Free online surveys provide economical and easy-to-use templates for designing surveys. Survey design software is also available online (or offline) and can typically be found for low cost or even no cost. Research surveys can be expensive undertakings for small business owners. Instead of developing a new survey from start to finish, try using available, free survey resources online or use templates and samples to create your own.
Understanding how to write a survey is certainly one of the first steps in survey development however, just as important is how to create the survey and how to deliver it.
These days there are a number of free online surveys that you can use to build your online survey ... the reason to build an online survey is to minimize the cost of survey development and distribution.
By creating and publishing a survey online, you can also minimize the cost of your time spent creating it (free survey tools often offer template-type questions that you can review and use if applicable).
But be careful that your economical online survey tool doesn't produce a cheap-looking product, one that asks the wrong questions or one that isn't clearly understood.
Also be careful to limit the number of questions asked - because the survey doesn't cost much to develop, the tendency is to ask a lot of questions - but too many questions result in fewer people taking the time to respond.
You want your survey to look professional and to encourage participation and responses:
You need to ask the right questions (the tool or template can't help you develop and decide the questions to ask because the tool doesn't know what you need answered) in the best format for your respondents;
You need to target your market or sample precisely;
Your surveys need to be distributed easily and seamlessly;
And you need to be able to compile and analyze the responses accurately and in a way that will enable you to act on the responses.
Define: What do you want to know?
Identify: Is it a problem to be solved?
Identify: Or a decision to be made? (Ensure that this is a measurable element in your survey: e.g. if customers surveyed prefer blue over yellow it's important to know how many more prefer the one color over another.)
What do you need to know to solve the problem or make the decision?
Who is your target respondent/audience (your 'sample' in market research language)?
As a small business owner, why should you care about developing and launching surveys? Because, if used effectively, surveys will help you build your business strategy, contribute to your business plan outline, confirm that your market segmentation and target marketing is correctly focused, assess how your customers feel about how you manage customer service, provide strong direction for your employee recruiting and human resource planning programs.
In essence, building a strong surveys program can help you in managing your business. And with free online survey tools, such as survey monkey or zoomerang, you can do research and analysis very economically (just your time).
Of the free online surveys that I have used, all of them offer their basic package for free (you can only ask a set number of questions, you can only save your survey and responses for a limited number of days, you can only use basic analytical tools) and a more in-depth package for a price.
Often the free package can work very well for many of the surveys you might want to conduct. You may wish to pay for more significant survey development; that is, a survey where the answers will lead you and your business into a costly decision (or not).
Most free online survey products provide a template-based survey tool. You can pick the look and feel, the style of questions (multiple choice, ranked questions, drop menus, open ended questions, and more), how you want your survey measured, and there are basic analytical tools for the responses.
Note: Because it is so easy to develop a survey online, I've created surveys online that were never destined for an online environment. By creating the survey online, I am able to design it, lay it out, print the survey, mail it out in a self-addressed, postage prepaid envelope. When the responses came back in the mail, someone in the office entered the responses and then ran the free analytics to see what the responses indicated.
A little bit of extra work is required to input the responses (and someone should check for input errors) but the benefit is in the great analytical tools that most survey companies offer.
This seems to work better from online to offline. Offline surveys converted to an online survey need to be adapted more significantly to be effective.
With most online surveys, you can also launch your survey via email or post a link on your website.
From the respondent's perspective, online surveys are more desirable too.
Respondents prefer to do the survey on their schedule (whereas a phone or face-to-face survey is not within their control). They prefer the perceived speed; you need to develop your survey to be completed in a short period of time (or you'll lose your respondent's attention span) and you need to develop your survey with a progress bar which shows respondents how much more (estimated) time they need to spend on answering. Printed and/or mailed surveys often are fairly long; too long for many.
Read more about Survey Development.
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(Note from Kris: I was happy to give permission to use as the source was fully credited.)
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