How I got Started With Focus Groups (My Story)
I have first learned about focus groups in my marketing class in college. It’s been some time (20 years ago. Gulp). I was a broke student working for $7.45/hour as a part time cleaner. In a factory that manufactures spices. Not a good part time gig. Naturally, the idea of making $30-50 for an hour of talking, was simply mind blowing. That was some serious cash for me.
I got super excited and started looking for market research companies in Toronto. Yellow Pages and local newspaper ads were still a thing. There, on a back page of Toronto Star I found an ad that promised an unlimited supply of focus groups that paid well. All I had to do was send a cheque to a P.O. Box. It cost $45+tax. I mailed the cheque.
Of course, I got scammed. In 4 or 5 weeks, I got a thin booklet that listed all of the marketing firms in Canada. Some of them had nothing to do with Focus Groups and very few were in Toronto. I was devastated. It was the first time I was duped and it sting. As if I fell face first into a beehive.
But I didn’t give up. I kept searching and eventually found two focus group firms that picked up the phone and added me to their database. And in a couple of months I had participated in my first paid study and got $40 in a brown little envelope. I was ecstatic.
Over the next 15 years I must have participated in over 30 paid research studies and earned over $2,000 from these gigs. I also had a brief stint in focus group recruitment and many years later when I ran my own marketing agency, one of my large clients was a research company.
I am writing this guide for the scammed college student that I was. Gee I wish I knew what I know now. Maybe it will be useful to some of you as well.
What are Focus Groups and How do they work?
Webster Dictionary Defines the focus group as
“a small group of people whose response to something (such as a new product or a politician’s image) is studied to determine the response that can be expected from a larger population”
Think of focus groups as insurance for companies and political groups. Before launching a new product or a marketing campaign, they would like to test consumer reception on a smaller scale. This avoids costly mistakes and product launch blunders.
And corporations spend A LOT of money on this insurance. In fact, according to Esomar in 2017 companies spent $2.2 Billion worldwide on conducting focus groups. $808 Million of that in the USA. Luckily, a significant part of this spending makes it into consumers’ pockets. How? through panelists incentives.
Which is usually cash and gift cards that are given to panelists after they complete the study. Some of allocate as much as 20% of their budget to panelist recruitment and incentives. Long story short. They spend LOTS of cash on rewarding people like you and me.
There is a more detailed article on what are focus groups and whether they are a good fit for you, check this article out.
What Companies Conduct Focus Groups?
Most of the qualitative research (lingo for in-depth study) is conducted by marketing agencies. Lets take an example and walk you through the process so that you have a better understanding:
- A large brand wants to know what people think about their new cereal for athletes
- A large brand approaches a marketing agency that designs the research study. The agency promises to answer all of the tough product questions. Is the cereal too sweet? What kind of packaging works best? Will they consume it for breakfast or as a snack? What kind of milk will they use? 1%? 2%? Almond Milk?
- The Marketing Agency then creates questionnaires and finds participants – people like you
- The focus group takes place at the Agency’s office or Online, while the big brand employees observe through cameras or a one way mirror.
- The Marketing agency creates a large report with recommendations based on consumer feedback
- Everybody is happy. Maybe. Or maybe they want to change cereal flavour and 3 months later repeat the study with another group of participants.
Most of the brands are in a business of product creation and marketing, and usually outsource the marketing research. They also prefer to stay in the shadow, not to sway the course of a discussion. For instance, if the focus group participants know it’s Kellog’s who is making the cereal, their responses might be biased.
Traditionally large brands and manufacturers employed marketing research agencies, but the industry had been democratized since. You can find startups conducting focus groups prior to product launch, other advertising agencies testing the ads they created before releasing them on TV etc.
What kind of studies have I done personally? I have tried alcoholic beverages before product launch, helped design a bottle for drinkable yogurt, commented on the wine label and taste and watched videos for many different brands, shared opinions on a new credit card feature, commented on a loyalty program, etc. I don’t remember all of them now but this list should give you an idea of the range.
Where Can I Find Focus Groups?
Ah, the million dollar question. And the reason for StansGigs existence. You see, market research companies spend an arm and a leg recruiting the right panel participants, and panel participants are looking for ways to get paid. For a typical focus group, panelist recruitment usually runs a company between $3,000 to $10,000 for each session. This is just the cost of finding people like you!
Why is it so expensive to find participants who show up at the right place at the right time? Because many of them don’t fit the required criteria. Focus group organizers will typically want users and non-users of the brand from a certain demographic. And some of these criteria are super hard to fill.
For a while I was working in the call centre hiring focus group participants. There were 20 to 30 of us depending on the day, calling our database and inviting them for focus groups. About 1 out of 10 phone calls filled the required quota.
My hope is to change that with StansGigs. I want to give YOU a nice and steady flow of focus group opportunities that you can fairly easily apply to a few opportunities that catch your eye.
- The first step to start is to register for our newsletter. We will send you some focus groups weekly.
- Secondly, look out for the listings of our Focus Group Companies near you. We are building and ranking marketing research firms in different cities and your town might be there as well
- Take a look at our list of Online market research firms. They are vetted and provide nice and steady flow of opportunities.
How to Improve Your Odds of Qualifying for a Focus Group (without lying)
Some of Stan’s Gigs members get discouraged after they are not invited to participate in a focus group right away. They apply for a few research studies and will not hear back. Every now and then we see them type “I never qualify for anything!” on our Facebook Page. Friends, don’t get discouraged. Here’s a quick write up on the things you can do to increase your odds:
- Apply to multiple groups. You will increase your odds by scoring a paid gig if you apply to more than one. It usually takes 3-6 minutes to fill out a qualification survey.
- Apply Early. The groups tend to fill out fast, especially the less specific buckets. Say a researcher wants to conduct two focus groups where 10 participants are banking with JP Morgan and 10 participants bank with RBC. It will be fairly easy for them to fill the quota with JP Morgan clients. If you apply earlier, you have higher changes to be in the “easier to qualify” bucket.
- Don’t engage with groups in your own industry. As a rule of thumb, researches don’t want industry insiders to participate in a focus group. So if you work in the automotive industry, don’t waste your time trying to qualify for a car focus group.
- Apply for a few lower paying groups. Many focus groups advertise a high compensation for participation. Why? Because it is likely very difficult for them to find the right person. Therefore, it’s less likely for you to qualify. On the other hand a less specific study will be easier to fill and therefore qualify. Simple supply and demand. So if you have difficulties qualifying for $150 studies, apply for a few that offer $60 for an hour of your time.
- Don’t lie in the application. It is tempting to bend the truth in order to qualify, but it’s simply not worth it. It is likely that inconsistencies will be discovered and you will waste your time and researchers’.
How Much Can I earn with Focus Groups?
You are not going to believe it, but we get this question a lot 🙂
The short answer is that on average in the US, you would average $63/hour for focus group.
The long answer is that it depends. First let’s talk about the range of payout for consumer related focus groups. On the lower end, I have seen groups advertise $30-$40 reward. On the higher end of the spectrum – $200 per hour.
I have surveyed some of my friends who participate in such groups and they pretty much confirmed my findings. Someone I know received a $400 reward for a 3 hour focus group on Australian wine and $200 for an hour of talking about cigarette package design.
Not too bad, huh?
And we are just talking about consumer groups. If you are a doctor or a lawyer, to get you to participate in a paid research study, marketing firms are prepared to shell out much more.
What Kind of Research Studies Can I Get Paid For?
Marketing Research comes in different sizes and flavours. On this site I focus on different ways for you to earn from market research, so let me give you a brief rundown on what types of focus groups and market research studies you can encounter.
Focus Groups – It’s the one you see in movies most. A group of six to ten people sits around the table in a room with a one-way mirror. Moderator asks questions. You answer. You get paid. If you want to earn most for your time, take a look at focus groups near you. The one way mirror is not that scary btw.
Online Research Studies – pretty much the same thing as Focus groups, except all of the interviews are done online. The good news? You don’t have to leave your home. The bad news? They usually pay a little less. But you don’t have to settle. See my list of the best paying online research studies.
Shopalong – You get paid for shopping. Really. The not so good news? You have this researcher follow you everywhere and ask questions. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Learn more how to get paid to shop.
Product Test – These are fun. They don’t normally pay as much, but you get to try really interesting merch for free. Many of them involve food! Free cookies anyone? Learn more about how to get paid testing free products.
Usage Test – A close cousin of Product tests with only one exception. Products you will be testing are apps and Websites. The good news? It’s almost always done from home!
Surveys – these are the used car salesmen of the market research. They get the bad reputation, often because they deserve it. But just like there are fantastic used car salesmen, there are fantastic survey companies. The best part of the surveys – the supply is endless. Learn how to find the high paying surveys, and you are good to go! If you want to learn more, feel free to read our Ultimate Guide to Paid Surveys.
Or if you want, you can skip to the list of the best of paying survey sites.
Clinical Trials – If you ever wanted to be first in line to get COVID vaccine and be paid a thousand dollars (that’s not a typo), this could be for you. Obviously not everybody is THAT experimental and there are some cons to clinical trial participation, so take a take a read through my Clinical Trials Guide. I try to be as objective about clinical trials as possible.
Free Samples – Who doesn’t like free stuff? Right?! Well, I am proud to report that over the years I have collected a LOT of samples. I mean if I was to add all of the calories from Free Samples of food I got… that would probably explain my extra 15 lbs. Easily. Anyhow, I have put together an amazing free samples guide.
And I also look at the web EVERY WEEK to bring you the best and latest free samples that you get in the mail.
How many marketing studies can you participate in?
Marketing studies vary in their range and form, and while you can do an unlimited number of online surveys, focus group companies really try to stay away from people who lie on the questionnaires i.e. “the professional respondents”. It is typical that they will ask if you have participated in another focus group in the last 3 months or 6 months. Not all of them will ask, but if they do, please answer honestly.
Want to Know More?
I hope that all of your questions got answered.
But if not, please ask. Comments is a good place to ask.
Also if you want to be on our distribution list of newest gigs, join our newsletter.
And we want to hear from you. Was this post useful? Have you been to a focus group recently? What was your experience like? How much did you make? Tell us in comments. We would love to know