When companies decide to run focus groups, they often turn to market research companies because the process can be so challenging. When business owners decide to run their own groups, they often have a lot of questions, including how to find focus group participants, how many questions a focus group should have and how to conduct a focus group interview. With a little research, it's easy enough to find out what you need to know in order to recruit and conduct a focus group without paying a research company.

Consider Your Research Base

While you may occasionally want to run a group that consists only of existing customers to see how they feel about changes to your product or service, most groups should target potential customers and not just existing customers. This means you won't want to recruit from your email database, website or store.

Beyond the matter of existing vs. potential customers, it's important to think about who you need to target in your group. Think about your existing and ideal customer demographic. A video game company may want to target 18- to 35-year-old males, while a bird-watching company may need to target men and women who are over 45 years old. Also consider your group's purpose. If you want to see how your product stacks up against a competitor, make sure your target group has experience with the competitor.

You may need to organize more than one group if you have a large demographic range. If that's the case, decide if you want to have diverse groups that can bounce ideas off one another or if you want to have groups with people who possess specific demographics so you can dig deeper into the opinions of these specific groups.

Pick the Right Compensation

People don't just volunteer to spend an hour answering a company's questions for free. You'll need to offer some compensation, usually in the form of cash, but in some cases, you may be able to offer gift cards. What you offer for compensation should be based on your demographic.

If you're shooting for a particularly affluent audience, you'll need to offer a lot more compensation to make it worth their while than you would for a group of typical teenagers. If your group will consist of existing customers, you might be able to offer a gift card for your business, but noncustomers might not be interested in this.

When budgeting for the focus group, keep in mind that groups should ideally contain around eight people in order to ensure you have a lot of discussion without making it overwhelming. You may also want to hold more than one focus group to get enough feedback. Finally, be sure to overbook each group by one to two people since people often don't show up. This means that if everyone shows up, you'll still need to pay them all even if you send people home, so budget for this possibility.

Decide Where to Advertise

You need to know the type of people you want to be in your group before you decide where to advertise in order to reach your target demographic. While posting an ad on Craigslist can be easy, it's not likely to reach people under 30 or over 60. Similarly, advertising on Instagram might be a good way to reach people under 35 but not people over 45. If you're recruiting senior citizens, you may need to go offline, promoting through fliers, in person or in the newspaper classified ads.

Reaching people of particular genders or races can be a lot easier with targeted online ads. If you have to go offline, you lose a lot of control over who will see your ads, but you can always control this with your screener. Don't forget that some sites are naturally oriented toward a particular demographic. For example, Pinterest's audience is mostly female.

If you're trying to reach a large range of people, you may need to advertise in multiple places.

Create a Screener

The final step in recruiting is to screen the people who apply for your group. Your screener should help make sure that you get the perfect demographic mix for your group.

Be sure to ask any relevant questions, which might include details about the person's income, interests, lifestyle, housing, family or job. Call back the people who applied to your group and ask them your screener questions until you have precisely the right mix of ideal and existing customer demographics.