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How much research can I do for $1,000?
How much research can I do for $10,000?
How much research can I do for $100,000?

The number of zeroes varies, but the question doesn't: how much research can I do with the budget I have? It's something I get asked all the time by clients who work in customer insight or market research teams, where they are trying to get the most value for their money by investing in the right research activities.

The answer varies as much as the number of zeroes. But whichever end of the spectrum your research budget falls on, the process of managing that budget looks roughly the same. Here are the questions you need to ask before deciding how to allocate your research dollars:

  1. How many stakeholders do we need to serve?

If you have a lot of different departments with research needs, your budget will have to stretch to accommodate them. In companies where the research team has to answer research questions from a wide range of internal departments and executives, a good option for making a small budget go a long way is to run a bi-weekly omnibus survey with a panel of your customers. Once you have the panel set up, you can take requests from throughout your organization and send new questions to your panel every two weeks, so you can address the research needs of a wide range of departments.

  1. Which research questions do we need to answer?

You can't anticipate every research inquiry that will come your way in the next twelve months, but when you're making an annual research budget, you should try to anticipate the big items that are coming your way. If your business is working on a new regional business strategy, evaluating a new product launch, or has a commitment to a certain number of major new ad campaigns each year, each of those represents a major business decision that will likely need research input. Knowing which big decisions your company will make this year can help you plan your research budget -- and your research calendar -- around supporting those big decisions.

  1. How much money do you have to spend?

Of course, a key part of your research planning comes down to the actual dollars you have available. But when you're totting up the figures, don't just think in terms of one big number: think about each of the budget categories you have to address. In most companies, the research budget is divided up into software costs, incentives, recruitment, consulting services and analytics (and that's on top of the operating costs for your in-house insight or research team). Think about how you want to allocate dollars across these categories, as well as about the total amount you have to spend.

  1. What is your own workload?

How you spend your dollars on external resources depends partly on how much capacity you have internally. As a very rough rule of thumb, one full-time research employee can undertake one project a week -- though that might be one big survey deployment one week, and a smaller quick poll the next. Aim to average out to about one 15-to-20 question survey each week; that is a respectable but sustainable weekly workload, and you're not overloading survey respondents if you're doing that research through a panel. Of course, if you're not a full-time researcher, you need to scale back your expectations accordingly: many professionals combine research with other marketing and advertising responsibilities, in which case a 15-question survey a week is probably more work than you can take on.

Address each of these four questions when you're planning your annual research budget, and you're well on your way from getting the most out of your research dollars. With smart planning, you should get the kind of results that will let you add more zeroes to your budget before long.

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