||Ask the Small Biz Adviser
Small Biz Adviser:
Basics of conducting your own market survey
Dear Small Biz Adviser
I am considering starting a specialty muffin shop. What kinds of
questions should I put into a survey questionnaire to find out if
this business venture is feasible?
It's exciting to read that you are going out to generate
your own market research data. The overwhelming majority of
business and marketing plans rely on secondary data (data from other
sources) to develop startup and promotional strategies. You should
be congratulated because so few startups develop their own primary
data, developed directly through your own survey.
Having congratulated you, now I have to warn
you: Getting valid survey data isn't easy. How you conduct the survey,
how you ask the questions, who you ask and other details of the
process all affect the data's validity -- and your chances for success.
Be certain to structure the survey for ease
of use. If you are simply going to ask questions directly to individuals,
structure survey content to facilitate the ease of compiling your
data. If you intend to give the individual a survey to be completed,
the survey must be designed to be easy to understand.
- Survey questions, whether asked or submitted
to the individual in document form, must be posed objectively.
For example, pose a question such as: Do you like muffins? Do
not pose a question such as: Do you like muffins if they are prepared
the way you like them? The first example seeks a definite response
to an objective question. The second example is a leading question
-- it solicits a positive response by adding the "if they are
prepared the way you like them" clause.
- Ask easy-to-understand questions. Don't
use fancy words.
- Allow responses consistent with the nature
of the question. For example, if a question calls for a "yes"
or "no" answer, then word it that way and use the two options
-- yes or no -- in the response area of the survey for that question,
not yes, no and maybe.
- Questions that require a specific response
in the form of multiple choices or "yes" and "no," as in the example
above, are called closed-ended questions. They allow you to easily
compile results. Questions that request the respondent to write
answers in the form of sentences, conveying what they feel, are
called open-ended questions. Asking an open-ended question requires
thought. Don't always expect clear, relevant responses if they
have to write down that kind of answer while standing on a crowded
street corner. That is best left for a controlled, quiet environment.
Open-ended questions have responses as varied
as the respondents, and are not easy to categorize by groups of
What should you ask about? Consider these topics:
- Types of muffins. Which are more and
- People who buy the muffins. Where
do they live? What are their professions, family status, marital
status, children in the family, household income and eating habits?
On what occasions do they buy muffins?
- Where people buy the muffins. Do
they prefer to buy frozen muffins at the grocery store or in a
bakery? Do they prefer to buy ready-made muffins or the type you
have to bake in the oven?
- Pricing. What prices are they willing
to pay for the muffins?
- Promotion. How are they made aware
of the availability of muffins? Do they read about them in newspaper
ads, flyers on the street, friends referring them to a local bakery
or becoming aware of the bakery because it is on their way to
work or home?
- Competition. Where do they presently
buy muffins? Is there anything they would do to improve the muffins
presently bought or available?
The types of questions to ask vary from one
set of conditions to the next. And you have to be very careful when
posing questions related to the backgrounds of the people buying
the muffins. Anonymity will guarantee greater and more reliable
Finally, there is the matter of where you seek
the responses and how many responses you get. Surveying people where
your muffins are not likely to be accessible is certainly a waste
of time. Secondly, getting responses from 200 people is likely to
give you a greater accuracy than data from 20 people.
I have only touched the surface addressing the
issues of survey intent, content and analysis. So here are a couple
of online sites that will help to broaden your understanding of
matters to consider when seeking objective results:
is apparently a fee-based service, but I found a page on the site
that explains the contents of a downloadable software application
for composing your own survey. Click
on any of the titles, and you get a very precise, accurate
description of that element in survey development.
- The American
Statistical Association provides a wonderful online brochure,
To Collect Survey Data, that more fully describes basic surveying
principles only addressed briefly in my response.
There are many other links, but these should
give you a good start to developing and conducting your survey.
I wish you well.
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