Best practice for hiring independent market researchers

01 Jun 2023 | ICG News & Announcements, Research & Business Knowledge

The guidelines 

These guidelines have been developed by the ICG (Independent Consultants Group) in collaboration with 242 market research professionals.  The guidelines’ purpose is to help nurture happier and more productive working relationships between independent consultants and the companies that hire them.   

In our study, we identified that most issues in the relationship occur because the terms of engagement are unclear and their expectations differ.  To avoid any misunderstanding, independent market research consultants and the companies that hire them should ideally, do the following: 


What is this initiative? 

The Independent Consultants Group (ICG) is a network of over 400 independent market research consultants. Most are UK based but we have members worldwide.  We support one another with professional advice, resources and contacts.  

Our members have come together to define what we believe best practice means, in the context of hiring independent market research consultants. The purpose of this is to help nurture happier and more productive working relationships between independent consultants and the companies that hire them.   

What did we discover in our study on best practice in hiring independent researchers? 

In our industry survey of over 242 independent researchers and hirers, we discovered that often there is insufficient detail agreed upfront, which can destablise relationships between hirers and freelancers. 

  • The biggest risks from independent consultants’ perspective when working with new hirers includes: 
      1. An underestimation of the actual scope of work (according to 60% of consultants) 
      2. Not receiving receiving enough strategic context in client briefings (55%) 
      3. Late payment (40%) 
      4. Not being paid more, despite doing more work than was originally agreed (30%)  
  • All of these risks point towards a central issue:   Insufficient detail is agreed upfront between hirers and independent consultants 
    1. Only 51% of independent consultants agree payment terms upfront 
    2. Only 36% of independent consultants use a signed, statement of work including terms and conditions, before starting work 
    3. Only 23% of independent consultants agree on the hours expected to be worked 
    4. Only 15% state on what is billable if there’s a cancellation 
    5. Only 8% state what will happen if a definite project comes up before a tentative one has been confirmed 
    6. Only 7% agree what is billable if there are no shows (in qualitative research)

In conclusion, based on the experiences of both hirers and independent consultants and our industry survey, we have identified a clear guiding policy to nurture happier and more productive working relationships:   independent consultants and their hirers need to agree on more detail upfront 

How did we develop these guidelines? 

This initiative has been spearheaded by ICG member Tom Woodnutt, founder of online qualitative research specialists – Feeling Mutual.  Over the last 12 months, Tom has co-developed  these guidelines through close collaboration with the market research industry, ICG members, our sponsor Further (who kindly funded the infographics, shared their online qual platform, Together™ for free along with their expertise on the subject). 

There has been three phases to the development of these best practice guidelines:  

  1. a) Online qualitative research with ICG members and Further, to help define the challenge
  2. b) Crowdsourced ideation with ICG members to generate solutions 
  3. c) Industry survey (with hirers and independent consultants) to validate the best practice guidelines (conducted by Nik Harta of Yolo Comms). 
  • Phase 1: Defining the challenge 

In November 2020, an online qualitative research forum hosted by Further, was carried out with six hirers and six independent research consultants.   

The discussion covered the key dimensions in the working relationship from both hirers’ and consultants’ perspectives.  The topics discussed included: risks and rewards from working together, how they feel about the relationship, what determines success, areas of tension, misunderstanding and reactions to an early set of best practice guidelines. 

This allowed us to develop a draft set of guidelines and hypotheses on both the factors that threaten to destabilize working relationships and those that help enhance them. 

  • Phase 2: Developing solutions 

In April 2021, 25 ICG members joined a group brainstorm via webcam in which the findings from the previous stage were scrutinised and the draft guidelines were developed further.

  • Phase 3, Validating best practice 

Between July to September 2021, 242 independent consultants and hirers took part in an online survey.  This measured their experiences and perceptions of the working relationship and what they believed best practice to mean. 

This allowed us to measure the relative importance of various guidelines and validate our understanding of the context that shapes the relationship.