Having recently fallen victim to corporate downsizing within the largest US media research company, the researcher has identified a need and decided to pursue an alternative career path. Given the recent economic climate, there appears to be an increased prevalence in the use of surveys, polls and questionnaires among US businesses to gauge their customer’s needs, streamline costs and increase profitability. Although many large US companies still employ a survey research staff, it appears many are choosing to downsize survey research staff and hiring independent consultants or firms for various research projects solely or in collaboration with in-house staff in order to improve efficiency and provide cost savings.
In addition, there are many small businesses and organizations who although have the greatest need for market research to sustain and increase their business by identifying the needs of their customers and clients, simply do not have this type of talent. Many may not have enough survey related work to justify a full time staff member and/or sufficient workload or budget to interest larger full service research providers. As such, there appears to be a significant business need for highly skilled individuals who can design research studies, including survey development and numerous tasks needed to properly field a research study to provide an organization with accurate results to identify their unique needs, achieve their goals and increase profitability.
The research being proposed here involves conducting a research feasibility study of starting a small entrepreneurial business for survey research consulting. The main focus of the study will be fielding an online survey of small businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies. The sample for this study will be limited to smaller entities that have a need to conduct quantitative research on a fairly regular basis, or at least occasionally. An additional focus of the study will be to conduct extensive secondary research into the current business environment in the survey research industry. This will have a particular focus on the availability of services and the competitive situation for the market niche of small organizations.
A sample will be obtained of organizations in fields that benefit from and need to conduct research surveys. This sample will come from research on the part of the researcher and/or via a survey sample provider that maintains such databases. The goal of surveying this group of organizations is to gain insights into the market potential for independent consulting jobs. This will be done with an online survey questionnaire gauging the respondents’ needs, attitudes and perspectives. Topics to be including would be 1) use of online surveys, data analysis and reporting 2) the use of independent consultants versus in-house resources or large full services research organizations as a complete solutions provider or as expert collaborative consultants.
A survey of potential clients should give a good overview of the business opportunity that exists in the marketplace. This will help the researcher know if there is a viable market for his business plan. Assuming there is a viable opportunity, the researcher would learn what types of survey work presents the greatest need. The services that the researcher could potentially provide would be to first meet with clients to indentify needs, develop survey questionnaire, distribute, data tabulation and provide results.
The secondary research is to include a review of the business models of existing survey research providers. Conducting a thorough literature search including scholarly articles, business publications, survey / market research publications and websites and the general internet is to be the other part of the secondary research.
Planning and Project Management
First the researcher would devise an overall strategy to gain the knowledge needed to make an informed decision about the viability of moving forward with a business model of starting an independent survey research consulting business. A specific plan would be developed to answer that overall high level research question.
To achieve that goal, the steps introduced in the last section would need to be thoughtfully planned and timed to ensure the project remains on track and on schedule. The researcher would develop a detailed timeline in project management software (e.g. MS Project) that would serve as a guide as the project moved forward. Benchmarks would be included that would ensure that the critical steps in the process would be completed in time to allow moving to the next stage without impacting the schedule.
This sample should be of organizations in fields that benefit from and need to conduct research surveys. The researcher will need to investigate possible sources of this type of sample. Ideally there will be a survey sample provider that maintains such databases, (e.g. SSI, or Harris Interactive) that can provide a one stop solution. However, this sample may need to come from research on the part of the researcher. The sample would need to include the name of the organization and the name and email address of the person at the organization most likely to be willing and able to complete the survey.
The timeline would include tasks that need to be completed for the survey and for the secondary research. The researcher will be responsible for all of the labor to complete both parts of the research. Therefore proper time management and scheduling of tasks will be needed to avoid bottlenecks in the process.
The researcher will develop an online questionnaire that asks the following types of questions (or seeks information):
1. The company (type of business, number of employees, revenues, etc.)
2. Personal demographics of the respondent
3. Attitudes about survey research i.e the importance of surveys, how used, etc.
4. Use of and greatest need for survey research, budget, how many, how often, etc.
5. Preference for survey research vendors i.e large provider, in-house researcher, etc.
6. How and why they would use the survey i.e customers/clients/members/in-house.
7. What services would they be most likely to outsource to an independent consultant.
Implementation and management of survey
The researcher will develop the survey questions and work with a 3rd party vendor or software to create an online survey that the respondent can obtain via an email link that is provided to them. The sample of potential participants will all receive an email from the researcher with a carefully crafted message encouraging them to complete the survey. A small monetary incentive, perhaps a $10 Amazon gift card will be offered as a gift for completing the questionnaire. The invitation will include an estimate of the amount of time needed to complete the questionnaire and a promise not to try to sell them anything. They would also be given a date by which the survey needed to be completed. A follow-up email would be sent after a few days to those that had not yet completed the questionnaire encouraging them to do so.
Data Tabulation and Analysis
Prior to completing the development of the questionnaire the researcher will incorporate an analysis plan into the overall strategy. This would allow thinking about the output of the data collected and how this data could be used to answer the critical research questions.
Once the survey has closed the researcher will import the data into a data analysis software package (e.g. SPSS or Excel). The data would need to be cleaned to make sure there are no erroneous entries. The data for any open-ended questions would need to be recoded into like groups to allow analysis.
The researcher will create cross tabs of the results by type of business, and characteristics of the respondent. He will then examine the resulting cross-tabs looking for trends, and key information important to the research questions. Based on the data he will draw conclusions and recommendations for further action. The viability of the business model will be reviewed at this point and looked at in combination with the secondary research results.
The secondary research to be conducted would include reviewing the business models of existing survey research providers including a close look at SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) issues. This can be accomplished through a review of several proprietary business review databases, such as D&B or One Source. The other part of the secondary research would be conducting a thorough literature search including scholarly articles, business publications, survey / market research publications and websites and the general internet. This process should help the researcher to gain a better perspective into the business environment while keeping abreast on the trends that are developing within the survey research industry.
Once all of the above have been completed the actual writing of the dissertation would begin in earnest. Obviously, there are some parts of the dissertation that would be a work in progress at an earlier point in the process. However the results of the research will be a key to providing insights needed to structure the main text of the dissertation. What follows is a high level timeline for the project.
Obtain and review sample Feb 15 – 20
Develop questionnaire Feb 21 – 27
Send Survey invitations Feb 28
Survey Field Period Feb 28 – March 10
Reminder email March 4
Data Tabulation and Analysis March 11 – March 15
Draw conclusions and prepare to write dissertation March 15 – March 20
Write Dissertation March 21 – April 30