Secrets of building an online panel company – PART 2

ONLINE PANELSThis is a series which I have started to help budding entrepreneurs interested in building their own panel company. In the second part of the series I thought of looking at the challenges an entrepreneur faces in opening an online panel business. The current article illustrates 5 BIGGEST CHALLENGES that you must be fully aware of before you even take the first step towards opening your panel business. The idea is not to de-motivate people from joining this business but rather to make them fully prepared before jumping into the fray. I personally believe that if you understand the challenges and opportunities of a business your success rate increases manifold!!

CHALLENGE 1: GETTING YOUR FIRST CLIENT

Every budding HOLLYWOOD ACTOR dreams of their debut film being directed by STEVEN SPIELBERG!! Well some do get lucky but for most of us it is the LONG & HARD road to success. Getting your first client is VERY IMPORTANT as it sets the tempo for your company. Now that you have started your panel company you cannot just sit and wait for your client to drop by. Here are the few critical points that will help you in getting your first client:

1- A complete stranger would not trust you with their projects. Therefore there is a very high probability that your first project will come from someone you know. So start talking to your acquaintances in the industry even before you have legally started your company. Identify people who could provide you good recommendations.

2- NETWORK, NETWORK & NETWORK!!! You should register yourself with at least one of them – ESOMAR, CASRO or MRA. These are excellent platforms for networking and their conferences are the best places to network. If any such conference is being conducted nearby your place DO REGISTER and visit the conference. You might meet your FIRST CLIENT in the conference itself and that too face to face. These forums are AWESOME place not only to acquire research knowledge but also to generate quality leads.

3- End clients prefer one stop shop solution so in all probability they would not come on board if you have panels in just 2-3 countries to offer. You should concentrate on BIGGER PANEL companies whose panel strength you can supplement with your own.

4- There are lots of panel aggregation companies who are looking out for new vendors. If you have proprietary panels in that case they would easily award you projects. But if you are yourself panel aggregating there is low probability of winning projects from these companies as you would not be COST EFFECTIVE. However if you have come across a new proprietary panel provider you can leverage it to win projects.

Always remember first project is like a first impression – Don’t SCREW IT UP!!! Always under-commit and over-deliver!!

CHALLENGE 2: FULL SERVICE V/S. SAMPLE ONLY

Full service projects are those where you provide end to end solution including – designing the questionnaire, sending email invites, collecting the data, cleaning the data and delivering in the requisite format to the client. If you are just starting there is a high probability that you would not be able to provide the entire gamut of services – no need to worry! Most of the newbie provide the other service called SAMPLE ONLY SERVICES where you just supply the respondents to your clients. It is advisable to have some vendors who can provide full service solution so that in case you come across a client who needs one – you have readymade solution for them.

Although the BIG BUCKS!! Are in Full Service Solutions but it requires a considerable workforce to implement. Ideally you should start with sample only services and then slowly migrate to full service.

There are few entrepreneurs I have met who want to develop their own questionnaire designing tool – although it is brilliant to have your own proprietary survey development tool but I would still recommend using good ones like ConfirmIT or NEBU – WHY REINVENT THE WHEEL!!!

CHALLENGE 3: HIRING THE RIGHT STAFF

One of the biggest hassles for an entrepreneur in this field is recruiting the right staff. For any industry vertical it is imperative to hire people with right kind of skill set –unfortunately as online research industry is comparatively new – there is limited number of qualified professionals. I would recommend starting your operation office in India as online research has been thriving in this country for around 8-10 years now.

Many big players in the online research industry have already set up their shops here – therefore it is easy to find skilled staff here in India – whether you require operation head or survey programmers you have abundance of choice.

The mortality of an idea is as good as the people implementing it!!! Wrong choice of staff can really hamper the growth and even survival of your company.

CHALLENGE 4: CREATING A NICHE FOR YOUR COMPANY

There are so many ‘ME TOO’ players in the market that for a new panel company it becomes very difficult to create any brand imagery. It is a crowded market out there and very easily you can get lost in the chaos. Here are a few steps which would help you in creating a special place in the market for your company:

1- Fully utilize the power of social media – most of the panel companies aren’t!!!

2- Create a niche panel – like Healthcare or Finance or ITDM.

3- Don’t fall into the myth of having a large panel – instead create an ACTIVE COMMUNITY!!!

4- Be transparent in your dealings – whether vendor or client.

5- Train well your staff – specifically with market research knowledge.

6- Have some kind of presence in USA/EUROPE –most of the panel business comes from there.

7- Actively seek out new panel vendors – especially if you are into panel aggregations.

8- Proactively address any issue which your panel members come across.

9- Create an exciting, fair and transparent incentive system.

10- Be proactive – in this business every day is a FIRE FIGHTING DAY!!

CHALLENGE 5: TO BE ETHICAL IN THIS BUSINESS

It might surprise you how being ethical in this business is a challenge. Well I guess it is because in this industry you would be surrounded by bad practices – people bending their morals for a few bucks!! Many a times you will lose project as your competitor has indulged in wrong practices. You would too be tempted more than often in this industry. For a young entrepreneur it is TOUGH to remain unaffected by the chaos and unethical behavior.

A person becomes an entrepreneur because he wants to add VALUE to an existing system. If you fall prey to TEMPTATION of unethical practices why not become a DRUG DEALER!!! Instead – especially if money is all that you care for. Most of the big panel companies you see around in the market were once small!! They achieved success by being true to the ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT.

Always remember what you are leaving behind as your legacy!!!

I guess a few honest businessmen in this industry would do WONDERS!!!!

Now you have a choice. You can comment, share, or implement. I prefer if you implement, but I’ll appreciate all three – Akshay Kanyal

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Comments

  1. Another great piece, would be good to have a resource where budding entrepreneurs can contact a directory of programmers, web designers.

    • Appreciate your feedback Mark :) I am thinking down the line Online MR blog to have a resource pool of professional service providers, who can be handy for an entrepreneur.

  2. jyoti manral says:

    Excellent article …