You really want to know what your clients think about your business. And getting suggestions and feedback from your subscribers would be a bonus. An electronic survey seems like the perfect solution.
The reality is that only some of your close friends and fans will complete a survey because there is something in it for them (helping you). But you likely already know what they think.
What's in it for everyone else? Stop and answer that question before you go any further.
Ask for only what you absolutely need.
The inclination will be to ask a lot of questions. But the more questions you ask, the less likely someone will be to complete your survey. For each question, think about what you will do with the result. If there is no action you will take, don't ask the question. To help whittle down your questions, consider what you would be comfortable asking if you were to do the survey by phone with your best customer.
Offer an incentive.
Expect to pay to get answers. The longer the survey, the better your incentive needs to be. Think about what you would expect in exchange for doing a survey for a complete stranger. A chance to win might not work unless it's a chance to win something big.
Use software to gather and collate results.
You need information, not a bunch of data that you have to spend hours sorting and analyzing. Plus digital surveys are faster to complete than any other medium.
Test, retest and test again.
You really only get one shot at this - make sure it's right the first time. It's really easy to negate your results by asking ambiguous questions. Test the functionality and also get other people to test the logic.
Run a perpetual survey.
Asking only one question at a time makes it almost a non-task. You could include a one-question survey in each newsletter or blog post. For customers, you could do this when you invoice or with monthly statements. (FreshBooks has this type of functionality.) Of course, it takes longer to gather information this way but you also have time to act on each piece of information methodically. Plus you can adapt future questions based on answers already received.
Share the results, if appropriate.
Depending on the nature of your survey, the results might be interesting or even useful to your respondents. Some applications offer the functionality to show to-date results as soon as an answer is submitted. In other cases, you might offer to send the results if an email address is provided. Publishing the results as an article is another option.
One final piece of advice: ignore feedback that isn't statistically significant. So, don't change the colour of your logo because one person doesn't like it. If over half of your respondents don't like it, ask more questions to understand why.
photo by Marcin Wichary / Flickr