A few months ago, I spent an hour at Freshbooks, answering questions for a $50 gift card.
It was a really interesting session, and the two people running the session did two things right.
They encouraged me to think out loud as I explored and evaluated the various screens...
Interesting to learn of your experience.
Though not a UX professional, thinking out loud
seems an excellent way to do it.
I see that usability testing has got a lot cheaper and faster in recent years, with many web sites popping up,
offering a variety of testing services,
for example, usertesting.com
("get videos of real people speaking their thoughts..."
) and many others.
Another way for smaller companies to do UX research cheaply
(well, cheaper than your $50 gift card) is to go into a coffee shop
with a laptop and offer to pay for people's coffee in exchange for
them having a go at using your software.