Small Business Research Part 2 – Qualitative – Focus Groups

small business research focus group

Ten rules for small business owners when participating in focus groups or other qualitative projects.



Editor’s note: This is part two of a twopart series. In part one of What to Expect If You Are Contacted to Participate in Research we covered seven insights on what to expect when joining a panel participating in a survey. 

As a business owner or just a regular person, you might find yourself on the receiving end of an invitation to participate in a focus group or an in-depth interview

Having organized literally thousands of such qualitative research projects over the years, I can tell you what to expect and what to watch out for.

You might assume that I am completely biased in favor of encouraging people to participate in focus groups or other qualitative projects, and you’d be right, but I can honestly say that I think most participants are really happy they did so because the process should be interesting. 

Ten rules for small business owners when participating in focus groups or other qualitative projects:

1.   Rule One with qualitative research is the same as for surveys – that is, no one should ever try to sell you anything, ever. 

You might be asked a hypothetical question (“Would you buy this product as described?”) and that is fine, but there should never ever be any kind of sale or signature or any compromise on your part.

2.  Second, you should never be asked for personal information such as your social security number, bank account data or anything personal involving you or your family. 

Such a request should send up huge red flags – just say no.  Still, some questions might be sensitive, and that’s up to you to answer or not.

3.   Third, to set the stage, qualitative recruiters will contact you to see if you are interested in participating in a focus group or in-depth interview. 

If you are, they will ask you a series of screening questions to see if you qualify. 

As I described with the surveys, you might not fit what they are looking for, and you shouldn’t take this personally in any way.  A focus group will be built around a certain set of behaviors, so they would go after the target audience for the product or service that is sponsoring the work. 

You should always answer the recruiter’s questions honestly otherwise you may find yourself in a group you don’t belong to which would be awkward for all involved.

4.   Fourth, incentives will be offered which are generally fairly generous, more so as the qualifications narrow. 

Business owners, MD’s, realtors and other professionals can expect higher incentives than if they are simply going after people who drink diet soft drinks. 

For taking time out of your busy day you deserve an incentive to cover your time, but you can’t do this as a business or a second job.  Generally people are asked if they’ve done a focus group in the past six months, and if yes, they are thanked but not invited. 

If you happen, for example, to suffer from a rare medical condition, they might bend the rules if the target is hard to reach. 

In other cases, if you have ever done a focus group on a specific topic you might never be asked to a group on that same topic again. 

5.   Fifth, it is important for you to understand that qualitative research is designed to seek your personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. 

There is no place in this context for polite answers that mask or mute your honest opinions. 

As a moderator, when it seems someone is going along with the others in the room just out of politeness, I will challenge them with a contrarian position just to see how they react. 

What you honestly think and feel is what researchers need in this context.  If you don’t like the ad concept presented or the design of a new health brochure, just say so and give your reasons.

Next page- Rules #6 through #10


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