Being an entrepreneur sometimes feels like you’re playing the guitar while you’ve got a tambourine on top of your head, a harmonica in your mouth, and cymbals between your knees.

It therefore follows that there are many things that entrepreneurial companies of all sizes take a crack at doing themselves, even if they’ve never done it before. Customer and market research is often one of these areas.

Because most entrepreneurial companies are not in a position to hire a market research professional, we recently created a basic how-to research class for 1871, Chicago’s tech incubator. While it was formally titled How To Conduct Effective Research, it’s really an overview of the Top Ten Research Mistakes Made By Entrepreneurs.

The most common research mistakes I encounter fall into three main camps:
– Research methodology selection
– The questions asked and the answer choices provided
– The care & feeding of respondents/participants

Today’s blog post addresses the first category, research methodology. This really boils down to how to decide whether you are going to conduct Quantitative or Qualitative research.

Mistake #1. Thinking Quant is better than Qual
While achieving statistical significance can be very useful, most of my clients don’t have easy, inexpensive access to 600 relevant potential respondents. That’s what would be necessary to get the bare minimum 30 responses required for results to be statistically significant, assuming a somewhat high 5% response rate.

In order to do even a modicum of segmentation with your responses, you really want to get at least 100 of them. Doing the math, this means you’d need to start with 2000 names, again at a 5% response rate.

For most start-ups, and even many of my mid-sized clients, this makes quantitative research a non-starter unless they’re willing to pay for someone to source relevant respondents for them. And generally they are not! So while quantitative research can be very valuable because of the higher degree of certainty and ability to extrapolate, many times qualitative is the right way to go.

Mistake #2. Research = Focus Groups
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone equated market research with focus groups. Everyone seems to think that research is simply a matter of “We’ll just get a few people together informally and talk to them.” Focus groups are just one methodology option and, for entrepreneurs, not necessarily a sensible one.

I often tell clients that there is a reason why research moderators make very good livings coordinating and moderating focus groups – it’s because it’s not easy to do it well!

On the flip side, I absolutely recommend having 1:1 conversations with clients and potential clients. The more that is learned directly from the horse’s mouth the better, and 1:1s are not only easier to coordinate, they’re easier for an amateur to conduct.

If you do conduct some 1:1 interviews, please remember that it’s not enough to have the conversation. You should write down what you hear and learn to try to ensure that the information remains unclouded by the effects of time and distant memory.

Avoiding these common market research methodology mistakes will not only help you make better use of your time and resources, it will get you information you can use to drive your company forward for future growth in a more informed way!

In future posts, we’ll cover the other eight common mistakes in the two remaining categories:
– Questions and Answers
– The care & feeding of your respondents/participants