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So You’re a Startup: How to Write a Survey

This is the second last post in our So You’re A Startup series. We’ve been using this series to address the most pressing startup issues, including how to pitchinterviewnetworkraise fundswrite a one pagerdeal with financial statementscreate & maintain an advisory boardget socialincorporate and get customers. For So You’re A Startup number 11, we’re looking at what makes a good survey.

So you’re a startup, why should you write a survey?

Surveys are a cheap and easy way to gather data about your customers and potential users. As a startup, you’re going to want to get as much feedback as possible about the usability of your product. Surveys are a great way to find out if people actually want what you’re offering before you spend a good chunk of your life making it.

The Survey

Before you start writing your survey, be sure to figure out what kind of data you’re looking for. Do you want feedback from people who already use your product or opinions from your target market? Really get down to specifics by creating questions that will give you the kind of targeted data you’re looking for.

Although it would make your life easier to create one survey and send it out to everyone you want feedback from, you’ll find that doing that will not result in the best data. You should create different surveys with different purposes: one for actual customers, prospective customers, past customers, etc.

It’s also extremely important to create context around your questions  – you can’t ignore the perspective of the survey taker. If the people filling out your survey don’t know why they’re answering questions or even what your startup does, their answers will be much less meaningful.

The Questions

It’s understandable that you’ll want to gather good data about the demographic of your user base by asking more personal questions (age, gender, address), but making these questions mandatory may discourage people from filling out your survey. It’s a good idea to make these questions optional or to include them in signing up to use your product.

When writing your survey, you need to watch out for leading questions and order effects. A good example of a leading question is “how much do you like our product?” This question would result in a much different answer than “how much do you dislike our product?” Try to keep questions as neutral as possible.

Order effects occur when placing a question before another gives the second question a different context. An example of this would be asking “what platform do you use for email?” before “how likely would you be to use our email platform?” Getting the survey taker to think about which email platform they use already (and also how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with it) may effect their response to the second question. If they are thinking about how much they like Gmail, they’ll probably tell you they’re less likely to use your product. You can decrease these effects by randomizing the order of questions for each survey.

(This post gives great insight into the importance of survey design, including some psychology behind people’s answers that will help you get the least biased results.)

When writing your questions, remember that simplicity is better. Only keep the most important questions that will give you the best data – 5 page surveys with complex questions can be daunting and are completed less. The survey taker is doing you a favour by filling your survey out, so be nice to them. Although asking yes or no questions may make your survey more simple, it’s a better idea for allow for a range (as in 1-10 or very unlikely, unlikely, likely, very likely, etc.). This will give you more specific data and won’t force your survey takers to chose yes or no when they don’t really agree with either.

When you’re done your survey, send it to a few friends to get their opinion of it. They can let you know what’s unclear, help you figure out why you’re asking certain questions and tell you if they found it easy enough to fill out.

And finally, make sure you actually use the data you gain from your survey! There’s no point in taking the time to create a great survey if you ignore the results. Even if they’re not what you hoped for or expected, take the answers into consideration and use them to your advantage. Iterate appropriately and even thank your survey takers for their feedback that allowed you to improve your product.

Have some knowledge to share gained from making your own survey? Tell us about it in the comments!

Tune in next week for the LAST post in the So You’re A Startup series: How To Deal With Startup Life.