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How to Make Money From Focus Groups & Product Testing

Looking for new opportunities to increase your income? If you haven’t already checked out our blockbuster article on the 11 Best Ways to Make Money From Home, do it now. I guarantee you’ll find at least one active or passive income stream that aligns with your interests and skills.

You might also be interested in opportunities for folks willing to venture outside their homes. Driving for ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are classic examples.

If you’re looking for opportunities that offer the best of both worlds, earning extra income by participating in market research may be for you. With options to work at-home or in-person, I’ll show you how much you can earn, how to participate, and when to take caution.

How Market Research Works

In a blockbuster 2014 study, “America’s Media Usage & Ad Exposure: 1945-2014,” Media Dynamics estimated that modern Americans are exposed to 362 discrete advertisements over nearly 10 hours of daily media exposure. Of those 362 exposures, 153 were “noted” – defined as “attract[ing] the audience’s full attention for a few seconds or more.”

Unsurprisingly, Americans’ daily media exposure nearly doubled from 1945 (the study’s first projection year) to 2014. But overall exposures and notations ticked up only modestly.

In short, we’re getting better at tuning out advertising. Since the mid-20th century, we’ve dramatically increased and diversified our media exposure. Television was still a novelty back in 1945, and the Internet was decades off. Yet, as opportunities to internalize marketing messages have multiplied, we’ve held back. For better or worse, we’re a savvy bunch.

Market Research Methods and Objectives

Market researchers are willing to pay regular people like us decent money to share subjective opinions about the products and information we consume every day. They then relay those opinions to their clients, who use them to hone their marketing messages and develop new or updated products in the hopes of breaking through the noise and grabbing busy consumers’ attention.

I spoke with Liz Scholz, a Minneapolis-based market research professional, to learn more about the art and science of market research – MR, as she calls it.

Scholz cautions that MR is not a monolithic discipline. She identifies three main categories, each with discrete objectives:

  1. Innovation-Based Research: Innovation-based research seeks feedback on new products, services, or attributes thereof. It can be conducted in focus groups, at home, and in other settings. It’s often hands-on: Participants typically get to try the product or a prototype, sometimes for long periods. I tested a new body soap at home for two weeks before providing feedback on my experience, for instance.
  2. Advertising Research: Advertising research seeks feedback on advertising and marketing collateral, including product packaging. It’s conducive to in-person focus groups and online panels, where variably sized groups of participants can consume content (e.g., watch a video ad or examine a prototype label) and provide feedback. Advertising research aims to hone messaging for the client’s or product’s core audience. For instance, I sat on a focus group devoted to beverage container packaging with about a dozen other self-professed coffee drink enthusiasts, answering questions and sharing opinions about more than a dozen subtly different label designs.
  3. Consumer Research: Scholz dubs this one “getting to know your consumer” research. Brands use consumer research to “build internal knowledge of the end-user,” she says, “because [they sometimes] don’t know as much as they want to know about their customers.” Consumer research can also target new pools of potential users. For instance, says Scholz, automakers originally designed boxy, utilitarian hatchback crossovers, such as Kia Soul and Scion xB, for millennials. They later learned through consumer research that these vehicles appealed to a hidden demographic: baby boomers, who appreciated their low clearance and ample cargo space. Consumer research is amenable to focus groups, online panels, at-home product testing, and other methodologies.

Participant Incentives

Regardless of type, market research almost always pays. Within the industry, study participant compensation is known as “incentive.”

For focus group participants, the most common incentives are cash and cash equivalents, such as gift cards. Online panels and at-home product tests may use cash-like currency that can be redeemed for prizes or cash payouts. For instance, Focus Pointe Global, a large market research recruiter with offices in multiple U.S. cities, pays “pointes” to at-home testing subjects. “Pointes” are redeemable for gift cards, cash, and merchandise.

Incentives may be taxable. Participants are always responsible for collecting and paying any state or federal tax owed on their incentives. Check with your tax professional.

Roles and Study Structure

Most of the magic of market research happens behind the scenes, out of view of participants. That’s how the pros want it. But, in the interest of knowing what they’re getting into, participants should understand the basic roles and structure of a typical MR study:

  • Clients. Clients are consumer brands or authorized representatives thereof (such as advertising agencies). They commission the study, closely monitor its progress, provide input, and exercise executive authority at key points during its lifecycle. However, they’re not responsible for minute-to-minute execution.
  • Market Research Firms. Market research firms develop and populate the study in concert with clients, and they’re responsible for its day-to-day, minute-to-minute execution. They employ or retain project managers, moderators, interviewers, and other professionals without whom market research wouldn’t be possible.
  • Recruiters. Recruiting firms seek out, evaluate, and filter potential study participants. They act as the market research industry’s sales force, pitching consumers on MR’s double-barreled participant proposition: the opportunity to simultaneously earn extra income and influence brands’ decision-making processes. They keep extensive lists of potential participants and notify them whenever their demographic profiles or expressed preferences qualify them for a study opportunity. They serve these prospects with screening surveys designed to measure suitability for the study at hand. And they pass prospects who successfully complete those surveys on to market research firms and clients. As a market research participant, recruiting firm representatives are your primary points of contact. Outside of an actual focus group or online panel discussion, you’ll rarely, if ever, interact with market research firms’ representatives, and never with clients themselves.
  • Participants. Participants comprise the study sample. They’re carefully selected by market research firms, which work in concert with clients to whittle down the pool of prospects who made it through the initial screening process.

How to Make Money With Market Research Opportunities

The following market research opportunities all promise compensation in exchange for your honest opinions. That’s about where the similarities end.

1. In-Person Focus Groups

If the phrase “focus group” brings to mind a sterile room in which a small group of strangers engages in structured conversation with a trained moderator, you’re on the right track.

In a focus group, you’re expected to honestly give your opinions about the subject matter at hand, often with visual or physical aids, and always with the assistance of a human moderator. Moderators are adept at using leading questions to coax responses from shy participants, so you should expect to talk about as much as everyone else. If you’re reticent to speak, the moderator will gently but awkwardly single you out for questioning. Depending on the subject and length of the focus group, the exchange may be broken into different formats, such as small group conversations and written reflections.

Focus groups are closely monitored. Most take place in conference rooms with a one-way glass wall, behind which client or ad agency representatives lurk and watch. They’re also videotaped. You’ll be asked at several points to consent to monitoring and recording, including just prior to the group’s scheduled start time. If you’re not okay with sharing your likeness, don’t bother applying.

You usually don’t need to bring anything special to a focus group. You’ll be asked to put your phone on silent and refrain from recording the conversation, but probably won’t be asked to surrender it for the duration. You’ll also probably receive note paper and a pen, which you can use to take notes and organize your responses during the conversation.

Time Commitment
Most in-person focus groups wrap up in one to three hours. In rare cases, I’ve seen half-day or full-day engagements. Unless they look compelling, I avoid those, as I can’t spare four to eight hours during the middle of the workday.

Focus group participants also need to budget time for screening and qualification. It typically takes five to 10 minutes to complete a screening survey. Unsuccessful surveys take less time, but since they’re more common, the investment adds up. Follow-up interviews can take 10 to 15 minutes. And then there’s time spent traveling to and from the focus groups.

Potential Compensation
The single biggest determinant of the size of a focus group incentive is the engagement’s length. In my experience, the rule of thumb is $50 to $75 per scheduled hour – so, $100 to $150 for a two-hour engagement, $150 to $225 for a three-hour engagement, and so on. In high-cost areas, such as San Francisco and New York City, hourly compensation may be higher.

Subject matter plays a role too – sensitive topics, such as health and hygiene, may command higher incentives.

If the client’s screening criteria produce an exceedingly small or specialized sample, participants who make the cut may earn more. For instance, I’ve seen day-long focus groups geared toward participants with specific medical conditions paying upwards of $1,000, and 90-minute focus groups for physicians paying $200 ($133 per hour). Remember, these “per hour” rates apply to your scheduled time only. Time spent in transit to the interview site and filling out paperwork doesn’t count.

Participants usually receive their incentive after the study ends. In my experience, you need to affirm (by signature or initial) that you’ve received your payment before leaving the premises, since cash and gift card payments aren’t traceable to individuals.

2. Online Consumer Panels

Online consumer panels are digital collections of individuals who share certain demographic, behavioral, attitudinal, or preferential characteristics in common. Some panel operators have vast capabilities: Survey Sampling International claims to have more than 17 million panelists in at least 90 countries worldwide. However, for panelists, the experience tends to be more intimate. In the U.S., SSI operates OpinionWorld, its consumer-facing survey app.

The panelist experience varies considerably. Companies like SSI periodically serve panelists with online surveys for which they’re deemed good fits vis-a-vis client input and automated screening criteria. Other online panels are more formalized. For instance, in addition to moderating in-person focus groups, Scholz has managed online forums that required regular input (via postings and chats) on various issues from a rotating group of long-term panelists – sort of like a time-delayed focus group.

Online consumer panels feel more anonymous – your likeness and voice aren’t recorded, for instance, and you rarely, if ever, have to speak with anyone. However, panelists are subject to intense verification procedures: SSI’s process mentions “digital fingerprinting,” “source verification,” “two-factor authentication,” “third-party verification,” “GEO-IP control,” “time stamps,” and more. Unless you’re extremely technically savvy, you can’t conceal your identity from online consumer panel companies.

Time Commitment
The big advantage of online consumer panel participation is flexibility. You can serve on a panel from the comfort of your own home (or anywhere), on your own schedule. If you’re required to complete a time-sensitive survey or respond to live moderator questions, you usually have hours or days to do so. And, if you’re expected to be present for real-time virtual conversations, you’ll know about them well in advance.

Your total time commitment will vary depending on the nature of the panel. Groups of the sort Scholz managed are more time-consuming – several hours per month, at minimum. Survey panels with limited participation requirements (or none at all) are more laid-back. You can take advantage of those whenever you feel like it.

Potential Compensation
On an hourly basis, online panels aren’t as lucrative as in-person focus groups. It’s unrealistic to expect to earn more than $15 to $20 per hour, on average, taking online surveys or participating in panel discussions. Highly specialized or detailed surveys pay better, but they’re rarer.

Incentive pay comes after the successful completion of a survey or discussion, often in point form. You may need to save up your points until you hit a minimum redemption threshold – say, the equivalent of $10 or $20.

3. At-Home Product Testing

At-home product testing is ideal for consumers who like trying new products without paying for them. In my experience, opportunities favor hygiene and beauty products, prepared foods, electronics, and certain apparel items. If you’re signed up with market research recruiters, you’ll periodically receive product testing offers, but you’ll want to sign up with companies that specialize in at-home product testing as well.

A standard at-home product test asks you to use the prototype product for a set length of time, usually in a carefully specified manner. In all cases, you’re required to complete a survey after completing the test. Depending on the client’s needs, the length of the test, and the nature of the product, you may need to complete surveys during the test itself or provide other forms of feedback.

Certain product tests may require a home interview with a market research professional, but these aren’t common for lower-value hygiene or food products. Assuming this isn’t part of the deal, at-home product testing is the least invasive of the three formats discussed here.

Time Commitment
If your at-home product testing engagement simply requires you to swap out a product you already use for one you’re being asked to test, the time commitment is minimal. For instance, during my soap-testing engagement, I changed nothing about my shower routine other than the soap. At the end, I completed a 10-minute survey. Coupled with the screening survey, the experience set me back about 20 minutes in all.

Other product testing engagements can be more time-consuming. If you’re selected to test a more complicated product with a steeper learning curve, or to provide extensive feedback or documentation about your experience during and after the testing period, you’ll need to set aside hours – perhaps entire chunks of multiple days. The project brief should clearly outline your testing responsibilities. Read it carefully before accepting the gig.

Potential Compensation
Most at-home product testing gigs aren’t lucrative. My soap study paid the equivalent of $3, plus a free bar of soap – barely worth my while, even for the relatively low time investment. More exacting engagements can pay substantially more, but the hourly rates still don’t approach in-person focus groups. Compensation usually comes in point form, after you’ve completed the project-ending survey.

Other Consumer Market Research Formats

Lots of market research opportunities follow those three big formats: in-person focus groups with up to a dozen participants, online panels, and at-home product testing. They’re not the only three though. Others exist, and though they’re less commonplace and harder to snag, they can be quite lucrative. You often won’t even know you’re applying for them.

“Unfortunately, recruiters usually won’t tell you what the [opportunity] will be like until you’ve passed the screener,” says Scholz. In other words, screener questions frequently appear similar, even when the study format may change.

  • Individual Interviews. Individual interviews (also known as in-depth interviews or IDIs) are like “focus groups of one,” says Scholz. They take place at a market research facility with one-way windows, but they’re more intimate – it’s just you and the moderator talking. If you’re not much of a talker, individual interviews might not be your thing, but they do offer a chance to share unfiltered opinions without fear of being judged by others in the room.
  • Mini Groups. Mini groups (also known as dyads) are like small focus groups, usually with two or three participants and a moderator. They also take place in market research facilities with standard monitoring. “If you get nervous in bigger groups, you may be more comfortable in mini groups,” says Scholz. You’ll have to speak more, but you’ll feel less pressure to perform.
  • Home or Field Interviews. These formats send moderators into the consumer wilds to interview participants in their natural environments. Some occur at participants’ residences, where they can freely and naturally discuss products they consume in that environment – and demonstrate their use patterns. Others occur in the field, where consumers make purchasing decisions or buy products for use elsewhere – for instance, in retail environments. There’s obviously no one-way mirror in either case, but your conversation may be recorded. And, for home interviews, you need to be comfortable inviting a researcher into your home. You’ll be asked to consent to this during the screening process.
  • UX Testing. UX testing is a more hands-on process that evaluates your experience with a product or service (often digital) in real time. It usually occurs in a market research facility, though more involved studies may require that the participant test the product over a period of days or weeks at their home – similar to traditional product tests.

Compensation varies by format, time commitment, and subject matter. Since home interviews are the most invasive, market research firms are typically willing to pay a premium for them. Individual and small group interviews can be lucrative too, though you shouldn’t assume that you’ll get a larger “share” of the client’s budget simply because you have fewer fellow participants.

How to Find and Apply for Market Research Gigs

Finding market research gigs isn’t particularly time-consuming. A quick Google search is enough to get you started. However, if you’re serious about finding as many baskets as possible, use these strategies:

  • Ask Your Friends for Leads. Get to know others in the market research circuit. I’ve never come by an opportunity through my personal network, but many participants do. “A friend of mine signed up [with a market research recruiter],” says Rona, a Boston-area writer (pen name: Rachel Kenley) who supplements freelance and royalty income with focus group cash. “She had one that she didn’t qualify for but she thought I might be interested. I loved the opportunity to share information while earning extra income.”
  • Read Reviews. Before signing up with a recruiter, do some due diligence. Sort through reviews from real market research participants, taking semi-verifiable sources (Twitter, Reddit) with a healthy dose of salt. Watch out for paid reviews disguised as authentic feedback. You’re looking for red flags: complaints about slow communication, scheduling snafus, misleading screeners, and the like.
  • Check Online Classifieds. Craigslist is a great place to find market research opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s also a haven for sketchy outfits, so it’s imperative that you subject each Craigslist hopeful to strict scrutiny. Don’t give out any personal info before verifying that the opportunity is legitimate.
  • Sign Up With More Than One Recruiter. Market research companies avoid prolific participants wherever possible. You’re therefore unlikely to receive more than a handful of opportunities from the same recruiter each year. “I’m signed up with only one agency, and I only match with an offer every few months or so,” says Rona. By signing up with multiple recruiters, you ensure a steady stream of opportunities, regardless of participation patterns.
  • Understand Conflict of Interest Rules. Most screening questionnaires exclude participants who work in “no go” industries right off the bat. Since they know too much about how the process works behind the scenes, market research professionals are almost always eliminated from consideration. Marketing and advertising professionals, including creatives, are often excluded as well. So are media professionals, due to the risk that they’ll share their experiences with a wide audience. (Ahem.) And people who deal with the study’s subject matter daily aren’t good fits either – for instance, beverage company employees won’t make it past the screening process for a focus group about energy drinks.
  • Keep Your Schedule Flexible. This isn’t as important for online and at-home opportunities, but if in-person focus groups appeal to you, you’ll need to keep your schedule as flexible as possible. Market research companies frequently schedule focus groups in the evenings, especially if they’re aiming for a white-collar set. Weekend focus groups aren’t as common, but I’ve seen a few come through my inbox. If you don’t work a 9-to-5 or have the freedom to set your own working hours, you’ll find a bevy of focus groups scheduled during regular working hours.

General Application and Screening Procedures

Here’s what to expect from the market research qualification process. This is a general guide only – every company’s screening procedures are different, and more involved formats (such as home interviews) may require additional vetting.

  1. Notification and Offer. Once you’re on a recruiter’s list, you’ll receive periodic emails notifying you of market research opportunities for which you may qualify. These emails typically describe the opportunity in general terms: whether it’s online or in person, expected time commitment, expected incentive, and the industry or subject matter. If you’re interested, you click the link to the screening questionnaire and go to step two.
  2. Initial Screening Questionnaire. The initial screening questionnaire asks a mix of demographic and behavioral questions that assess your suitability for the research opportunity. Your answers are compared against the client’s screening criteria in real time. A single “incorrect” answer (one that conflicts with the client’s criteria) is enough to disqualify you, bringing the survey to an abrupt end. For instance, if the study is geared toward frequent snack bar consumers and you state that you never consume snack bars, you’re not likely to qualify. These criteria can be picky – I’ve taken the same screening survey for a yogurt study at least 20 times, varying my answers every time, without ever reaching the qualification stage.
  3. Follow-Up Interview. When you do successfully complete a screening survey, you’re informed that you may be a match for the study opportunity and advised to watch for further instructions. Within a few days, you’ll receive a call from a representative of the recruiting firm or market research company leading the study. In my experience, these calls are brief. Mainly, the rep asks fresh questions to check the consistency of your screener answers and provides more details about the study opportunity. If the opportunity is an in-person group scheduled for a specific time, the rep confirms that you can make it. You may also be asked to give verbal consent to share your responses and personal information with the client.
  4. Approval and Scheduling. If you’re approved for the opportunity, you’ll be told either during the follow-up interview or a subsequent call. If the opportunity is not open-ended, you’ll then formally schedule your participation date and time, usually choosing from a handful of date-time options or tight date range. You’ll be told when to arrive, what to bring, and what to expect from the experience.
  5. Identity Verification and Waiver. For in-person studies, you’ll need to arrive at least 15 minutes early on the day of to verify your identity, fill out paperwork, and formally give your consent to participate. For online panels, you’ll give your consent and receive participation instructions digitally.

Proven Tips for Market Research Success

Market research is what you make of it. Here’s a list of things you can do to get the most out of your market research journey.

Tips to Improve Your Experience

Follow these tips to improve your experience with in-person focus groups, online panels, product testing engagements, and other forms of market research:

  • Ask Questions. If you’re confused about anything in the run-up to an in-person focus group, “contact the recruiter with any and all questions,” says Scholz. “That’s what they’re there for.” Recruiters are expected to respond promptly and thoroughly to participant questions. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask important questions, especially those whose answers might affect your decision to participate.
  • Drop Out Early. Don’t bail on the day of the engagement. “If you find that you don’t want to participate anymore, tell the recruiter sooner rather than later,” says Scholz. Recruiters and market researchers alike hate it when participants cancel at the last minute, even if they provide notice. One cancellation could be enough to foreclose future opportunities with that recruiter.
  • Arrive Early. Arrive to in-person events at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start time to fill out paperwork, sign the waiver, and receive last-minute instructions. If you arrive at or just prior to the scheduled start time, you may be denied entry and forced to forgo your incentive. On the other hand, some recruiters give early bird rewards for the first arrival in each focus group.
  • Be Honest and Forthright. Be honest from start to finish, beginning with the online screener. Don’t say you use a product when you don’t, overplay your experience, or lie about your profession. Even if you make it through the online screener and phone interview (if applicable), you’re unlikely to successfully bluff your way through an entire focus group. “You will be found out and you will be so uncomfortable throughout the whole thing,” says Scholz. Moderators are trained to ask questions that ferret out dishonest participants. If you’re judged not to be on the level, the client will convey that to the recruiter, which may then remove you from its rolls. If the dishonesty is egregious during the session, says Scholz, “they may even dismiss you without your incentive.”
  • Abide by the Waiver. Before you officially participate in any market research opportunity, you’ll be asked to sign a waiver limiting your rights and recourse. Waiver language varies by recruiter, client, and MR format. Typical language includes a prohibition on discussing the particulars of your experience with nonparticipants; contacting the client directly; misrepresenting yourself in written and verbal communication before, during, and after the study; and more. If the recruiter or client learns that you’ve violated any of the terms of the waiver, you’ll likely be removed from consideration for future opportunities. In extreme cases, you may find yourself in legal peril.
  • Don’t Be Shy. If you’re an introvert, you’re probably not thrilled about the idea of freely speaking your mind in a group of total strangers. Being observed by an in-room moderator and at least one additional person behind a one-way glass wall doesn’t help. That said, it’s in your best interest to shake off your jitters and take comfort in the fundamental subjectiveness of the process. “The moderator really does come from an independent research company hired to talk to you,” says Scholz. “They really do want your opinions – there’s no such thing as a right or wrong answer.” In other words, it’s not a test.
  • Avoid Referring to Previous MR Experiences. Intuitively, you might think that referring to past MR experiences in a focus group or online panel discussion would endear you to the moderator. Just the opposite, says Scholz. Acknowledging the fundamental artifice of a focus group or panel discussion interferes with its objectives. “Market researchers want to make sure our research subjects, the consumers, don’t have preconceived notions that can affect the other consumers in the group,” she says. “Saying, ‘In my last group, this happened,’ is counterproductive because every group is different: the participants, the objective, the moderator, the client.”
  • Don’t Try to Reach Consensus. In group settings, remember that the moderator does not care if the subjects reach a desired conclusion or achieve consensus. As long as you honestly share your opinions and interact with other group members appropriately, you’ll have done your duty.
  • Don’t Try to Guess the Brand. Don’t obsess over the identity of the brand that brought you to the table. While it can be fun to try to figure out who’s (literally) behind the glass, it can also distract you from the real reason you’re there: to provide feedback and collect your paycheck. If you’re expending all your mental energy trying to figure out the brand’s identity and then calibrating your responses accordingly, you’re not going to give honest feedback. This won’t endear you to the moderator or client, and could hamper future opportunities with the recruiter.
  • Be Realistic About Your Earning Potential. Rona earns $150 to $300 per engagement, depending on session length and (in her opinion) the client’s budget. Becky Lockridge, a working mom from Orange County, California, earns anywhere from $25 to $225 per session. They participate in a handful of in-person focus groups annually, adding (at most) about $1,000 to their annual incomes. Clearly, market research is not a full-time income stream for either. And, as Scholz notes, market research recruiters are good at screening out “professional” participants, mostly because they want a representative breadth of opinions, rather than input from a relatively small group of committed market research participants. It’s therefore not realistic to expect to replace full- or even part-time employment with market research gigs. “Market research is fine [for making] good money for a small time commitment,” she says, “but I wouldn’t count on it for a steady income stream…more like ‘fun money.'”

What to Watch for and Avoid

Be wary of recruiters waving too many of these red flags:

  • Incomplete Information During Onboarding. To protect clients’ anonymity and prevent prospective participants from gaming the screening process, recruiters are intentionally vague during screening and onboarding. That said, there’s a fine line between vagueness and incomplete or deliberately misleading information. For instance, my at-home soap testing project’s brief didn’t clearly spell out the incentive, which (I learned after the fact) was a pittance. It’s my fault for not asking ahead of time, but it would have been nice for the recruiter to be more forthcoming before I accepted the gig.
  • Poor Organization and Communication. MR recruiting is not rocket science, but it’s not a logistical walk in the park either. Some recruiting agencies are thinly staffed – a principal or two and a handful of junior associates. This hampers their abilities to recruit for lots of projects at once or keep more complex projects on track. My at-home soap testing project was a large, nationwide effort overseen by a single market research company that divided the testing sample by geographic region and delegated to local recruiters. My communications with the national overseer and local recruiter revealed a stark disconnect – each directed queries to the other, waited days before responding to simple requests, and generally seemed ill-prepared for the volume and type of communications they were receiving.
  • Substandard Incentives. Generally, “you should not be worried about not getting paid enough,” says Scholz. For comparable projects, “incentives are pretty similar industry-wide, so rarely will you get a better price somewhere else. [Recruiters] are not trying to cheat you.” This doesn’t mean incentive offers are standardized. If you’re signed up with multiple recruiters, it’s natural to favor those that offer higher pay for comparable work. One of my recruiters reliably pays about 25% more for two-hour focus groups – enough to influence my time allocation.
  • Excessive Outreach. If you’re already overwhelmed by your daily email load, don’t sign up with market research recruiters. Unless you’re willing to log into your panelist account multiple times per week, the best way to learn about new opportunities is by email. Some agencies are downright prolific. One of the larger agencies I’m signed up with sends out five to seven study notification emails per weekday, on average, and two to three per weekend day. Since I don’t have time to complete every screener, and it’s clear at this point that the agency doesn’t filter its notifications, I automatically delete most of its emails. I’m more likely to act on other agencies’ less frequent, higher-quality notifications.
  • Double-Dipping. A couple of the market research recruiters I signed up with appear to actively recruit participants and panelists for contract and full-time employment. In other words, in the participant sections of their websites, they advertise current job opportunities and invite participants to apply. In at least one case, I’ve seen similar language in emails advertising study opportunities. There’s nothing inherently wrong or illegal about this tactic, but it strikes me as aggressive, and it’s a possible sign that the recruiter is biting off larger projects than it can chew or presiding over an unpleasant, turnover-prone work environment.

Final Word

If you’re willing to work for your money, the sharing economy offers a slew of opportunities to earn extra income at home and around town. Thousands of people make good money selling their skills as freelancers on gig platforms like UpWork.

And, if you’re drawn to market research because you truly enjoy influencing corporate decision-making processes and providing actionable information to the companies that shape your day-to-day life, you might be interested in more “hands-on” opportunities like plasma, sperm, and egg donation – though those all present risks and may not be available to everyone.

Bottom line: If the market research blues have you down, don’t despair. There are plenty of other fish – and dollars – in the sea.

Have you ever sat on a focus group or participated in market research in some other way?

Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.
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