A Quick Guide to DIY Research

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that research firms (including us!) don’t want you to know: You can do market research yourself. Will your results be perfect? Nope. Will they be good enough based on your needs? Probably. Now, I’m not suggesting that professional market research doesn’t have its place. If you are launching a new brand, merging, or repositioning a major product or offering, by all means hire a research firm. But for basic customer and employee feedback, a DIY approach is a great option. 

One of the simplest DIY research methods is conducting a digital survey. These are easy to set up using services like Survey Monkey, are cheap, and have a wide reach when sent through email. Following these simple rules will ensure that your DIY research project is as close as possible to what the pros would deliver.

1. Keep it short

Time is valuable, so respect it.  If the survey is being sent to customers, this is especially important. Surveys that are too long will either be ignored or abandoned halfway through. Try to keep your survey under 5 minutes and let respondents know up front how long it will take. Placing a progress bar at the bottom of the survey can also help remind the respondents how much farther they have to go. 

2. Offer rewards to drive responses 

People love free stuff. Offering a reward, such as a coupon or gift card to each respondent is best. If this isn’t possible, even offering to enter respondents in a drawing to receive a single gift card or offering to make a charitable donation per respondent can help. The bottom line is that you are asking the respondents to do you a favor by completing the survey; if they feel they will get something in return, they are more likely to participate.

3. Use screening questions

If possible, send a link to the survey only to those people who fit the criteria to take it. When this isn’t possible, screening questions can be a big help. For example, if those taking your survey need to own a certain type of phone, ask that up front and screen out those who don’t make the cut. Otherwise you risk confusing your results and wasting everybody’s time. 

4. Avoid questions that you can look up the answer to

Double-check your survey to make sure there are no questions that you already know the answers to. For example, don’t ask your clients how far they live from your location if you already have their addresses on file. This frees up room for more questions that will provide new information in the answers. 

5. Don’t be afraid to follow up 

Digital survey response rates tend to be low. But don’t give up. Send follow-up emails to those on your list who did not respond. You can even offer people who are being invited again a slightly higher reward to participate.  You won’t get everyone, but you will grow your sample size. 

Before you starting “DIYing” research left and right, there is one last golden rule to follow:

6. Make sure everything you research is actionable 

And I mean EVERYTHING. Make sure each question on your survey will help make a decision. You can test this by running through the questions with your team. Ask what steps you will take based on each potential result. If the steps are the same regardless of the answers to a particular question, get rid of it! It isn’t actionable. 

Along the same lines, don’t do research just because it has always been done. Research projects tend to be conducted year after year, with the results printed in a paper that nobody reads and then stashed in a file that nobody opens. Stop doing useless research by making sure all research you do will lead to actionable results. 


Following these simple rules will ensure that your research efforts are on point and provide valuable insights. They won’t be perfect, but that is okay since they will point you in the right direction. If you come up with interesting or surprising results, you can always hire a research firm to dig deeper. 

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