Side Hustle Spotlight: Focus Groups

Consumer panels/ focus groups aren’t a new idea to me. I’ve seen them portrayed on TV, and heard of people participating in them for compensation. While attending a summer program at Harvard in my teens, I participated in studies and surveys at the university for compensation. This isn’t the same as consumer panels, but the ideas are similar, get paid to participate in something that’s easy to do. 

A few weeks ago, I heard a lady detail her frugal wins for 2020. She mentioned earning over $3,000 in a year participating in focus groups. I scoured the internet, trying my best to sift out the legit sites from the rest. If there’s a barrier to participating in focus groups, that would be it. I found it hard to figure out which websites represented real companies. Since the screening questionnaires for each of these companies takes between 5 and 15 minutes, and requires personal information such as your name, phone number, age, income, and purchasing preferences, it’s worth taking the time to look at reviews for the company before entering sensitive information. I found 2 businesses that have reviews and are based in my area. I signed up for both, although only one of them has contacted me so far. 

I received a phone call 3 weeks ago from a representative of a consumer opinion company in Oregon. She’d received my screening survey, and based on my answers she thought I would be a good fit. She confirmed my answers and told me more about a skincare survey. The products to be tested were CBD based chapstick, face oil, and skin toner. I agreed, and the products arrived at my house a week later. 

I used the products for 14 days, ending yesterday. My skin is a little bougie and requires high end moisturizer in order to quench the dry parts and also not make my T-zone too oily. The first week was great. I liked using the toners and especially liked the chapsticks (one of them was coffee flavored!). The moisturizing oil made me nervous, but 7 days in and no acne assuaged my worries. Then week 2 came and everything changed. 

The face oil made the lower half of my face dry and flakey with dry patches. It also caused acne on my chin. I had acne as a teen and have remained vigilant in my facial hygiene routine over the years to keep my face blemish free. Now I have dark marks where pustules recently formed. I am not using that product anymore and I know my face will return to normal within a few days of returning to my normal routine. Still, it was an annoying side effect. It’s a good thing my chin is covered by a mask in public! I could have gamed the system and not used the oil at all based on my prediction that it wouldn’t improve or maintain the condition of my skin. I could have given a generic review after the trial ended and no one would have been the wiser. Instead, I followed the directions and made good on my commitment to try the products. I’ve submitted my review and my check for $100 has been mailed. I also get to keep the free products so that’s another frugal win!

I think the biggest victory of this process is gaining knowledge through firsthand experience that it really is possible to get paid to try/give opinions about products. I needed to see it to believe it. I’ll really be convinced once my check arrives. Ultimately, although I will continue to work with this company in the future, I don’t have high hopes for focus groups to bring in significant income in the future. The company that sent me this opportunity limits participants to one focus group every 3 months. If I do 3 more like this one, by the end of the year that’ll be $400. I know focus groups have slowed during the pandemic, so there may be more of an upside in the coming months and years. Either way, I would definitely recommend focus groups to others looking for easy and fun ways to make money.

Update: 2 days later, the company emailed me a $100 gift card for Amazon. Success!

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