This paper is concerned with reporting the benefits of undertaking a pilot study for qualitative researchers detailing the experiences gained, the lessons learnt and subsequent changes to the main study. This was undertaken as part of a PhD that sought to explore newly qualified nurses’ perceptions of culturally competent practice. There are numerous potential reasons for undertaking a pilot (Van Teijlingen and Hundley 2001, Arain et al 2010) and this study had four stated objectives (Thabane et al 2010). First, the pilot sought to find out whether the planned recruitment approach would generate volunteers (Secomb and Smith 2011). Secondly, to test out the tools for collecting data in practice to ensure that they elicited the type and range of responses required (Van Teijlingen and Hundley 2001). The third reason was to explore procedural elements, primarily whether email and telephone rather than face-to-face contact was effective for both communication and data collection (Jessiman 2013). The final reason was an opportunity to reflect upon personal skills and abilities as a researcher and explore self as part of a study using an interpretative phenomenological methodology (Kim 2011). As recommended by Arain et al 2010 and Thabane et al 2010, for each objective, decisions were made as to whether to proceed as planned, modify or change the approach in the final study. Data were collected between May and August 2014.