The component costs of a focus group

It’s not unusual for us to get an enquiry from a company that has never run a focus group before. I had one such phone call recently and after a long conversation about possibilities we turned to budget. The silence on the end of the phone when we talked about a ball park cost was telling and in our experience, not unusual.

There are many components parts to a successful focus group and all of these parts require expertise, professionalism and skill. One of my biggest gripes is that the image of focus groups as portrayed by programmes such as The Apprentice make them appear, at best, rather easy to put together and at worst, shambolic and cheap. I’ve written this post to help explain how focus groups are put together and a guide to the core costs to be expected.

What is the true cost of a focus group?

Here are the core components

A: Planning: All good groups start with careful planning.  As researchers, we have skills in understanding how research can help develop strategy and methods and style of questions that work best.  We like to meet with our clients to fully understand the objectives of the research and how it fits within the overall strategy.  From the planning meeting, we can then design the method, recruitment brief and discussion guide.  Each client is given a research lead and this person will also be the facilitator.  Good facilitation starts right at the planning stage.

B: Recruitment.  The planning stage will have identified who you need to attend your groups – the demographics and characteristics. A recruitment brief is drafted and recruiters appointed.  We work directly with some amazing recruiters.  Recruitment is a specialist job, it’s hard work, time consuming and detailed.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you can just make a few calls and find the right people.

C: Discussion Guide.  This is the key planning document. We work closely with our clients to draft a discussion guide that will cover all the aims and objectives with the right type of questions and style.    The discussion guide can also include the use of visuals – and we often work closely with clients to advise on the type of visuals that would work best.

D: Facilitation. By the time the groups are run, the facilitator will thoroughly understand the aims and objectives and be very much immersed in our clients objectives for the research.  This is a difficult and often challenging job, don’t underestimate the tacit skills involved here.

E: Analysis and debrief:  A good analysis is not just about telling you what people said.  Analysis begins the minute the group starts, looking at body language, interaction and interest.  We spend hours re-listening to groups and drawing out key themes and drawing conclusions and recommendations.

F: Incentives:  The incentive payment is the thank you for the participant’s time and is an essential part of the cost of a focus group.  As a guide – most commercial focus groups pay an incentive of between £40-£60 per person.  For specialist groups or B2B groups this can rise considerably.

G: Venue: It is important to match the venue to the research – and we often advise on suitable venues.  Costs can range from the free use of a meeting room to a central London viewing suite of circa £1500.

Each component takes time – we can often turn around groups very quickly – but in order to do a good job we recommend a minimum of 2 weeks from start to finish – often longer for larger projects.  We need to balance the urgent timescales of clients with the time required to ensure a quality job.

The cost?
Every group is different but as a guide for a standard consumer focus group we would expect one group with all the components (A-F) to cost around £2500 – £3000. Venue is then priced separately.


Cost differentials

The biggest variation in costs are due to the type of participants needed.  For example, Professional groups and B2B groups will cost significantly more due to harder recruitment and higher incentives. There are also economies of scale where multiple groups are required especially where more than one group can be held at the same venue on the same evening.

Hopefully this post provides some insight into the components and cost of focus groups.  They can be such a powerful and insightful tool for businesses and organisations when planned and run well and yet such a disappointment when badly organised and badly planned.  There is no component that can be skimped on, in time, skill or money – a good group is only as good as it component parts.


It’s always worth checking out the extra value that an agency brings when getting quotes. We offer our clients two director level researchers for each project which we believe offers great value for money. Also, always check that the quote includes every component – you don’t want any surprise add ons!