Summary: When estimating focus group costs, consider the location and cost of staff time to observe the session, as well as more obvious expenses like facility rental, moderator time, and supplies.
Beth Leber from Siegel & Gale has provided a list of the costs of running a focus group in New York City in 1998:
Item Cost Moderator $2,400-$2,800
Observer meals $20-45/head Respondent meals $12/head Recruit incentive $100/head
($75/head in non-summer months)
Recruiting $85-90/head Room $800/evening Stationery video $300 Computer rental $300 Oversized monitor $400 Total
I computed the total cost under the assumption of running two focus groups during the evening, while recruiting 10 people per group. Also, I included the cost of a moderator from the top of the estimated range since it really pays to get a good moderator for your focus groups. Finally, I assumed five observers.
The table does not include the cost of the observers' time since that's rarely an out-of-pocket expense. But any realistic accounting of the cost of a project should include an estimate of the loaded hourly cost of the staff working on the project. We can assume that the loaded cost of the project staff is $100 per hour: a common level for the type of personnel who are usually involved in Web projects. With five team members in the observation room, the loaded cost of your own staff for a four-hour evening is $2,000, making the total cost for the pair of focus groups $13,640 .
These cost estimates are for New York; the Silicon Valley area would cost about the same, whereas many other parts of the United States would be cheaper. Overseas work can be more expensive if it involves translation (or it can be cheaper in countries with lower prevailing wages).
See also my free report, How to Recruit Participants for Usability Studies . This report is mainly about how to recruit participants for user testing, but most of the advice applies to focus group participants as well. In particular, the report has updated info on the prices charged by recruiting agencies in different parts of the U.S. and in various countries around the world.