UX research for small businesses: Tips and best practices

Loïs Gauthier
January 31, 2023

A common misconception about UX research is that it is so expensive that only big companies with significant budgets are able to conduct it.

Does it mean UX research is less essential for small businesses? We don’t think so. As more companies become mature in UX research, their practice encourages others to embrace it. Even small companies with fewer resources and time available start considering UX research in the early stages of their development.

In this article, we explore the specific challenges they face in conducting UX research.

Although the funding principles of research are the same for all types of companies, company size will affect different aspects of their ability to conduct research: team size and organization, budget and tools as well as decision-making and pivot opportunities.

Resources and processes

Although the value of UX research is increasingly understood by stakeholders, a first challenge you will face when implementing it at a small organization is defining who will be responsible for it (both strategically and operationally).

Team: who does research?

Being a small business means you have less human resources available and they are usually focused on operational, daily management tasks which makes it hard for them to work on long term strategic tasks such as UX research. Two choices are available: choosing an owner who organises resources internally or externalizing your research.

Choosing an owner

Small businesses might not have someone dedicated to UX research or even to UX design. And even if they do, their to-do list might be so long that they will struggle to deliver relevant insights if their tasks are not prioritized correctly.

If the company doesn’t have anyone dedicated to UX, a decision has to be made about who will be responsible for leading the UXR strategy at your organization. Even if the task is shared by several team members, an owner must be chosen. This will help ensure the coherence and continuity of UX research within the organization.

Several factors will influence the choice of the owner: skills, availability, their knowledge of the company’s users and their level of interaction with stakeholders.

If you involve several team members in the UX research process, the role of the owner will be to:

  • manage the coherence of actions and decisions by ensuring the strategy, vision and goals are understood and followed
  • define delivery prioritization and pacing, meetings agenda etc
  • share results and insights across the organization
  • follow-up and challenge on the impact of UX research insights

If you are a start-up, it might be a good idea to empower everyone to conduct some research in order to create a user-centric culture from the start.

Externalizing UX research

You can also choose to outsource UX research because you are not able to find resources internally.

You can choose to outsource your whole user experience (design and research), one of them, operations versus strategy etc.

This is a strategic decision: outsourcing your UX research doesn’t allow for continuity in your UX practice. It can also be harder to sustain over the long run. Another risk is to lack ownership of the results internally, decreasing its impact and eventually leading to insights being lost.

However, externalizing UX research can be a way to kickstart the process at your organization before gradually internalizing skills. The expertise of an external partner will allow your organization to slowly get familiarized with the matter.

If you want to know more, read our dedicated article.

Budget and training for UXR

Small businesses might have a lower budget share dedicated to UX research which is the reason they don’t do research in the first place. This will influence your decision in building your UX research team, toolkit and strategy.

If you decide not to hire a dedicated team member to conduct research, you have the option to train team members in UX research. This is a way to build the practice from the inside and increase retention at the same time. Once they all have general skills in UX research, you will have a better vision of who can develop the practice further within the company.

Here are a few examples of low cost UX/UX research online training courses:

Here are pricier options:

There are different strategies to implement such courses at your organization: book several days at a time to kickstart the learning process with all trainees, book weekly hours dedicated to the course or let your team members work on it at their own rhythm.

Another choice you can make is to hire a UX researcher or a UX designer who will do research as well. If your budget is low, you will probably decide to hire a versatile profile with design and research skills. You also have to decide on their seniority level, which will greatly influence your budget.

Here are a few cheap (or even free) ways to kickstart your UX research:

  • conduct tests with your own users and offer product related incentives
  • gather, analyze and encourage passive feedback (by adding feedback widgets or call-to-feedback in your emails)
  • use free technics like guerilla testing
  • use secondary data (pre-existing research conducted by other researchers/scholars)

Did you know you can recruit testers for your UX research qualitative studies for under 200€?

UXR tools for small businesses

If you lack time, using tools is a great way to fasten your research process.

To assess which tools are the most necessary for you, define which research ops tasks are the most time-consuming for you and how skilled you are at them.

You should then prioritize tools for tasks that take you long to complete and for which you lack skills. This way you will gain both time and output quality.

It might be tasks like sourcing and managing testers, creating and organizing transcripts of your interviews or analyzing semantics.

decision tool for research ops tasks

UX research tools for small budgets by categories

Choosing the right tools will allow you to gain time and efficiency to focus on your core tasks.

Repository tools
  • Dovetail, free option (3 transcription hours/month)
  • EnjoyHQ, free option
  • Condens, 30€/month (180 hours automated transcription per year)
Usability testing tools
  • Maze, free option (300 viewable responses/year)
  • PlaybookUX, from 49$/participant (unmoderated)
  • Useberry, free option (10 responses/month)
Recruitment Tools
Scheduling tools
  • Tandemz, free (included in the panel management)
  • Google calendar, free
  • Calendly, free option
Survey tools
Videoconferencing tool (with or without recording)

Building momentum

The concept of UX research is very different depending on the size of your company. At bigger organizations, research cycles can be longer and include more discovery while smaller ones will have to be more focused, small-sized and directed to usability. It should also be able to adjust quickly to changes in product strategy.

Fast and agile decision-making

Being smaller often means having to be faster to survive. In this context, keeping your UX research minimalistic is necessary. Research should support your business, not slow it down.

Starting a new position at a small organization, avoid over-engineering, being rigid, perfectionist with your research.

This will be reflected in your objectives and operations: how many projects you can work on, the amount of users you can meet, the type of study you conduct etc.

Since your resources are lower, you might not be able to conduct research as fast as you would like to. Incidentally, you will have to prioritize the research you will conduct more strictly than bigger organizations. In your case, approaching UX research with a slow, step-by-step approach will be necessary in order to sustain it over the long run.

Manage expectations from your stakeholders early-on. Keep your to do list realistic and don’t hesitate to reject a request when you estimate it doesn’t fit in your agenda. For some people, it is hard to say no. However, managing expectations will increase trust from your stakeholders.

Pivot opportunities

Small companies, especially startups, might have to pivot their strategy overnight.

UX researchers can accompany this change by conducting research that helps to validate the new direction of the company, providing insights that can inform the design of new products and features.

It means you might have to completely change your user research target, current projects

This will require to actively seek out information and feedback from stakeholders to stay ahead of fast paced changes.

Working on UX research at a small company can be hard for a lot of reasons: lack of resources, tools, time, drive and focus as well as a low understanding of UX research by stakeholders. It requires to be versatile, adaptable and possess teaching skills.

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