One of the easiest ways to make some money on the side is to take part in paid market research. The rewards can be considerable. It’s not at all unusual to earn $100 or more for giving up just an hour of your time.
In this article, we look at how the world of online research works, and introduce you to a few places where you can sign up for the chance to get involved in well-paid focus groups and other interesting studies.
What is Paid Market Research?
Paid market research is where companies pay consumers to provide their opinions on specific products, services and entire industries.
The research can take various forms: from questionnaires to product tests to one-to-one telephone interviews to online focus groups.
At one end of the scale, a company may wish to seek feedback on a new product or a specific advertising campaign. At the other, if you’re an expert in a particular industry, you may find studies where companies are keen to glean your general opinions on a wide range of related topics.
To give you an idea of how broad and varied paid market research can be, in the last few months alone, I’ve personally been involved in studies covering everything from chocolate bars to cryptocurrency.
How is this Different to Taking Surveys?
There’s definitely some crossover between paid market research and taking online surveys. In fact, on some survey websites and user testing sites, you will occasionally receive invitations to focus groups and product tests, especially if you use the platforms regularly and have a good reputation. (For some tips on using these sites, read this article).
However, while surveys are another way for companies to seek opinions, they usually pay WAY less money. Focus groups and research projects go into much more detail, and usually require you to participate more actively. You’ll generally be on a voice or video call, or carrying out another activity that requires your full concentration for a prolonged period.
What Expertise do you Need?
Companies recruiting for research projects usually have a very specific criteria for the kind of people they want to speak to. However, this doesn’t mean you need specific skills or expertise to make money from market research.
The criteria a company has in mind could be “parents of under-fives” or “drivers of electric cars.” So, it’s truly the luck of the draw whether you will be what companies are looking for at any given time.
There’s also a lot of market research taking place in the business world. I’ve been selected for studies due to being a small business owner, a blogger, and even a user of specific software. Again, it’s more luck than judgement whether you will fit the bill at any one time.
At the time of writing, one of the platforms listed below is looking for “health plan medical directors” and offering $400 for a 45 minute phone call! Obviously that’s incredibly specific, but it’s good news for anybody who happens to do that job. You never know when a company might be looking for someone with exactly YOUR skills and experience.
As the companies doing research often need very specific people, you frequently see referral incentives. Even if you’re not who the research firm is looking for, there’s a chance of a payout if you can refer somebody who is.
About “Screen Outs”
Due to the specificity of the people companies look for, you’re absolutely not going to get onto every focus group and research project you apply to. This does often mean answering several questions, only to find you don’t qualify.
It’s a similar screen-out process to online surveys. However, the trade-off is that if you DO get onto a specific study, the rewards are much greater.
How Much Money can you Make from Online Research?
Online research projects typically pay from $40-100 per hour of participation. Projects and focus groups about specialised topics can sometimes pay considerably more.
However, you can’t turn participating in focus groups into a full-time job. There’s no guarantee which studies you will qualify for, and you can go through dry patches when you don’t seem to get anything.
I’ve found that if you actively sign up to several platforms, make sure you participate and read all the emails they send you, it’s usually feasible to get onto two or three studies each month. However, your individual milage will vary. While I get onto small business studies, I’m not invited to those for stay at home mums!
All in all, research work itself pays very well, but it’s definitely more of a side gig than a job.
Where to Find Online Focus Groups and Paid Research Studies
There are numerous sites online offering paid market research opportunities. As with surveys, this is an area where scammers do search for prey, so it’s important to do your own “due diligence” before you get involved with any company. There are some suggestions below. When it comes to avoiding scams, this article provides some tips.
User Interviews is a US-based company that recruits for a range of focus groups and studies. It’s an ideal first site to join for this kind of work, because once you’ve signed up you can simply browse a list of available studies and apply to any where you think you meet the criteria.
The studies here tend to pay very well, with rates ranging from 40 to several hundred Dollars per hour. The higher rates are for more specialised studies, and this site really does illustrate our point about how random the requirements can be. At the time of writing, User Interviews is looking for people in really diverse demographics, including welders, pet professionals, and people visiting Boston in the next three months!
There are lots of studies to choose from – 26 when we looked – and it’s obviously wise to check back regularly for any new ones you might qualify for.
TestingTime is half-way between a user testing site and a market research platform. Primarily they recruit for people to test new apps and software, but unlike on UserTesting (review here), these tests usually take place over Skype and involve you interacting one-to-one with the client. There are focus groups and other activities here too.
Payment is up to £60 ($77) per hour, and made by PayPal. Unlike some other sites, you can’t browse available projects. Once you’ve signed up you have to wait for emails to come through and then see if you pass the screening questions. If you don’t, there’s often the chance to earn a referral fee if you know somebody who is suitable.
Respondent is a market research company that accepts participants from around the world (to the best of my knowledge). The studies are hugely varied, covering everything from “restaurant owners” to “men who shave” last time I looked!
Some of the studies here are very well paid, and there are also some smaller mini studies for lower rates. You can actually browse the projects Respondent is recruiting for before signing up. Furthermore, there are sometimes incentives for referring other suitable people if you’re not a match.
Other Focus Group Sites
As discussed above, there are lots of other sites offering focus groups and research opportunities. Always make sure you look for reviews and feedback before signing up, as we’ve not tested all of these personally.
ACOP (American Customer Opinion) is halfway between a survey site and a market research site, but does offer the chance to take part in well-paid focus groups. It’s open to the US, Canada, UK, Germany and France at the time of writing.
Take Part in Research is a UK-based site specialising in focus groups, including some “in person” options, as discussed below. There’s a wide range of options and you can browse available studies before signing up.
Focus Group, run by Focus Pointe Global, is the online US arm of a well-known focus group company. You sign up and fill in some demographic questionnaires and wait to be invited to studies.
WatchLab is a busy market research company running both on-site and online focus groups. The pay is good if you’re accepted onto a project, but some online reviewers complain about completing lots of screening surveys without being accepted.
What About “In Person” Focus Groups?
Not all paid market research is done online. In fact, there’s plenty still done in a traditional setting, sometimes complete with a one-way mirror where you’re observed while you discuss new products.
These “in person” groups are an interesting option if you live or work in a large city, as this is where most of them take place. I used to participate in a few when I lived in London, as it was easy money for doing something like playing with a new mobile phone for an hour on my way home.
Several of the sites above also offer “in person” focus group opportunities. They usually pay $50-150 per hour, and you’re often handed this in cash while you’re there.
Tips for Paid Market Research
- Sign up to multiple sites and make yourself familiar with how they work. The more sites you are on, the more chance of finding studies you qualify for.
- Always show up! Focus groups, especially, usually involve multiple people, so you’re causing major inconvenience if you commit and then don’t log on or attend. There are often penalties for missing an agreed session, and you may find yourself unable to apply for projects on the same platform again.
- Be honest! If you think a product is rubbish, you CAN say. In fact, this is the kind of feedback that companies are generally seeking. There are no wrong answers, so speak your mind.
- Don’t lie and try to “second guess” what the companies are looking for in order to force yourself onto a study. You’ll look really foolish if you get found out. Sometimes you get lucky and qualify for a project, sometimes you don’t – so don’t try to trick the system.
Some Other Side Income Ideas
Paid market research is just one of the things you can do to earn some extra income. Here are some more things to take a look at: