Business Overview

A survey company creates, distributes, and analyzes surveys for a variety of businesses or special interests. The purpose is to collect feedback before deciding to alter policies or processes to improve efficiency and overall satisfaction. Owners may either work on a per-case basis, or choose to specialize in a specific niche. For example, a survey company that only administers surveys to students about their professors.

Who is this business right for?

People who love data will be an ideal match for creating a survey company. They should be interested in the core needs of people to better understand how to structure questions. Potential owners should also be proactive in terms of giving advice or ideas to clients based on the formal analysis.

What happens during a typical day at a survey business?

Owners may have to complete any or all of the following on a typical day:

  • Researching potential clients
  • Writing/distributing surveys
  • Compiling/analyzing data
  • Managing employees
  • Brainstorming for clients

What is the target market?

The target market can be anyone who cares about improving their business or cause. Teachers use surveys to gauge what their students are getting out of the class. Companies use them to find out how their employees or customers feel about certain processes or changes. Non-profits use them to find out how much interest there is for different endeavors in any given area.

How does a survey business make money?

Survey companies typically charge based on the amount and the type of questions they ask. For example, an open-ended question that requires a written response will require more time than one that asks responders to list how they feel on a scale of 1 to 10.

What is the growth potential for a survey business?

While it’s true that there are plenty of existing survey companies (both online and otherwise), there is still a need for surveys that can get to the heart of the question. It’s all too easy for participants to rush through their responses or to misunderstand their own thoughts and intentions. There is plenty of growth potential for a company who can cut through the noise and focus on what people are really saying.

Getting Started

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful survey business?

It may help for the owner to have some type of background in psychology and marketing before getting started. They will need to be able to structure a survey in a way that is both compelling and revealing. This may not even have to be formal education, but they should bring with them a thorough understanding of how and why certain ideas and concepts succeed where others fail. They should also be extremely organized to keep track of their many clients and questions.

What are the costs involved in opening a survey business?

Costs are negligible to get started, especially if a person is planning to start with organic content. People can conduct their business straight from a home office with a computer, wi-fi, and a small advertising budget. Owners can save even further by using online sites like Survey Monkey or Constant Contact to get a jumpstart. Many of these services offer a free account that you can use to create sample surveys.

What are the steps to start a survey business?

Once you're ready to start your survey business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your survey business is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your survey business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a survey business?

Owners will first need to master the art of handling business owners or leaders. They may be skeptical of an outsider whose entire premise is built on implying that a leader is missing something. After all, they handle the details of their business, and they may not want another cook in the kitchen. Survey business owners need to learn to drive home examples of how the right questions can make all the difference.

For example, when initial survey results of New Coke were conducted, the infamous failure was touted as tasting better than original Coke. But what the surveyors failed to realize is that a tiny sip of the sweet beverage was not the same as a full can. They also didn’t take into account the pure nostalgia element of Coke — a component that consumers weren't ready to give up for the sake of something new. It’s these types of failures that cost companies millions, and they’re all tied in with how well a survey is conducted.

Owners must also learn how to use their unbiased perspectives to their advantage. Sometimes an outsider can spot problems in seconds that insiders are too close to see. It's these insights that allow successful surveyors to demonstrate their value to the company (in more than just abstract terms).

Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a survey business

Survey companies live and die by their results. Samples, success stories, and testimonials will go far to drive additional business. If you want to do strictly online work, then you'll likely want to invest in Google ads to really get the word out there. (Please note that the market for online surveys is somewhat saturated.) For those just getting started, a good website and logo are an absolute must, but there should be more to it than that. Start by venturing outside and developing relationships with local businesses to get a sense of their challenges. Many people may already have a survey system in place but that doesn't mean they couldn't be getting more out of it.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Business owners are looking for actionable steps they can take based on survey results. It's crucial that a survey giver can back up the answers they receive with substantial ideas. The more a survey owner gives their clients advice that they can literally take to the bank, the more likely it is they will build up a steady clientele.

How and when to build a team

Survey companies don’t necessarily need to start with a team until they have enough business to warrant the extra salaries. If owners do choose to hire, they should look for excellent writers with a passion for what makes people tick.

Legal Considerations

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a survey business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

Some survey businesses are run out of an office space. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a survey business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your survey business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

The costs for surveys ranges based on the types of questions asked and the company who’s conducting the research. However, make no mistake that companies are willing to pay for solid feedback. Some companies will gladly pay consumers for their opinions, so owners will need to structure their budget based on a number of factors.

What are the ongoing expenses for a survey business?

Expenses for a survey company may include the following:

  • Independent market research
  • Website/advertising costs
  • Administrative equipment/maintenance
  • Employee salaries
  • Office space (if applicable)

How much profit can a survey business make?

Survey companies can make plenty of profit once their clientele can make the connection between feedback and profits. Figure out what you’re bringing to the table, and show new clients how you can do the same for them. If you administer 5,000 surveys a year at $1 a pop, you would make around $40,000 in pure profit (assuming you’re the sole proprietor.)

How can you make your business more profitable?

Survey companies may want to eventually expand their business into additional marketing services. For example, instead of just brainstorming a marketing campaign based on survey feedback, you can design and implement too. Companies may be more likely to turn over additional marketing services on an ad-hoc basis because you’re already familiar with their mission and clientele.

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