Qualitative and quantitative research for small business

If you’re a time-starved entrepreneur, there’s little doubt that market research can appear a daunting prospect. Where do you begin? You might already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day as you attempt to establish your business, but it’s vital that you ring-fence some time to sit down and better understand your industry before you go ahead with new business ideas.

Market research for small businesses broadly falls into two distinctive categories – qualitative research and quantitative research. Both of which have their own strengths, but when used together, they can provide the type of mixed-methodology research that helps you to clearly understand your target customers’ needs and the quality of your competition.

So, what are the differences between quant vs qual research methods and how can they help businesses like yours to grow?

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is a methodology which focuses on how people feel; what they think and why they make certain choices. For instance, if you are thinking of changing your branding, you would carry out some form of qualitative research to understand the emotional reactions people have to your new identity and what they associate it with.

Are you unsure what is qualitative research? Put simply, it’s a research method which is semi-structured in its output, ensuring that the discussion – either one-on-one or within a focus group – stays on track and relevant to provide the insight you are looking for.

Focus groups

If you choose to host a group discussion with a panel of selected people, choose no more than five to eight participants. A moderator will be necessary to guide the discussion around a range of pre-defined topics. The real skill for a focus group moderator is to remain unbiased throughout any conversation to ensure impartial, accurate answers from your chosen participants.

One-on-one interviews

Direct one-to-one interviews are often carried out as part of qualitative market research, either by telephone or face-to-face. It’s a more personal approach to getting the views of your chosen participants, allowing them to talk more candidly and openly about their own opinions. This can be a more suitable form of qualitative market research if the topic of conversation is of a particularly personal or sensitive nature, allowing you to engage one-on-one without any outside influences.

The benefits of qualitative research for small businesses

  • Qualitative research tends to be transcribed or recorded via audio or video, making it easy to analyse responses at your convenience.
  • Qualitative research gives you the ability to explore multiple topics in depth.
  • Qualitative research tends to be cheaper to carry out than quantitative market research as the need to recruit large volumes of participants or use extensive methods is not as great.
  • Qualitative research can be undertaken at times to suit you – you don’t need to interview large numbers of participants all in one go.

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative market research tends to be more structured than qualitative research methods due to its statistical nature.

Small businesses that are clear on what is quantitative research will obtain an accurate snapshot of their target market by selecting a sizeable sample of respondents and giving them a list of mostly closed questions to answer. These closed questions will also have a list of possible answers, allowing businesses to rank responses and quickly determine preferences.

Quantitative research can either be paper-based – in the form of a postal survey – or computerised – such as an online survey or telephone call. Sample size is everything; there needs to be a minimum number of responses for any particular area of interest, with 100 responses said to be the bare minimum; although larger sample sizes will be needed for the most reliable quantitative data.

Questionnaires and surveys

Quantitative questionnaires are the simplest way to gather numerical data that provides a bigger picture of your industry. Numerical values are assigned to answers to closed questions, allowing you to quickly ascertain the most popular answers. Often, the results of questionnaires are presented in a report format with graphs and bar charts, making it easy for the results to be digested.

The most important aspect of any successful market research questionnaire or survey is that it is straightforward and written in easy-to-understand, direct language. Ambiguous questions have no place in a questionnaire. After all, you don’t want to invest time and effort in preparing and distributing a survey only to find half of the responses are incomplete due to confusing or misleading questions.

The benefits of quantitative research for small businesses

  • Quantitative research gives busy entrepreneurs the ability to collect large volumes of data quickly and efficiently, providing a generalised view of your target demographic beyond your survey participants. The analysis and result of a survey can also be processed with speed too.
  • A comprehensive set of results from a quantitative survey can give your business the utmost confidence when making plans for the future.
  • A quantitative questionnaire can be anonymous, giving respondents the confidence to discuss sensitive topics with complete honesty and transparency.

Don’t forget that the Business & IP Centre can help you increase your knowledge of specific market sectors.

The key to any successful business is the ability to make well informed business decisions. To get a real picture of how your market sector is developing and stay abreast of key legislation affecting your business, sign up to the Business & IP Centre’s ‘How do I research a business idea?’ workshop. The workshop will highlight and provide practical guidance in using key British Library sources to give you the confidence to make the right choices for your growing company. Visit our events page to view our upcoming events.

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