Likert? I don't even know 'er!
June 27, 2012 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm narrowing down the services I could offer when I become self-employed. Is survey design and analysis a viable service for a one-person business to offer, or do clients only trust big research firms with that sort of thing?

I'm planning to leave my job later this year to pursue consulting, either for the short term or until I find a less dreadful job. I have extensive experience in my field as well as a related Master's degree, and I am narrowing down the services that I can provide to clients.

The thing I am best at and like the most is survey design and analysis. I would really enjoy creating effective surveys and other research tools for small businesses and other organizations in my field. For example, market research questionnaires, satisfaction questionnaires, maybe extend into focus groups, case studies, etc. Then, with that, I would provide a dashboard of results and detailed analysis.

I have experience in many types of research design as well as statistical analysis, and I have CITI/IRB training (though that will expire soon). I could build surveys in a product on my server (such as Lime Survey) or go with a premium SurveyMonkey plan, so the technology is not an issue either.

So I don't think it's a question of if I can do the work so much as will small businesses be interested the work? I'm not seeing many other one-person businesses that do this, but I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. My work would be less costly and more hands-on than a big research firm, and more accurate and effective than many in-house approaches… but is that enough to appeal to small businesses? Is this a worthwhile service for a one-person business to offer?

I do see the irony of using AskMe for this question instead of a serious survey.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's all about your network. I have several clients who would benefit from occasional work with someone like you, but I would want to be familiar with your work before recommending you to them. Are there people who you've worked with in the past who might bring you on to projects like this? If you can partner with other consultants in marketing/strategy areas, you may find plenty of work - you can likely even work remotely with companies in other parts of the country/world.
posted by judith at 6:14 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

On occasion I team up with solo folks and very small companies who do this kind of work in order to submit a competitive proposal. Without exception, they are boutique firms with an extremely specific niche.

I warn you that not all clients will appreciate your rigor, nor will they understand your statistical analysis. Worse, they may not even value it. Compared to you, I only dabble in this work and am often frustrated by clients' failure to grasp/accept such basics as sampling techniques and how to avoid biasing focus group participants. As you think about your target markets, consider whether their outlook comports with your professional standards.

If I were you, I'd try identifying associations that serve a field that interests you where relative performance data would be welcome. There are plenty that can't provide such information or would like to do periodic research, e.g., on salary trends or various operating parameters specific to that industry. Then you could position your work as a potential membership benefit and/or an earned revenue opportunity for the association. Moreover, if you were strategic it would introduce your work to all of the enterprises in that field while, at the same time, setting you up for a regular recurring gig. You might get started by working with the association to create some kind of industry dashboard. One way you might identify some likely candidates is to find out from your local CVB what associations are meeting in your city over the next few months (including state chapters of national groups). A little advance work might lead to a meeting at the conference.

Good luck!
posted by carmicha at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and regarding your question's headline, don't do anything Rasch...
posted by carmicha at 7:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do think there is a market for this for small-mid sized companies but agree that it is all about how you market yourself.

I worked in internal communications for a company with 500 employees. I worked with a large survey design company (but would have preferred an individual consultant or small company) to design an all-employee survey that could be used each fiscal quarter.

Many companies also do a semi-annual 'pulse' survey to measure employee satisfaction.

I think it would be worth developing some marketing materials, maybe start using twitter, a blog, develop some infographics if you can. Reach out to the HR departments at companies you want to target. Companies need your help to get data that is useful to them! People do not know how to design surveys. A lot of companies I've worked at will use a different survey each time, then try to compare results with two surveys that asked questions completely differently. They just don't know what they're doing. What they want is a set of questions that will give them the data they're looking for, in a tool they can use themselves (ie SurveyMonkey).

I don't think there's necessarily a barrier in that you are a solo operation. In my experience, I would often prefer to work with an individual or smaller company.

Good luck!
posted by Pademelon at 8:11 PM on June 27, 2012

i think you'll have a very hard time, if it's not impossible.

there are some great comments so far. take them to heart.

what you're proposing is something you might do after 15 to 20 years of business experience in that area. it's not just building a network, a network with the right people, it's the legitimacy that the BUSINESS experience gives you.

no one will care about your degree or your IRB cert or your publications. they will care about how many of these projects you've been able to pull of in the past without f-ing them up. the only credible way for them to know that is if someone kept giving you money for 10-20 years.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:35 PM on June 27, 2012

You might get some traction marketing yourself to state government agencies and nonprofit organizations that get federal grants. Evaluation is usually a requirement for those, but it's something in which the recipients don't necessarily have interest or skill.
posted by lakeroon at 3:59 AM on June 28, 2012

In the museum world, we use one-person and small groups for this service. However, it's usually couched in a menu of broader services than just survey design and analysis; we usually want more total evaluation services than just one, so we're not left hanging. So you'll see a good example in Randi Korn & Associates (though they're actually a big group) or PPD Research (which is actually a very small group) - audience research and evaluation, exhibition evaluation, program evaluation...all of these are a bit different. The key is that I think you need some legitimacy understanding the differences to design and speak intelligently about them. The good news is there is a lot of crossover in the world of education and program evaluation, which is needed by most nonprofits (regardless of kind), government organizations, etc. If you're at all interested in the museum/heritage/cultural attraction field the go-to organization to get started learning is the Visitor Studies Association, and also here is their directory of evaluation contractors for further research.
posted by Miko at 6:48 AM on June 28, 2012

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