When I first was starting my coaching business and thinking about focusing on introverts, a colleague suggested I host a focus group for introverts to explore this idea further. Me: “Huh, focus group?”
Can you relate? My self-employed clients usually have the same quizzical response too. So I will unveil the mystery of this very simple action that can give you SO much. I’m providing a complete cheat-sheet here for hosting a focus group.
I bet you’ll even enjoy focus groups! Especially when you see what a difference it makes in your work.
You could just interview a few individuals, that’s true. But I have found that interviewing a small group together gives you much better insights because they build on each others’ ideas in magical ways.
My Focus Group Hosting Experience
My colleague helped me plan my first focus group. I just invited some introverts to a free discussion for about 5 people. Once there, I could see how easy and natural it was to host a meaningful conversation for a handful of people, on something that I and they cared about.
That’s all it is, really. A meaningful conversation that you and they will likely enjoy. It’s a win-win. We all enjoy the connections, and I learned a lot.
It turned out people wanted more of these gatherings and so I hosted some more. What I learned helped me to create a solid foundation for my offerings and my marketing. I’ve since done it other times when I needed more input.
I now believe that first focus group was one of the
smartest things I ever did to get my business going.
Is It for You?
In reality, not everyone likes hosting small group discussions like I do. If you’re feeling any dread about the idea, start with reading more here about what it is and then decide if it’s for you. You can also get help to do it.
In this post, I’ll give you a cheat-sheet, with the when, why, how of focus groups. This is a simple model designed for service professionals like coaches, consultants, and healing arts professionals.
Some Focus Group Basics
The Big Why: Whenever You’re Stuck, It’s Just Time to Get More Input
Sometimes you think you’re just not brave enough or disciplined enough to get going on an idea. I say it’s often more likely you just need input from your audience.
Trying to figure it out all alone inside your heard is not a method for success. Co-creating with your audience is.
When Is It Time to Host a Focus Group?
Any time you’re considering a certain path (a niche, a new service, new branding, marketing methods), it’s best to get input from your audience before you invest down that road.
Also, any time you feel stuck or out of sync with your work or not getting enough clients, it could be time to get fresh input. It’s like a breath of fresh air for the brain. Your audience and you keep evolving so you need to keep getting fresh input. Nothing like going straight to the source.
Involving your audience input first is a huge time and money saver.
Warning: What Focus Groups Can’t Do for You
Focus group participants might show genuine interest in the ideas presented, but the only true test is to see if people will buy. In other words, don’t invest a lot just going by focus group opinions. A focus group can help you see what to test out further before investing too much.
Overview (and Why Not Just a Written Survey)
A focus group is basically a small group discussion where you (or a chosen facilitator) asks everyone to respond to a short set of questions, as an alternative to a written survey.
From there, they start discussing things together and new ideas arise. You spark things with questions, then listen and learn. Simple.
It’s better than a survey because a live group discussion can develop so that the key issues and words naturally rise to the top. A survey might gather lots of individual stories and opinions, but in a group setting, they start honing in on the key points. It’s efficient and exciting.
In a live group, you get to moments like “Yes, what she said!”, and then you know you’ve hit on something good.
Equally important as seeing what resonates for them, a focus group also helps you to check where you most resonate. For instance, four key concerns might arise in the discussion, but then you find yourself mainly drawn to one or two. That’s important information too.
Where there’s energy in you AND in them is your sweet spot. Follow the energy. Because you want to have your business in your sweet spot if you want sustainable energy, sustainable success, and fulfillment. Make sense?
Focus Group Logistics
How Many People Are Needed?
A good size is 4-8 people. Some won’t show up to a free thing so get more signed up so you end up with at least 4. That’s plenty for a meaningful discussion. You can also do it more than once to gather more input.
How To Get People There
It’s easier than you think to get a small group of people to come to a free and interesting discussion that you host. Sometimes it’s just a matter of inviting a few acquaintances.
It’s fine to have some people there who already know you, but not your closest people, who could be biased. But do ask your close people to help you spread the word to people they know.
In the invitation, call it a “free discussion” rather than a focus group since “focus group” is confusing. Let people know there should be value for them in connecting with others around this topic, and that there’s value for you in learning from them. It’s a win-win. No reason to pay people.
Keep the invitation simple: what, why, where, when, and RSVP info.
For me it was as simple as posting the invitation on a group email list I belong to for people who work from home in my local area. Maybe you’re part of a group email like that. A church or club email list?
Where to Host It
You can host it in person or via a videoconference tool like Zoom. For in-person, consider your office, a friend’s office, your living room… or reserve a room at your local library, often for free.
What To Ask Them
You can bring a handful of questions to draw from, and the real discussion will flow where it needs to go. If you’re good with people, you already know how to do this.
Choose your questions based on what you want to know about their needs or desires related to your topic area. Consider what feels stuck for you and ask questions to help you solve those questions. You could even ask them directly for input on an idea you’re thinking of launching.
If you’re in the beginning of getting to know this audience, here are a few basic questions to consider:
- What are some challenges related to dealing with [fill in your topic area]?
- What’s the worst part about that?
- Tell me some examples of how that goes.
- What happens inside you when that frustrating thing is happening?
- Of the stories you’ve heard so far, are they any that feel particularly resonant and relevant for you?
Get them talking to each other and allowing them to respond to each other, based on some discussion guidelines. See below for guideline tips.
Be sure to set the stage for easy sharing, before sharing begins. Here are some potential orientation guidelines:
- Let’s agree to keep each others’ personal stories and comments confidential.
- Let’s agree not to judge or criticize each other.
- Let’s agree not to give each other advice.
- We are here to share, connect, and relate, with open minds and hearts.
- I’ll take care of facilitating so that this is meaningful for everyone.
- No one is required to share but everyone will have the option to share.
- I’ll have some questions and a go-round for the opportunity to respond.
- You can respond to each others’ sharings as we go when you relate to the same thing.
- You can also add your questions.
Your job is to notice the energy. When it’s high, explore those areas the most.
You might want someone there to take notes so you can focus on facilitating and listening well. Or you might record the session. If you’re using Zoom videoconference, you can easily record it and take notes from that later. Record only with permission.
Mainly you want to jot down notes whenever you see people resonating with each other on the same themes.
Make note of exact words they used especially when their energy is highest.
What You Can Do with What You Learn
Once you hear what your audience has to say and how they feel about, and what words they use to talk about it, you’ve got some valuable information that you can use to:
- Help you clarify your niche.
- Help you speak to your audience with more authentic understanding and empathy.
- Help you design a workshop or webinar to directly solve a key issue they raised.
- Help you write articles, blog posts, or newsletters to speak to those issues.
- Help you write a signature talk to speak to a group of people in your audience.
- Help you write for your website using the language that your audience would use (instead of the default of speaking from your own perspective).
Amazing what a simple free gathering can do for you. This is one bit of proof that co-creating makes life much easier.