Want More Cash? Get Focused!

by Celeste Leibowitz

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In the past year, I've earned $125 for sampling and discussing a new brand of olive oil, $35 for filling out a questionnaire about health care examinations, $200 for being a "movie star" in a videotape about my medical conditions, and $325 for participating in a couples study with my husband. When added up, that's $685, which is more than a month's maintenance payment on our apartment.

How did I earn this extra cash? I participated in focus groups, marketing studies, and psychological experiments. You can do this as well.

Companies want your input. Before they launch a new product or service, create a logo, or spend money on an expensive commercial, they need to feel confident that their target market will buy. That target market just might be you.

What will they want from you? That depends. Sometimes you'll be asked to show up without doing anything else. Or, you may be asked to sample a new product (for example, the olive oil). Other times, you might be asked to bring something along. An upcoming study I've been called for requires that I bring a drawing or collage depicting my feelings about diabetes. However, the most important requirement for a focus group is that you are comfortable speaking up and giving your opinion in a group of people you never met, and that you will give your honest opinion even if the rest of the group disagrees with you.

The focus group session may be videotaped for future reference. Most likely there will be a two-way mirror at one side of the room, and representatives of the company that commissioned the focus group will be watching, though you can't see them.

How can you qualify? Every day, there are all kinds of studies. Sometimes focus study companies will ask for people with a certain occupation. They may want you to talk about your computer, your HDTV, your iPod or your cell phone. They might be studying shopping habits. Or they may want to speak to people with specific medical conditions to get their opinion of a new drug or treatment. College psychology departments often run experiments, and if you are in their target group, you can qualify for these as well.

Best of all, focus groups and some psychology experiments pay, and pay handsomely. Over the past few years, I have received payments of up to $325. It's not unusual to receive $75 or $100 for participating in a focus group that lasts one to two hours. That's an excellent hourly rate! Sometimes they offer gift certificates to Amazon.com or other perks. Not only that, but also many of the companies serve free finger sandwiches, soda, cookies, and coffee to the participants. You get all this just for giving them your honest opinion.

Is there a down side to this? Not really. As frugal folks, we may not qualify for as many studies as the bigger spender may because often the studies focus on extra ways to get money out of the consumer. If you're one of those people who watches the money and doesn't download all those pricey ringtones, you might miss out on some of the studies aimed at people who are eager to buy the next techno toy. However, there are always plenty of others. Whatever your age, gender, ethnic group or social status, there will be studies aimed at you, the niche consumer.

Focus companies pride themselves on offering a diverse pool of subjects to the companies that hire them. So no one company will call you on a constant basis. By registering with several, you increase your chances of qualifying for more studies.

How do you find focus groups and psychological experiments? For the experiments, contact your local colleges and universities. Visit the campus and stroll through the student center and through the psychology department. Experimenters seeking subjects will post flyers advertising the experiments. If you're a student, your college website might post them, too.

I find focus groups and experiments by searching Craigslist. Click on your hometown and search under the "et cetera" and part-time job listings. You can also sign up with focus companies, such as Focus Forward, which operates in New York City, Philadelphia, and nationally, or The Focus Room, which operates in the tri-state area of New York City, Westchester, New York, and Stamford, Connecticut. Fields Research in Cincinnati can be reached at 513-821-6266 or email them through their website. These companies are just the tip of the iceberg. Search for ones near you by Googling focus group companies in the nearest urban center.

Got opinions? Want extra cash? Get focused today!

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