Task for a Professional

In the old days, when most shops were owned by families, it was easy enough to ask customers what they wanted across the counter. Now that everything needs to be done on a much larger scale, it is easy to forget that the same down-to-earth principles apply. As Table 2-1 makes plain, you don't necessarily need to know everything about market research to do a perfectly sensible job.

Table 2-1

The Pros and Cons of Doing It Yourself

Aspect

Professionals

In-House

Cost

Fees and hourly rates usually restrict use to established companies.

Costs theoretically negligible but it takes staff away from other work.

Experience

Sensitive areas (sexual and political preferences, and so on) need sophisticated approaches by experienced researchers.

If you know your business, you should be able to phrase the questions and assess the answers.

Area of inquiry

Contractors need careful briefing in advance.

This is your forte.

Objectivity

It is easier for outsiders to be dispassionate.

There may be problems assessing marginal responses.

Young firms often go about research like this:

1. It costs nothing to ask a research company about a potential project. Unless they have studied statistical theory and worked as researchers, start-up firms approach a couple of likely research firms and explain what they want to achieve; ask how the research outfit would go about it; the costs; how they would interpret results, and how long the exercise would take.

2. Where the budget is limited, they often decide to conduct the interviews themselves. After all, they know their product. But they retain the professionals to specify the sample, frame the questions, and interpret the results.

3. If they can't afford professional help, they conduct the entire survey themselves. Many make a pretty good job of it.

There is no justification for fooling yourself into thinking that research is a luxury. If you think you can't afford to find out whether your project is likely to be profitable, you can't afford to develop it. Remember this true story. Not that long ago the operator at Capetown's fire department got a late-night call from a woman in a phone booth.

"Send an engine!" she shouted.

"Yes madam," replied the operator, "tell me your address."

"Never mind my address," shrieked the woman adding, "just send the fire engine!" as she slammed down the phone.

Try as she might the operator couldn't raise an answer from the phone booth. A week later one of the firemen cycling to work by an unusual route passed the ruins of a house in the Tamboers Kloof district razed to the ground.

If you don't provide all the pertinent information, your product is doomed to fail.

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