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Is There Anybody Out There? How to Find Business Research Participants

Guest post by Claire Brewis, Centre for Business in Society

There is a lot of literature out there which tells you HOW to research your business – how to structure a questionnaire – how to write an ethics application – how to draft a participant consent form. Not a peep about the really tricky stuff – WHO are you going to actually research? Followed by HOW you are going to engage them…

Whether you have been employed and have a network of business contacts or you are new to business – here are 7 ways to find businesses to take part in your research.

  1. Your employers or past employers – the stumbling block here is whether what you want to research relates to your previous employment. Some researchers are lucky enough to have an employer sponsor with a clear idea of what needs researching. If you have been employed, might one of your past employers have a research need? If not might they be willing to be a participant in your study or work with you to share your questionnaire with their customers / suppliers / staff? If they know you and trust you, past employers offer a rich source of research participants.
  1. Your contacts – again, you need to consider how well your contacts fit the research. You might even consider whether the research can be adapted to reflect your contacts. Rack your brain from friends to relatives, twitter followers to Facebook contacts, past business colleagues to neighbours. What do they do for a job and might their business be relevant to your research? If people know you, the research door is much easier to open.
  1. Academic connections – you are a part of an academic network. If you are in a business faculty then you are surrounded by people with business contacts. Your supervisors, faculty academics, Professors, research associates, fellow researchers are all carrying out business research. How are they engaging with companies? Ask them to help you find participants – don’t be vague – be precise about who you need & what for. You can help them back in the future.
  1. Networking aka snowballing – Once you have secured some business contacts to involve in your research you have the ball rolling. Can your contacts introduce you to others who might participate and build your own research network?
  1. Conferences and Exhibitions – Conferences in your field are a great place to source possible research participants. As well as being inspiring, speaker slides can provide excellent secondary source materials. Make contact at the event, give them your business card, follow-up afterwards by email or on social media. Keep that connection. Exhibitions are similar BUT exhibitors are also working – they are there to do business and the person on the stand is not necessarily the best contact. Introduce yourself, explain your interest briefly, ask who the best contact is, leave a card and then follow-up immediately after the event.
  1. Established business networks – the first port of call here is often the Chamber of Commerce but there are 3 issues here. Firstly, Chambers are very short on staff and need help rather than another job. Secondly, they are deluged with research requests. Thirdly, even if they wanted to, which they don’t, they can’t give your their business members details. Is your research useful to them or their members? Look on their website for the strategy, their specialist groups – consider how your research helps their members and sell them a research idea that is useful to them.
  1. Industry groups or trade associations – there are 1600 trade and professional associations in Britain. Some of these have sector interests such as aerospace or farming, others have professional interests such as accounting or procurement. Here is a rich vein of possible business contacts. Like the Chamber of Commerce you need to spend time choosing the right organisation and clarifying how your research will help their members. Before you leap headlong into contacting the Head Office you might check if there are local networks and contacts which might see more value in getting involved in your study.

As you can see, there are lots of ways to find research business participants. When you are planning these contacts you need to consider why the business would want to take part? Philanthropy and goodwill only goes so far. Make sure that you have a clear message about how your research can benefit them.

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Coventry University