Last time I wrote, I was worrying about my project – specifically, trying to get enough people to interview. That’s still a problem, but slightly less of one due to some friendly folks in the twitterverse. After posting last week’s PhD progress update, I put out a call for help on Twitter last Wednesday:
“Still looking for Melbourne small businesses to interview – esp. bars, cafes and restaurants. Info at http://bit.ly/bd8qXi“
Not a new idea, and something I’ve tried (to fairly minimal response) before. Since the last time, however, I’ve become a lot more active on Twitter – gathering contacts from the social media community, and as many Melbourne small businesses as I could track down. As it turned out, it wasn’t my immediate contact that helped to spread the word. Instead, the message was retweeted or otherwise passed on in various forms by a group of different people, most of whom I’d never met before. Many thanks (and much internet karma) to all those who helped! You made a weary PhD student much happier about the world.
I now have a few new interviews organised, and have sent off a bunch of emails. A few friends have asked why I’m using such an easy-to-ignore medium when contacting people, instead of picking up a phone. The business world seems to love phonecalls and hate emails, while the academic world is the complete opposite. After thinking about it, I guess I have a few reasons:
Firstly, I hate getting phonecalls while I’m working. It breaks my concentration and usually rearranges the tasks I’d planned to be working on that day. So, I try to extend that courtesy to other people: when they are at work, I let them do their job. If “deal with enquiries from random strangers” is something they prefer to do when attacking their email, I’d much rather let them do that when they want to deal with it.
Secondly, cold-calling strangers is right up there with my Least Favourite Things To Do. Regardless of how the actual conversation goes, all the stress associated with it (picking a time, trying not to be intrusive etc) generally manages to ruin whichever day I have to do it on. I really can’t explain it – I’d much rather give a talk in front of an audience of strangers, undergo surgery, eat spiders or jump out of a plane…
Finally, and most importantly, I don’t want to pressure people into making decisions. Calling or rocking up to someone’s workplace forces them to decide on their participation immediately – even if that decision is “come back later after I’ve thought about it.” I want to give people a chance to hear a brief elevator pitch, read further if it interests them, and make their decision.
It’s probably costing me a lot of potential interviews – small business owners are super-busy people, and giving an hour of their time to a random PhD student can be a big thing to ask. It does mean that I value those who agree to take part in the project even more, though.
It’s been a while since I wrote about what I’ve done so far.
I’m having trouble getting hold of enough people to interview. I had hoped to arrange ten interviews from each sector (services, hospitality, retail). That’s not working out very well, at the moment.
I’ll have no problems filling the Services list – in fact, I might end up expanding it a little, to take a few more people from some business types. I have about half my retail interviews organised, though one business I was particularly keen on speaking to hasn’t shown up for two interview dates, and hasn’t replied to emails recently. After a string of cancellations and withdrawals, I only have two hospitality businesses on my list. I really want at least five restaurants, cafés and bars, and need to interview them as soon as possible.
It’s been frustrating. I think that I’m getting valuable information from all the interviews I’ve done so far, and the interviewees have all been very positive about the project. I’m running out of potential leads to follow up on, though, and need to do a lot more interviews before the end of the year.
I’m tracking down businesses through every channel I can, at the moment. The #socialmelb group has been fantastic, as it attracts new people with an interest in social media every week. Contacting twitter-using businesses via Twitter has actually worked well. Contacting the facebookers via Facebook hasn’t worked at all, so far. Email has been reasonably successful, but only in cases where I’ve had some kind of bridging connection: knowing a name, or having someone else refer me. Email via “Contact Us” webforms has been singularly useless. I suspect that either I’m automatically considered a spammer, or that people are too busy to write back.
If anyone reading this happens to run a small business, please let me know! You can find an overview of my project here. In particular, I want to speak with five more retail businesses (online or brick&mortar stores), and up to eight restaurants, bars or cafés. The only requirement is that the business uses some kind of social media (social networking, blogs, forums, twitter, etc), or intends to in the next 12 months.
This week, I’m hoping to sort out bookings, flights and accommodation for OZCHI (Brisbane) and CPRF (Sydney). The two conferences have a fairly different outlook, but have more overlap with what I’m looking at (studying technology users, in an Australian small business context) than most. OZCHI runs at the same time as the first Ashes test match, apparently, so I have to book accommodation by Friday! Let’s hope that the wheels of the bureaucracy are spinning smoothly… otherwise, I’ll have to book it all myself and sort out money later.