Focus groups are an insightful research option for businesses embarking on the exploratory phase of a project. Implementation of a focus group requires a moderator with the skill necessary to obtain rich data that will allow the client to take the next step in their project. Below are tips for conducting a successful focus group.

  1. Recruitment Plan

Establish your target audience prior to focus group recruitment. It may seem like an obvious strategy, but it will be important to spend the time nailing down your recruitment approach with all parties involved. For example, when planning a focus group project, consider the following:

  • Screen potential participants to ensure they meet the criteria for focus group participation.
  • Plan to recruit more participants than you’ll need; there will inevitably be one or more “no shows.”
  • Offer participants an incentive that has value to them, and make it worth their time. Cash is often the best option. We suggest a $50 minimum for 1.5 hours of the participant’s time.
  • Clearly identify the purpose of the focus group when contacting potential participants. People often assume focus groups are a scam. It’s important to let them know you are not trying to sell them something.
  • Inform them of the level of confidentiality they can expect from their participation. Will you be recording the session? Will their name be included in the report to the client?
  • Try to balance the focus group by recruiting participants that share something in common regarding the topic being investigated, but ensure they aren’t TOO much alike that it will bias your data.
  • Plan to spend time recruiting. It often takes multiple attempts to recruit someone to a focus group. If possible, implement multiple forms of recruitment (online/emails, flyers, mailers, and similar strategies).
  1. Selecting Participants

Once participant recruitment begins, it’s important to monitor the quotas for each population being recruited. For example, if you are hoping to determine gaps in available health services over a multiple county area, it will be important to monitor how many participants are recruited for each county. The number of participants should also be considered. We recommend attempting to seat a minimum of six recruited participants in order to allow for rich discussion.

You should also consider whether you will need multiple groups with the same demographics, or fewer groups with participants split based upon an important characteristic. Separate groups should be held if participants are expected to interpret the content differently, or you believe they would not feel comfortable providing truthful responses in the presence of another demographic. Examples of this include holding separate focus groups for bosses and employees, parents and children, and high socioeconomic status vs. low socioeconomic status.

  1. Implementation Strategy
  • Plan to conduct the focus group(s) at a time that is convenient for the participants. This may mean the focus group will take place before or after business hours, during lunch, or on the weekend. Many state and federal organization recognize more holidays than the average US business, so it is best to avoid scheduling the group on a holiday.
  • Provide participants with light snacks and beverages. If the discussion will be held during lunch or dinner, it is best to provide a light meal. As part of your recruitment method, specify the types of refreshments that participants can expect.
  • The location of the focus group can be vital. If your target audience is primarily made up of low socio-economic participants, plan a location along public transportation routes. If you’re trying to reach an affluent business population, a central location in a downtown setting may be a priority. Either way, choose a public setting where parking is convenient, and participants will feel safe.
  • Once a potential location is determined, it will be important to ensure that a large table and chairs will be available. We find it’s best to arrange the room in an informal manner. For example, several tables may be placed next to each other perpendicularly so that no one has their back to another participant.
  • Plan to spend a good amount of time developing the moderator’s guide, which details the implementation strategy that the moderator will use to conduct the focus group. Try to keep questions short and to the point so participants do not lose interest or have trouble comprehending. Questions should be open-ended to allow for rich discussion.

Stay tuned for additional tips on conducting a successful focus group. Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our market research services please contact the Director of Business Development, Sandy Baker at or by calling 1-866-567-5422.