Our map of reality is defined by it. It can make-or-break the future of a small business. It’s the evolutionary secret of every creature on the planet, and it works behind the scenes aligning your products and services to your customers’ needs.
What is this mysterious agent of fortune that holds the keys to destiny?
It’s data. And more specifically - the methodology of data collection.
As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you’re the shot-caller. It’s you that makes product and marketing decisions, manages time and assets, and needs to understand customer behaviour.
Larger companies can rely on an engineering team to make critical data-driven decisions, but smaller businesses tend to have less wiggle-room in their payroll. Without a firm grasp of data collection - your decision-making is in the dark.
And that’s why you're here. In this article we will explore the process of gathering data, and how each method of data collection provides the insight you need to tolerate the challenge of evolving consumer preferences and markets. Not only will you be prepared to navigate your business towards the shores of success, but also qualify as a valuable guide and resource to your field.
Data is a vast domain. In fact, data is an infinitely expanding world of information. It’s everything, everywhere, at all times - being collected, filtered, stored and transformed - and somewhere in this infinite sea floats the answers to who your customers are, what they need, and how they want it.
Needless to say - it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately for us, raw data can be sorted into a tidy system that makes it easier to handle.
Data has an intrinsic division, like the lateralization of the brain.
Laterali-what? In simple terms: how right-brained people are said to be more creative, and left-brained people are said to be more analytical. In the same sense, each type of data is either qualitative or quantitative.
Like the right hemisphere, qualitative data accounts for labels, feelings, emotions, and subjective perceptions. And like the left hemisphere, quantitative data is all about numbers. (You can count on it.)
More puns to come.
There’s another grand division in the sea of data - its origin. If it comes from the first-hand experience, it’s considered as primary data. If it comes from someone else's research publication - literally second-hand information - then it’s considered to be secondary data.
This is important because to make the absolute most out of data starts with learning how and when different types are useful.
Qualitative research discovers qualities like hair colour, favorite salad dressing, or music genre; quantitative research is more concerned about the number of blondes that like blue cheese salad dressing and listen to Van Halen.
Qualitative data gives context and describes phenomena. It continuously answers the question: what more can we know about this?
For example, you can get qualitative data from feedback forms on your website that help you get to know your customers. The more you listen to them, the better you can tune into your customers’ needs.
The key difference between qualitative and quantitative data is what you intend to do with them.
Qualitative data has no intentions of performing mathematical feats. Now, it’s certainly possible to do math with qualitative data, but if you did - it would become quantitative data. Instead of organizing by numbers, qualitative data just wants to get to know the subject better.
On the other hand, quantitative data always intends to ‘math the hell out of things’. The idea is to find patterns, statistics, and prove something about your customers with numbers.
A quick illustration:
Let’s say you went out on a dinner date with quantitative data. Instead of asking open-ended questions, it would try to put you in a box, measure the box, and then place you in a pile of other boxes that are the same size. (but hey, some people like that).
However, there’s no need to take your customers out to dinner to get data from them. Instead, you can use online questionnaires. They’re easy to use, save time and money, and prevent awkward silences when the bill arrives.
Both types of data sets are important to flesh out the whole picture. Qualitative data is subjective, interpretive, and exploratory. Quantitative data is objective, to-the-point, and conclusive. The former helps you to sync with customers' dynamics, and the latter determines precise answers about them.
Primary data is the new stuff. It’s unaltered, unpublished, and untouched by the greasy fingers of interpretation.
Primary data is considered to be more valid, reliable, authentic, and objective than secondary data - there’s always some degree of ‘subjective blur’ when data is passed around.
However, primary data isn’t always easy to come by. It demands more investment in time, focus, and resources, and small businesses may not be in a position to hire a team of scientists and private investigators.
But there’s no need to get discouraged - you can collect primary data online. Compared to traditional primary data collection methods, online forms are easy to set up, and cost but a fraction in time and money.
Later in this article, we will expand on each of the following methods of primary data collection:
If primary data is all about going to the source, then secondary data is about consulting a re-source.
It is second-hand knowledge - already published and available as a resource for future studies. Such recordings are bound by fixed time, place, subject, and defined by the parameters of the original study.
Although secondary data has limits on its capacity for precise revelation, it can still provide you with insight and context for new investigation. In fact, primary data is rarely useful without a framework of existing knowledge (secondary data). In other words: if we had no history of experience, we wouldn’t understand our current experience.
Secondary data helps you ask the right questions. Not only that, it sets the stage for primary research performance.
Examples of secondary data:
Together, primary and secondary data tag-team the mysteries of the unknown world with seamless chemistry. But - it’s all about the tools.
Both types of data collection are essential, but primary data collection methods are your portal to first-hand, up-to-date information. They can organize and assess the fluctuations of market behaviour and customer feedback that inform decision-making with high precision.
The most widely used primary data collection methods are:
With the right tools, it’s easy to use both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect primary data that aligns with your research purpose.
Questionnaires and surveys... aren’t they the same thing? Yes and no.
A questionnaire is just a set of questions. It doesn't necessarily conduct a survey, but sometimes it does (if it’s feeling cute).
On the other hand, surveys always use questions, and so by default they always are questionnaires. However, question sets in a survey are used to extract statistics about a population (a census for example).
In short: you conduct a survey, but you don’t conduct a questionnaire.
A simple form on your website that asks for feedback can also include questions that measure various features of your customers. After you receive a good chunk of feedback, analysis can reveal hard facts about your audience.
Surveys use only closed-ended questions (most of the time). To simplify the process of data collection and analysis, surveys use closed-ended questions to get standardized answers. Closed-ended questions are pretty much what you'd call multiple choice. But instead of responding however you’d like - you have to select from a set of answers.
The time-commitment is so little that people are more likely to share a quick opinion - especially if your online form is fun and direct.
Questionnaires use closed and open-ended questions. Apart from multiple-choice style questions that focus on quantitative data, questionnaires also use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions elicit unique, descriptive and sometimes lengthy answers for use as qualitative data.
As far as data collection methods go, questionnaires and surveys are highly accessible because you can conduct them online. With the help of data collection forms, there is a little-to-no effort between you and collecting online data that reports on customer feedback, market diagnostics, behavioural trends, and more.
Online surveys and questionnaires also have the advantage of:
No matter the length of a questionnaire or survey, most people won’t spend more than ten minutes filling it out - so it’s best to keep these short.
Focus groups are field studies - usually with a group of 6-12 people together in a room. At least one moderator is present to lead the group through a series of questions and prompts about the subject. The idea is to stimulate group discussion that reveals any underlying attitudes, opinions, perceptions, and feelings about the subject. Focus groups can explore topics in-depth from the unique perspectives of people who share qualities such as sex, age, race, profession, etc.
Focus groups collect qualitative data through the use of open-ended questions. The moderator will usually have a list of questions, but the order and structure is not a necessary control.
There are two common types of focus groups:
Interviews bring up all sorts of imagery - the nervousness of a job interview, or maybe even a fireman sharing the story of a wildly ambitious cat he rescued from the top of an apple tree.
We usually picture the traditional interview as one-on-one and in-person. However, it’s not uncommon to interview more than one person at a time, over the phone, or even online. Telephone interviews are efficient, but have certain drawbacks. Online interviews have become increasingly popular with the emergence of accessible, easy-to-use, and inexpensive video calling. You can even record and save the interview material with the click of a button.
You can also conduct interviews with online forms. Previously a huge time-burden, it’s now possible for this comprehensive method of research to reach a large population in almost no time at all.
Types of interviews:
Observation seems to be pretty straight-forward. You pick something that you want to learn about, place yourself in view of it, and then take notes. However, there are some obstacles to consider:
The common types of observation methods deal with these considerations:
A case study is not a data collection method in itself. It employs a variety of research methods to construct a detailed illustration of the subject.
Case studies use depth interviews, direct observations, secondary data collection (photos, videos, journals, clinical notes, official documents) and any other reliable sources of information to examine a person, group, event, or community.
Information on nearly every aspect of the subject is gathered to find patterns and causes of behaviour. Case studies are often used in clinical studies like psychotherapy, legal cases, and social work.
The major categories of case studies include:
We hope that data collection is no longer a big mystery for you. You have begun to equip yourself with vital knowledge to navigate the endless tides of information. With the right tools, you can optimize your research efforts and easily hone in on data that makes the difference.
If you’re looking for help along the way - Paperform is a great tool to assist your data collection needs.
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