Does it make sense to conduct a focus group? The answer is yes, but let's qualify that: What do you expect to learn? The best remodelers' focus groups address six issues:

* Appraising marketing and public relations campaigns;

* Getting a grasp on purchase decision-making;

* Discovering customers' product or service needs and preferences;

* Understanding people's attitudes, behavior, and intentions;

* Identifying your business strengths and weaknesses; and

* Evaluating branding.

To run a successful meeting, find the right moderator, define what you want to learn, choose participants, select a location, and, then, evaluate what you learn.

The moderator is key. Group leadership and interpersonal skills are paramount. The moderator guides conversation and manipulates dynamics. Develop a list of questions for the moderator.

You should choose a broad range of six to eight recent clients. Include those who had a less enthusiastic experience, and be sure all job sizes and types are represented.

Pick a neutral location, like a private room at a restaurant, where the group won't be distracted. Feed them, but don't offer alcohol.

Take copious notes and consider recording the session.

Should you attend? Perhaps, but only if you can let the moderator do her job without intervening. But sit on the periphery, and keep quiet. If you can't, stay away.

Should you pay participants? I would suggest that you don't. You're not a major corporation and you are feeding them, plus offering them a chance to spend their evening doing something other than watching television. --Stephen Wilson is a partner with Reston, Va., marketing communications firm Biz-comm Inc.; [email protected].