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DIY or Hire a Market Research Company?


Are you thinking about a market research project? If so, you may be debating whether you should hire an outside market research agency or do it in-house.

Of course, working with a market research agency is a big investment. Depending on the scope of your project, you may be looking at a $50,000, $100,000 or greater budget.  Then again, a DIY approach can also add up—perhaps far more than you expect.

In reality, the “cost” of a DIY project is not just the out of pocket expenses; it’s the time it takes to do it well. I have seen many clients decide to pursue a DIY, and then find out the hard way that they didn’t have the skills or time to design, implement and deliver results. Weeks evaporate, and they are left with a failed project.

[BTW, a tangent here…I notice that on Google, “market research company” is searched for about 10 times more than “market research agency.”  Of course, they are the same thing, though market research companies do refer to themselves as “agencies.”]

So how do you make this big decision: to do it yourself, or hire an agency?  Thanks to great online tools like SurveyMonkey, Wufoo and Zoomerang, DIY is certainly an option. DIY is best used when the following conditions are met:

  • You are confident that you can write a questionnaire such that it will capture information objectively (and this may be the case if you are tackling a narrow topic and you really only need to ask, for example, eight to ten questions)
  • You realistically have time to do the project management in-house
  • You have the tools and skills in-house to clean the collected data and analyze it
  • You have resources in-house that can report the findings in a way that will be credible to your internal colleagues
  • You have access to a quality sample source (the people who will be qualified to take your questionnaire)
  • You don’t need the research to be blind (you are willing to reveal your company as the sponsor)

If these conditions are all true, then choosing a DIY approach may be fine.  But if not, it’s time to hire a market research agency.

Here are some resources to help your with the process:

  • For a practical guide, check out “How to Hire a Market Research Agency
  • For a deep look at best practices when hiring and managing an agency, check out “How to Hire & Manage Market Research Agencies.” Available on Amazon.
  • For a directory of Market Research suppliers, check out Quirk‘s and The MRA’s Blue Book Directory.
  • For examples of Market Research RFPs, to help you craft your own, check out the free samples in the Research Rockstar store (they are free, just add them to your shopping cart and you’ll get a download link).
  • For examples of DIY research options check out: “Rise above the Noise: 3 DIY Exercises.”

Any questions or comments? Please leave them here or call our blog requests line at 508.691.6004. Thanks!


Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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7 thoughts on “DIY or Hire a Market Research Company?”

  1. Market research is becoming less expensive thanks to internet.
    For a business that needs to gain a general view from a large cross-section of the population, and in as short a time as possible, there is no doubt that online research offers a viable benefit. This affordable way to test one’s target market is ideal for new business start-ups and can play a vital role in obtaining financial support for your company.

    Then, DIY (like with surveymonkey) is definitely a method to consider (almost free) but not really if you don’t know how to properly do it and more if you don’t have any data (customers, potential client…)
    Then using an agency could still remain quite cheap and it will be properly done.
    More comparison in this article:

    Good luck to everyone

  2. The $50K-$100K price tag might scare many small- and medium-sized companies from investigating market research. I don’t think those numbers reflect the current market. We conduct custom studies (from local to global) all the time for numbers below (even well below) that. TIP: If you can provide current e-mails of customers and/or prospects, that is one of the best ways to reduce research costs. Keep your CRM or other databases updated!

  3. Linda raises a great point–many agencies are accepting what was once thought of as “small” projects ($30k or less). Today (October 2012), I see many agencies accepting projects around $20k. And if the client provides good, ample sample (the list), it can be a bit less. A lot has changed in the 3 years since this post was originally published!!

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