Ever wonder how the products you see on grocery-store shelves wound up there? Or who thought those TV commercials were a good idea? Somewhere between the concept and the final edits, it’s likely that a focus group was involved.
“I did my first focus group, as a teenager in the 70s, on education and I realized then it was a great opportunity to have input and gain a different perspective,” D. White, a woman in Columbus, Ohio, says. More recently, she has participated in groups about family nutritional habits, health care and — her favorite — chocolate.
Focus group facilitators try to find out what the average consumer thinks of a product or service, whether that product is already in stores or still on the drawing board. By taking a sample from a certain demographic, researchers and developers can tweak their tactics to target their audience as closely as possible.
And for the average consumer, participating in focus groups can lead to a little extra cash.
The Focus Group Experience
Focus groups vary in size and type, but most of them provide some sort of compensation — a check in the mail, a PayPal deposit or even a gift card. “The more formal the focus group, the more I expect to be paid,” says Sarah K., who’s participated in focus groups about bridal registries and sports nutrition products in the Los Angeles Area. For a longer session, she expects to make $100 to $200. “I’ll happily participate in a longer focus group if it pays well, is nearby and doesn’t conflict with any of my appointments,” she says.
For people with flexible schedules, focus groups can be a convenient way to earn extra cash. Many focus group facilitation companies are turning to online tools for their work, which makes participation even easier for many candidates. A large portion of the work you’ll do as a participant takes place before you’re placed in an actual focus group. Marketing and research teams seek people from specific demographics for their focus groups, so be prepared to answer a lot of questions before you’re offered a spot.
Make the cut? Feedback styles vary, but in all cases you’ll be asked to give your honest opinion. You may be asked to fill out a survey after watching a presentation, or participate in a spirited group discussion where you’re watched through a two-way mirror. One online research company has participants respond via webcam videos.
How Much Can You Make?
“I have made as much as $350 as a participant in a focus group,” says White, who has also been paid with Amazon gift cards. But don’t expect to be raking in the dough from focus groups.
Eric K. has participated in several focus groups in New York City, including one group that discussed a gold-dispensing vending machine. While he can earn up to $250 per focus group, he found out that those opportunities can be few and far between. He recommends participating in focus groups if you’re looking for some extra cash for a trip or gift.
“It would be very hard to make a living off [focus groups],” Donna Turner of Virginia says. “You would need to live in a large city and be signed up with a lot of companies.” But, like Eric’s gold-dispensing machine study, extraordinary opportunities do arise. Turner participated in a year-long study about smokeless tobacco products, and says, “That particular study was like a part-time job, and the income was fantastic!”
Picking and Choosing Your Opportunities
Adrienne Gusoff says that she’s signed up for every focus group company in New York City, but only gets called a couple of times each year to participate. “Even then, I don’t always get through all the hoops,” she admits. If she’s participated in another study with any of the other companies within the past six months, she’s usually disqualified.
“Keep an open mind and submit to everything you feel you would be a good fit for,” Sarah K. advises. “Companies try to be as specific as possible so if you aren’t selected, it’s nothing personal.” (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)
Want to Sign up for Focus Groups?
If you’re interested in making a few extra bucks by sharing your opinions, register with one of the following companies. One note of caution as you look for focus groups near you: advertisements that ask you to pay a fee for access to focus groups are usually scams. A credible company will never ask you to pay to participate.
20|20 Panel hosts online and in-person groups in Nashville, Miami and Charlotte. Live focus groups usually involve 8 to 10 people who have a discussion with a moderator. Online research studies feature an online discussion group of around 15 participants and a moderator, and allow you to leave comments at your convenience within a certain time window. Participants usually earn between $50 and $150 per group.
Focuscope serves the Chicago area, but recently added Atlanta-based projects to its offerings. Opportunities range from standard focus groups to taste tests and in-home studies. Participants can earn $75 to $250 for participating.
Don’t feel left out if you’re not near a major metropolitan area. MindSwarms allows participants to log in online and submit answers to surveys via webcam. After successfully submitting responses, which usually takes an hour, participants receive $50 via PayPal.
Although in-person studies take place in Arlington, Virginia, remote participants may be able to participate in online focus groups. Participation takes one or two hours, and compensation varies.
Shugoll Research hosts focus groups in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Focus groups usually consist of around 10 participants, and qualified applicants can expect to be invited to participate in a focus group once or twice each year.
Your Turn: Have you participated in focus groups? What did you think of the experience? Was it worth your time for the money you earned?