case, you eliminate the time and effort going towards that attribute because your customers don’t care. (Your company scores in the customers’ eyes, but you are wasting resources).


If the attribute is important and you are doing a stellar job—don’t change a thing.

If the attribute is unimportant and customers think you are doing a bad job—no worries.

Decide whether primary research—and an online survey, in particular—is right for your current DIY market research need. There are, of course, other ways to conduct primary research, including telephone and mail surveys, or in-person interviews, focus groups or observation or field trials, which have the potential to generate more qualitative data. There are also certain goals—perhaps the most basic market research about market size, community needs, etc.—that are better served by conducting secondary research, which involves collecting and synthesizing existing published research (from sources like the U.S. Census,, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)).

Once you’ve got a direction and decided on a tool, here’s the process, according to Paul Mooney, director at Blue Orchid, a small business support service in the UK:

  • Step #1: Decide the questions you need answers to
  • Step #2: Decide what information you need to collect in order to answer those questions
  • Step #3: Decide how you’re going to collect the information
  • Step #4: Decide how you’re going to analyze it, and
  • Step #5: Decide what you’re going to do with the results.

Do all of this before you log into your online survey tool! Better to write things out longhand and work out the wording, question format (multiple choice, rating, write-in, etc.) and functionality you want (skip logic, for example: “If yes, then answer… If no, then continue…”) before putting your hands to your keyboard.

Further reading on this topic:

Small Business Tips: How To Do Market Research

How Entrepreneurs Can Conduct Primary Market Research

3 Ways to Use Surveys in Your CRM

A do-it-yourself approach to market research

Avoid These 4 Market Research Mistakes

See also my useful links for small businesses and nonprofits.

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