As a small business, you know how important it is to have the right information when looking for new ways to grow and improve your business.

Constant Contact recently surveyed 1,200 small business owners and asked them about how they were using data to drive business decisions. 67 percent said they believe data can help them retain existing customers, while 65 percent said data helps improve customer experience.

When you think about how your business is using data to inform business decisions, you might think of things like: email marketing reports, website analytics, social media insights, or sales receipts.

But did you also know, you can take things a step further and do research of your own?

Conducting research and collecting feedback is a valuable exercise for small businesses who want to:

  • Understand the causes of a problem
  • Improve an experience, product, or service
  • Assess customer needs and expectations
  • Determine receptivity of new products or services

You can conduct this research offline, through face-to-face interactions, or online with an online survey.

If you’re interested in digging into one or more of these areas, the first thing you need to do is to come up with a research question.

Good research questions are answerable with the resources you have available, and are directly relevant to your business goals.

Let’s say you wanted to learn more about your target audience.

Your research questions may be:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What is their demographic make-up?
  • What time of year do they need our products/services most?
  • Why are they loyal to our business?
  • How did they hear about our business?

With a research question in mind, you can then put a plan in place to collect your data.

One of the easiest ways to collect data from your customers is to use an online survey. With an online survey, you can craft a series of questions and collect feedback by promoting your survey to your email list or on social media.

The questions you include in the survey should be focused on the research question you’re trying to answer.

It is always tempting to ask about everything that’s on your mind; however, your customers will appreciate if you keep the survey short (i.e. 10-12 questions). Remember, you can always ask for additional customer input at a later point in time.

Write questions in common language that everyone can understand.  Watch out for specialized language or acronyms.

Before sending your survey to your wider audience, test it on a smaller group to get their feedback.

Did they get confused by any of your questions?  Were they able to find a relevant answer to your multiple choice questions?

Use their feedback to tweak your survey before sending it to your entire list.

Lastly, you need to make sure you have a plan in place to analyze the data and use it to your advantage.

You started with a research question. You created a survey to help answer that question. And now you have access to information that was unavailable just a short time ago.

Try to identify at least 2-3 key takeaways you can use from your survey, and take some time to access the results. In some cases, the results will be in line with your original thinking and you can confirm your ideas. But there could also be surprises or results that stand out and cause you to tweak your original plans.

So to recap:

  • Come up with a research question you want to answer. Think of something that you want to learn that you can’t easily access from your existing business or marketing reports.
  • Next, create a survey to help answer your research question. The survey should include questions that are relevant to the research question you’re trying to answer. Try to stick to a maximum of 10-12 questions.
  • Test your survey on a smaller group before sending it out to your wider audience. Make any necessary adjustments, and then use your different communication channels — like email and social media — to send it your target audience.
  • Take the time to analyze your results and identify actionable takeaways that you can use to improve your business or better serve your customers.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be able get the insights you need to be successful.

Have questions? I’d love to help you with them. Post your questions in the comments below.