Our publisher, Jim Madden, recently attended the annual meeting of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) where he met many of our customers. Qualitative researchers are a dynamic and wonderful group, sharing ideas with each other and working hard to understand how the new social platforms are impacting their business. Bestselling titles at the QRCA event were two Paramount titles, Laurie Tema-Lyn's Stir It Up and Moderating to the Max by Jean Bystedt, Siri Lynn, and Deborah Potts, and Martha Guidry's new book, Marketing Concepts for Success.
Qualitative researchers are probably the most entrepreneurial people among the self-employed. In order to make a living, they first have to be marketers, finding clients who will pay them to moderate focus groups, do in-depth interviews, and write reports with recommendations based on their findings. In order to be successful, they have to immerse themselves in a variety of industries.
They have to be highly organized and tolerate a great deal of travel, often going from city to city in a few days. They have to maintain a group of "associates" who help them recruit respondents, provide facilities, and help them out when there is simply too much work for one person. And they have to be creative, because one size never fits all.
But it's getting even harder to make a living as any type of independent researcher, in part because new technologies are leading companies to believe that they no longer need in-depth research.
Robert Kahle, author of Dominators, Cynics, and Wallflowers, shared his thoughts on the challenges for qualitative researchers and indeed, many types of independent researchers.
Corporate research budgets get cut and executives think they can survive on the results of on-line surveys, monitoring chat rooms, and doing internet searches for free information.
When budgets are cut, managers expect qualitative and other independent researchers to cut their rates to accommodate, forgetting that they are paying their own health benefits, their own social security at the full rate, buying their own equipment, etc. as well as trying to support a family.
At the same time that corporations have technology departments and webmasters to support their employees who are trying to cope with new technology, independent researchers have to be their own webmasters and technology departments and there is a lot to keep up with these days.