By , on Business Planning, Market Research.

How many times have you sat down and thought ‘I need more business – should I be offering more products? Are my prices scaring people off? Do I need to do raise my profile?…” Rather than getting out your crystal ball, there’s only one sure-fire way of finding out what people think of you – and that’s to ask them. Before the internet, a customer survey was a pretty tedious task – you had to design your questions, print it out, send the survey to your customers or prospects and hope that they would take the time and trouble to fill it in and mail it back to you. Weeks later, if you were lucky, you would have a little pile of replies to go through and results to collate and interpret. It was more than likely that the sample wasn’t large enough to be meaningful, so the time and expense was hard to justify.

With the internet, you now have the possibility of conducting online surveys. And if you’re not already, then this is the time to get started. Here are 5 top survey tips to get your business kick started.

1. Design questions carefully around what it is you wish to know

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s easy to be drawn into ‘survey clichés’ – asking for things such as age and location, just because that’s what surveys always seem to ask. Each of your questions should have a rationale – why do you want to know that? To what use will you put that information? And pare it down to as few questions as possible. Finding out 5 key facts is more useful than 20 general ones – and remember the longer your questionnaire the more likely your respondents will be to drop out and leave it incomplete.

2. Unless you are a real techie, use an ASP service

There’s no need to sweat over Perl scripts and importing tab-delimited files. There are many services which allow you to create online surveys very simply, store the responses in a database and provide you with the results in user-friendly graphical format. You are given the code to insert into your webpage or email which takes the respondent to the survey. You can usual customize the look of the survey, and set the criteria so that people can only fill it in once, for example. Some of the solution providers are more pricey than others, but one that it easy to use and reasonably priced is SurveyMonkey,com.  Their basic service is free.
3. Online surveys enjoy far higher rates of response than offline surveys
Clicking through an online survey really does only take a few minutes. People are simply more likely to fill it in when it’s this straightforward. If you combine your survey with a small incentive or ‘thank you’, or entry into a prize draw, response rates climb even higher.
4. Send your survey to your email subscribers and encourage it to be forwarded
Permission-only email lists already enjoy higher open and click-through rates than unsolicited email. Utilize the goodwill of your list and encourage (or incentivise) them to forward the email to a friend. That way the link to the survey is likely to reach more people with similar interests/tastes.
5. Remember to thank them – and act on the information gathered
The final question should be followed by a thank-you page. Don’t forget to gather respondents’ email addresses, and permission to contact them again with future surveys. Survey results should be acted on, not sat on for months. Your customers have gone to the trouble of giving you feedback, so the worst thing you can do is to appear to ignore it. You could mention some of the results in your email newsletter, on your website, or in a press release – together with how you are answering the issues raised. Your survey results may even be newsworthy. But if you do make this information public, be sure to respect your respondents’ privacy and not mention individual names. 
One thing’s for sure – you’ll learn a lot and the knowledge you gain will help you rejuvenate your business. Good luck!

Robin Houghton advises small businesses and non-profits on how to make the most of their marketing budget, specializing in online. With a masters degree in Digital Media, she also writes for a variety of offline and online media.  You can contact Robin or visit her web site at