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How to Save Money on User Research Recruiting

Get creative with how you approach research, know what your time is worth, and use our calculator to find savings

Carrie Boyd

Right now, research budgets are tighter than ever in many organizations. Many people are looking for ways to cut costs, streamline their research processes, and take their processes online. You still need to recruit quality participants fast, but may have a smaller budget to get it done. 

In this guide, we’ll go through methods you can use to recruit participants on a budget, how to identify parts of your process that are eating up your budget and time, and how to get creative with your recruiting strategy. Since we’re a research recruiting tool ourselves and we’d love to help you with recruiting, we’ll also show you how much you can save by using our tool to streamline your recruiting. 

Assess your current research recruitment costs

Everyone’s research process is different, and what you currently spend depends on how many participants you talk to each month, how you find them, and what kinds of studies you’re doing.

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The capital cost

This is what many people think of when they talk about their budgets: capital costs. We’re using capital here to describe the money your team spends on things like tools for recruiting, incentives, paid advertisements, or a recruiting agency. These costs are easier to nail down concretely, and your team will know your cost best. 

The time cost

The time cost of recruitment is a little fuzzier, but it can certainly add up. Finding the right participants, screening them to make sure they’re the right fit, and managing the scheduling for sessions is a big task. 

In fact, a study by NNg found that it takes an average of 1.15 work hours to recruit just one participant for research, more if there were specialized requirements. The same study found that the average no show rate for research studies was 10.6%, which means for many studies you’ll need to recruit 1 or more extra participant in case of no-shows. So for a study with five people, you’d spend almost an entire workday recruiting, on average, if you aren’t recruiting an especially niche audience. 

It’s more likely that that time is spread out over the course of a few days. Managing the constant communication with participants and sorting through screener survey responses can take a toll on your overall productivity at work. Gloria Mark, a professor who has spent most of her career examining the effect interruptions have on our work, found that it takes an average of 23 minutes for us to get back to a task after we’ve been interrupted. She and her team also found that being frequently interrupted contributes to higher stress levels and makes it harder to get into deep thought.

OK, so what is all that time worth? A recent study by the UXR Collective found that people who do research in the US make an average of $125,790 a year. That makes an hour of the average person who does research’s time worth around $60, assuming a 40 hour work week, 52 weeks a year. So recruiting a study of five participants, with one extra to account for no-shows, costs 6.9 hours, or $414 ($60 x 6.9) for the average researcher to carry out. 

How to save money on your research recruitment process

Now that you know more about assessing your current research recruitment spend, let’s dig in to how you can make cuts to that budget while still getting great research done. We’ll go over things you can do to save capital,  and what you can do to save time, leaving your team free to focus on actually doing research!

Save time and money by switching to User Interviews 🦎

We’re not trying to go all Geico gecko on you, but we really can save you time and money. We launched our product because we couldn’t find reliable and budget friendly recruitment services to test our startup ideas with, but more importantly, because we know research recruiting is the #1 pain point in the research process. It is time consuming, and not fun. So we built a fast, reliable, affordable solution to research recruiting. But showing is better than telling, so see for yourself 👇

Use your existing customers instead of outside participants

Recruiting new participants generally takes more time and budget than using a list you already have. If you can answer your research question with your own customers, that may help your budget. 

If you already know who you want to talk to, Research Hub lets you easily invite your own users to studies, screen them (if you desire), schedule them, pay out incentives (if you desire), track their invite/apply/participation history, and more.

If you don’t have a list of customers you can access, but want to save money and time in the long run, you can set up an opt-in form and build a research panel. We can help you with that, with an opt-in form you can use to grow your panel, participant tracking, and automatic incentive distribution. Research Hub is free forever for up to 100 contacts, so you can start building your panel without shelling out extra cash. If you like the free tools, you’ll get custom branding, email domains, consent forms, and up to 5,000 contacts for $125/month.

Read more about how Research Hub saves you time over recruiting your own users with 5+ separate apps and workflows.

Scale your research studies as you go

Believe it or not, testing with just 5 users is enough to reveal most user issues in a usability test. For many studies, testing with a smaller number of users and scaling up helps your team uncover most problems without wasting money and time on huge studies. A good rule of thumb is to track your feedback as you go, and stop once you start hearing the same things over and over. 

Jakob Nielson, who has been the biggest advocate of small qualitative tests, explains it this way

The most striking truth of the curve is that zero users give zero insights.
As soon as you collect data from a single test user, your insights shoot up and you have already learned almost a third of all there is to know about the usability of the design. The difference between zero and even a little bit of data is astounding.
When you test the second user, you will discover that this person does some of the same things as the first user, so there is some overlap in what you learn. People are definitely different, so there will also be something new that the second user does that you did not observe with the first user. So the second user adds some amount of new insight, but not nearly as much as the first user did.
The third user will do many things that you already observed with the first user or with the second user and even some things that you have already seen twice. Plus, of course, the third user will generate a small amount of new data, even if not as much as the first and the second user did.
As you add more and more users, you learn less and less because you will keep seeing the same things again and again. There is no real need to keep observing the same thing multiple times, and you will be very motivated to go back to the drawing board and redesign the site to eliminate the usability problems.
After the fifth user, you are wasting your time by observing the same findings repeatedly but not learning much new.

For some tests, you may need to start off with more users, but for many, starting with a small number and scaling up allows you to spend only what you have to on each study. It also enables you to do more research, allotting a budget that may have gone to just one study of 15 people to three studies of 5 people

Offer alternative incentives

Incentives can be expensive, especially if you’re doing long studies in person. We have an incentive calculator, built on what we’ve seen work in  25,000+ research sessions, to help you find a fair incentive for your study. If you’re looking to slash the most budget, cutting cash incentives entirely may be worth considering. 

If you’re conducting research with your own customers, consider offering in-product benefits instead of cash. For some customers, especially higher-ups, these may be more motivating than a gift card. Things like priority support or in-product credits make the process of research with your own customers feel more like a partnership than a transaction. 

In-product benefits aren’t the only thing you can offer. I once spent a few hours of my workday watching for Mailchimp monkeys to drop in a giveaway. Branded swag can be powerful, and if it’s cool enough, your participants may be really excited about it. Get creative, and offer things that are relevant to your brand, customer, and product space. There are too many bad brand t shirts sitting in the back of everyone’s drawer to get your participants excited about another one. Creative ideas like yoga mats, coloring books, or even zen gardens are more likely to see actual use. 

Think outside the box when it comes to research methods

As the world has changed completely in the past few months, so has the way people approach research. In-person sessions are not happening as often (and not at all on our platform), and most people are conducting research from their homes. This means things like ethnography, eye-tracking, and in-person interviews aren’t happening. Just as researchers are getting creative to handle the new remote world, rethinking the methods you use to do research can help save some budget too. 

An alternative to ethnography and field studies

Ethnography and field studies are great for really digging in with participants, seeing their context, and understanding the full picture. On the other hand, recruiting for these types of studies is incredibly difficult, since you have to find someone who is willing to be studied, in their environment, for an extended period of time. That means you’ll spend more time finding them, more in incentives to pay them, and more time actually conducting the research. 

While not a comprehensive replacement for ethnography or a field study, a diary study can help you understand context, dig in to specific questions, and learn how sentiments change over time. They’re easier to conduct remotely, take less of the participant’s time, and are less invasive than ethnography or a field study. Because of this, you’ll spend less on resources to carry out a diary study. You can also offer lower incentives, spend less time recruiting participants, and analyze the findings on your own time. 

The benefit of switching to remote interviews

Many researchers worry about making the switch from in-person to remote research. We chatted with Behzod Sirjani, Head of Research Ops and Analytics at Slack about how he’s made the switch from in-person to remote. He walked through how he makes the most of his remote sessions, watches for visual cues from participants through Zoom, and creates a safe space for feedback virtually. 

When we analyzed incentives from over 25,000 research sessions, we found that remote sessions fetched lower incentives than in-person ones. This is likely because they’re easier for a participant to attend. There’s no commute or confusing parking lot to deal with, and attending a session is as simple as opening a laptop or switching on your phone camera, possibly downloading Zoom, but everyone has that now ;). Since it’s less of an ask for a participant to attend a remote session, the incentive offered can be lower as well. For those looking to make a dent in their budget, we found that remote sessions can offer ~$20/hr less than in-person ones, which can really save you money over time. 

That’s all folks! 

There you have it, our tips for saving money on your participant recruiting, complete with a calculator to help you see what you can save with us. When looking into what you can save, it’s important to know the full cost of your research recruiting as is, in terms of time and money. Then, you can see what you can cut from where, and have a better idea of how much you’ve saved. 

Carrie Boyd

Content Creator

Carrie Boyd is a Content Creator at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

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