Market Surveys for Small Business: How and Why to Carry out your own DIY Consumer Surveys

Marketing is widely seen as a complex science whose practitioners’ services – and fees – are beyond the reach of small business.

In practice many marketing techniques and practices are no more than applied common sense, and are essential tools in building and running a successful small business. One of the most useful marketing tools is the market survey, or consumer survey.

Why use a Market Survey?

A generalised market survey or customer survey of existing cutomers, can provide the answers to the four central questions which any business needs to ask:

  • Who are our core customers or clients?
  • What do they want?
  • How can we best provide it?
  • How can we tell them about it?

However, market surveys can also be used to answer more specific questions:

  1. How is a projected new product likely to be received?
  2. How do customers perceive the value of our product? Is our pricing right?
  3. Where should we place our advertising?
  4. Is our advertising cost effective?
  5. How do customers/clients perceive our business’s strengths and weaknesses?

Market or customer surveys can also be used to build up a customer database or mailing list, but this is likely to create legal obligations under Data Protection legislation, which should be checked.

Preparing a Market Survey Questionaire

Producing your own Market Survey Questionaire is quite easy if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Decide at the outset the key questions which you seek to answer.
  • Keep it short. Ten or a dozen questions on one A4 sheet should produce a useful result without testing the responder’s patience.
  • Avoid questions requiring a narrative answer. Best is a simple “yes” or “no” reply. Where you ask for gradings of approval, “smiley faces” may provide a simple, light hearted option – JKL. Answers can then be given a numerical value, making computer analysis easy.
  • Beware questions drawing on the responder’s memory. Questions like “Where did you hear about us?” often produce very unreliable results.
  • Any request for the responder’s name and address, is best made optional; anonymous answers often include some uncomfortably truthful but helpful criticism!

Completing the Market Survey Questionaire

Many people regard a request to take part in a market survey as an imposition on their time and privacy. These are the customers whose answers are often most useful and it’s important to encourage them to participate.

Offering a small reward for their time and trouble – a free gift, a money off offer, or entry in a prize draw – often helps.

How the survey is carried out may also help; options include:

  1. By completing a written form.
  2. On line on the internet.
  3. In a telephone conversation.
  4. In a face to face conversation.

Options 1 and 2 are generally the most successful provided the questions are simple and well framed, as responders feel less pressure and can choose when and where to answer.

Obtaining a Balanced Market Survey Sample

For a simple business with a homogeneous customer base a hundred or so responses may be enough to achieve a useful result.

For businesses with a more diverse customer base, for example with geographical or seasonal variations, a larger number of responses may be necessary to give a reliable result, and care is needed to reflect these variations in the survey sample.

Analysing the Results of A Market Survey

Provide the questions are simple, allowing the answers to be given a numerical value, anyone with basic computer skills can enter the results in a simple DIY database and draw useful conclusions.

Where you use computer analysis always check the Data Protection legislation implications.

Small or Home-based Business Ownership Options: Choosing the Right Legal Entity for Your Small Business

When starting a business of any size, it is important to determine which legal business structure is best. For small businesses, especially a home-based business, this step may be considered unnecessary or simply may be overlooked. The type of entity chosen, however, has very specific tax consequences and legal ramifications. Do not leave this decision to chance. Research the options available and choose the entity that best fits the type of business and the parties involved.

Sole Proprietor – A Simple Form of Business Ownership

A sole proprietorship is a very common, very simple form of business. Although usually operated by an individual, a married couple may also conduct business as a sole proprietor. For tax and liability purposes, a sole proprietorship is legally inseparable from the owner. This form has many advantages in that it is easy and inexpensive to set up and federal income taxes are simple to report on a Schedule C form.

The disadvantages to operating as a sole proprietor stem from the primary advantages. Due to the simplicity of the structure, a sole proprietorship offers no protection to the owner from taxes or liability. All of a sole proprietor’s personal assets, not just the assets of the business, are potentially at risk should creditors come calling.

General Partnership – A Simple Business Structure for Multiple Owners

When two or more people elect to conduct business together, a general partnership is a relatively easy form of business to set up. Forming a partnership, especially when only two individuals are involved, is often done through a verbal agreement but it is important to create a valid, written partnership agreement as soon as possible.

A partnership agreement should include how ownership is shared, the time commitment and financial investment expected from each partner, how decisions will be made and disputes resolved, how profits will be divided, and how new partners may enter or existing partners may exit. It should also clearly state what action will be taken in the event of death or disability of a partner and provide for other contingencies, such as dissolution, as well.

As with a sole proprietorship, all personal assets of the partners involved in a general partnership are potentially at risk to satisfy taxes or other liabilities. When considering a partnership, bear in mind that each partner is liable for the actions of all the partners. For federal income tax reporting purposes, the partnership files an informational return and the income allocated to each partner is then included on each partner’s tax return.

Other forms of partnership that are not covered here include a Limited Partnership, where liability is limited to the extent of the partner’s investment, and a Joint Venture, where the partnership is formed for a specific time period or project only. Both of these business entities are more complex to form than a General Partnership and require adherence to certain formalities.

Corporation – A Separate Business Entity

Held by shareholders and run by a board of directors, a corporation is a separate legal entity chartered by a state. Set up as a nonprofit or for profit venture, a C Corporation is complex and expensive compared to other business forms but generally shields shareholders from liability. C Corporations are stringently regulated and taxes are paid on profits by the corporation and then again when distributed to shareholders.

An S Corporation provides the asset protection advantages of a C Corporation but is taxed in the same way as a partnership. Taxes on profits are paid by the shareholders only; the corporation itself pays no tax separately. As with a C Corporation, an S Corporation is owned by shareholders, run by a board of directors and subject to regulation.

Limited Liability Company (LLC) – A Flexible Business Structure

Combining the protection from liability advantages of a corporation with the tax advantages of a sole proprietorship or partnership, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) provides a flexibility that may be especially attractive to small business. Rather than stockholders, the owners of an LLC are members who manage the company or appoint others to do so. In addition, an LLC may choose to be taxed like a corporation but will still not be bound by corporate formalities.

Choose Your Business Structure Wisely

When starting a business, it is important to choose the structure carefully. Each type of entity comes with a specific set of restrictions, as well as legal and tax ramifications. While a sole proprietorship can often be set up without assistance, it is usually best to consult an attorney when creating a partnership agreement or contemplating a corporation or LLC. Thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of each possibility before choosing a structure for any business.

There are a variety of online resources to assist any budding entrepreneur. For more information on starting a small business, start with the Small Business Administration. For tax specific information, get answers straight from the IRS website.

Green Ideas for Small Businesses: Tips for Making a Small Business Green

With all the emphasis on being green in today’s culture, many small business owners would like to be more eco-friendly. However, it is a challenge to try to make green choices and stay within the limited budget that most small businesses have. Try some of these low or no cost options for showing customers that for this small business, the emphasis is on green.

Recycle

Recycling is such a simple thing to do. The key is to never recycle confidential information. Shred anything that has customer addresses or financial information on it. Packing material, printing mistakes and outdated flyers are fair game. Let customers know that recycling is being practiced by placing a bin labeled with a recycling symbol in an area that they can access. It is a free public relations move that can help cut down on clean up, since customers will be more apt to put receipts or flyers they don’t want in the bin instead of dropping them on the floor as they head out the door.

Sell Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable shopping bags are not just green; they are a great marketing tool. Every time a customer carries that shopping bag, whether it is filled with library books or has just made another trip to and from the business where it was originally purchased, the bag’s logo is being seen by other people. Sturdy canvas bags with flat bottoms are a big favorite with most people. Additional features, such as the ability to fold up into a zippered pouch or a pocket in the bag for small items, will make the bags a favorite with customers.

Change the Light Bulbs

Some small businesses and even large businesses decide to save energy by turning off lights or using dimmers. While this is a fine idea for storage areas, it isn’t as great for parts of the building that customers are in or for areas where employees are working. Instead, switch traditional bulbs for energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are a great way to help the environment and help a business save money at the same time because they use much less energy. While they cost as much as four times more than regular light bulbs, Energy Star says that these CFL bulbs can provide substantial savings on electric bills. In addition, they provide a much cooler type of light, which can mean additional savings on summer cooling costs.

Advantages of Having a Small Business Brochure

Every small business should have a brochure. The brochure helps your small business to become better known in the market place. It helps the customer get a detailed account of your company or service. Brochures are not just for large corporations, but for small businesses and consultants also.

Here are some advantages of having a brochure.

A Brochure Gives Credibility to a Small Business.

The brochure lets prospects know that your small business is reputable and that they can take you seriously. Your company is here and ready to compete. “Anyone can spend $50 on letterhead and business cards and call themselves a corporation. But a brochure proves you are in business and shows you’re more than a fly-by-night operation,” according to Mr. Bly’s book titled, The Copywriter’s Handbook.

 The Brochure Tells

This is the perfect way to tell the customer everything in detail about your small business. This may sound obvious but there are many small business brochures that I have read that are merely just a long list of items, giving no details about the company, the service, or how it works. According to Ms. Maas’s book, Better Brochures, Catalogs and Mailing Pieces, “Tell customers what is included, what are the costs, what are the hours. Graphic devices can help to spotlight important information.”

A Brochure Can Help to Sell Your Business

A small business brochure can help to sell your business and make a big difference, when prospects ask for more information. Customers want to read about your business or product, especially if they are about to spend a lot of money. They want to make sure they are making the right decision.

The Brochure Can Support Your Advertisement

It can be used along with direct mail; after the sales letter the prospect wants more information. The brochure is another sales tool. The brochure is designed to fit into a standard envelope and can be mailed along with the sales letter. It provides information about your sales points, list features and contains photos about your product or service. They are used by salespeople to leave behind after a presentation. Brochures are great to take along when networking.

Keep in mind that people will read the brochure as long as it informs and positions your product or service as the solution. The brochure for your small business is a great way to give your customers enough information about your product or service.

Benefits of Opening a Small Business in the United States

Opening a small business provides several advantages for the owner. It gives an individual the opportunity to control how he makes his living and to spend his time doing so. Small businesses also provide a way for owners to help their communities grow by offering jobs and paying taxes. The income potential of running a small business is also a great advantage.

Control of Your Business

Becoming a ‘boss’ is one of the main reasons for opening a small business. An owner has the authority to set their own rules and hire and train employees and staff. He has the power to choose a business location, set prices for his services or products and pick the company’s name. One of the intangible factors that make an individual open a small business is that it gives him the opportunity to make money doing something he wants to do. Having total control over a business also allows the owner to work the hours he wants so he can spend more time with his family on his schedule.

Income Potential

A person goes into business for herself to increase her money-making potential. A small business owner reaps the profits of the successful business. The difference in salary between a small business owner and a worker in the United States is significant. According to PayScale, the average salary of a small business owner was $70,447 per year ($39,540-$101,354). In 2015, the average worker’s salary in the United States for all occupations was $43,460 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 The Ability to Put Americans To Work

Small businesses make the United States economy strong. According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, 99.9 percent of all employers were considered small firms (companies with less than 500 employees) in 2017. Small businesses operate in all communities across the country, providing jobs to millions of Americans. Examples of small businesses include physician and dental offices, retail and grocery stores, restaurants, car repair shops and web design, online and other home-based businesses. The Department of Commerce also reported that small businesses employed over half (60.7 million) of all workers in the United States (120.6 million).

Time Management Software for Small Business: How to Choose the Best Time Management Software Package

Implementing and using a quality time management software package can reduce stress and increase productivity for a small business owner. With so many comprehensive time management software products available on the market, it is challenging for a small business owner to make an informed purchase decision without feeling overwhelmed. Here are some basic things to consider to simplify the shopping process:

Time Management Software Must be Easy to Use

A time management software system that is difficult to install, overly challenging to learn, or cumbersome to maintain will likely be abandoned before any real benefits are realized. When comparing time management software options, consider the learning curve. Look for products which include short video tutorials, quick-start materials, and a comprehensive “help” menu.

Time Management Software Should Integrate and Synchronize with Other Small Business Tools

The ideal time management software system will integrate and synchronize with other productivity and communication tools. Some time management software products integrate with popular time management systems, such as GTD (Getting Things Done) or FranklinCovey. Look for time management software that synchronizes with the Microsoft Outlook calendar and task folders. Since Outlook synchronizes to most PDAs, Blackberries, and Smartphones, this allows for portability of the time management system.

Look for Flexibility and Features That Best Serve the Small Business

There are no one-size-fits-all time management or productivity solutions for small businesses. Depending on the nature of the small business, some small business owners may be able to plan for a few months a time, while others work in a rapidly changing environment and must plan on the go. When shopping for time management software, make sure the system offers the flexibility and features needed for the specific small business. While functions such as pop-up reminders, importing of motivational images, search capability, color-coding prioritization, and time management training all have their place, there is no point in paying extra for features if they will not be used.

Find Out How the Time Management Software is Reviewed, Supported, and Guaranteed

Look for and study independent consumer reviews on the internet. How do customers review the functionality and support of the time management software product? Some products also offer user forums which are open to the public, so review these to monitor user satisfaction and product support. Ideally, the product will come with a 30-day or longer trial period and a money-back guarantee.

The optimal time management software system will offer the small business owner ease of use, integration and synchronization capabilities, flexibility, useful features, and reliable product support. By being a wise consumer, the small business owner can feel confident in the purchase decision and enjoy the rewards that come with using quality time management software.