A Guide to Getting Into Focus Groups

Help determine the future of consumer products AND get paid!

Mad Men

Focus groups are a fun way to make money if you enjoy getting paid to express yourself. Your opinions may change the way a company markets a product or whether a show makes it to television. It’s kind of a weird amount of power for you, the average person, to wield, and the money is not bad either: $75–300 for an hour or two of your time.

Finding out where focus groups are in your area and how to qualify for them are two big hurdles that stand between you and that sweet, sweet cash, so here’s how to make those leaps.

To start, sign up for a focus group site, like Advanced Focus or Focus Pointe Global. Your local focus group firms may be different based on where you live—and yes, some of you may not have focus group firms in your area—but many of the larger focus group firms have offices all over the country. I’ve used both of the companies listed above, along with others in New York City.

In your case, you might want to search “focus groups near” and your nearest metropolitan area. Of course, the search results for “survey” or “focus group” often include scammers who are after your personal information, so once you find a site, do your due diligence and look them up on Yelp to make sure they’re legit.

Once you’re signed up, you’ll get an email with a survey and the focus group’s general topic. The survey helps determine who gets invited to a focus group, and not everybody makes the cut. If you work in marketing or PR, for example, it may be difficult to get focus groups as they are worried you might leak what you learned to the press. Some people choose to downplay their media/PR experience in order to have a better chance of getting invited to focus groups. Other people always say they’ve never done a focus group before, because previous focus group experience can also be a disqualifying factor.

If the survey asks you a seemingly unrelated question like which famous people you’d like to invite to dinner, answer it with detail. This is a question that judges your creative thinking and if you’d be good at thinking on your feet in a focus group.

Otherwise, answer everything as it applies to you. You can probably up your chances of getting a focus group by saying you use whatever product they’re talking about all the time, but your mileage with that may vary, since you don’t really know what they’re looking for. To be on the safe side, never say you never use any of the products they ask about, since that will probably make you the opposite of what they’re looking for. After you take the survey, you might get a phone call to prescreen you for a focus group and verify your credentials — just remember what you said in the survey so your results are consistent.

Once you get to a focus group, you may be surrounded by your same demographic (people with your same age/gender/race) or a completely diverse mix of people. They’re either trying to get a representative sample population, or they’re trying to see how their product specifically appeals to your demographic. If you live in a big enough city, you may never see these people again, even if you’re a focus group regular.

You usually sit at a table with a mirror, and behind that mirror sits a group of market researchers who study your facial expressions and what you say. If that feels a little Big Brother-y, don’t fret. They’re often social scientists who just want to know what an average person thinks of their marketing techniques. They always offer water and occasionally some sort of snack. If you sign up for a study that involves food or beverages, sometimes you get free samples or coupons! The focus groups usually take between a half hour and two hours, so when you look at it that way, you just got paid $100 an hour to talk about if you liked a certain product or ad.

Be aware that focus groups don’t always pay in cash. Some of the time, they pay you in Visa gift cards, and it’s hard to remember how much you spent, since those cards don’t offer a way of checking your balance. I’d suggest starting a spreadsheet of how much you spent if you really want to use every penny of that gift card.

Focus groups are a ton of fun: I’ve watched television pilots, tested out new equipment, and given feedback on advertising strategies for brands I use. So if you have the random hour in the middle of a workday to go into a focus group, go make those extra dollars and express yourself!

Abby is a comedy writer who also loves money and food. Follow her on twitter @1abbyroad.

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