by George Huang on May 12, 2010
If you’re going to use introductory sessions at all, you’ll have to decide “free vs fee.” In other words, will you offer complimentary sessions, or charge for your initial appointment? If you have a choice between free or paid sessions, all other things being equal, no doubt you’d choose paid. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being paid?
Does it stand to reason, then, that it’s always best to be paid? After all, there are big advantages to mastering the skill of paid introductory sessions, such as higher conversion rates, better filtering and qualifying of prospects, greater cashflow, and an increased lifetime value of each client.
Perhaps then, you should completely abandon the idea of offering free introductory sessions or complimentary consultations. Not necessarily! Just as you wouldn’t want a car with only one gear, a one-size-fits-all-approach is also not going to fit for all service professionals, industries, situations, or prospective clients.
So, how do you decide which approach is best for you?
There are fundamentals and nuances to being successful with paid introductory sessions. There’s a learning curve, and depending on where you are in that learning curve, it might make sense for you not to charge. Although I can promise that if you become proficient at offering paid sessions, you’ll be even more effective with your free sessions!
There are also circumstantial situations where it simply makes more sense to approach clients with a different offer or process than a paid introductory session. Just like you need a lower gear for a hill, or a higher gear to cruise the freeway, you’ll want to consider the situation to determine the best approach.
Here are common situations and circumstances in which you should not charge for an introductory session:
1. Industry regulations may prevent you from charging a fee.
Some situations demand you be paid only by commission on products/services. Some service professionals simply can’t legally charge a fee (for instance, when someone in the financial industry is not certified to charge for the planning itself.)
In many situations, such as with real estate agents and brokers, fees such as a retainer fee or a consulting fee can be charged (as long as the fee goes through the brokerage), but most realtors are afraid to ask for fees. Why? In a competitive environment, a realtor may fear they would lose potential clients by doing so. And if they’re charging a fee for what other realtors are offering for free, they are right! Which leads to the next point. You shouldn’t charge if:
2. You’re trying to monetize what is traditionally given away in the market place.
Imagine being charged the next time you wanted to sample a mini-spoon of ice cream at an ice cream parlor to help you decide what flavor to order. The ice cream might be sweet, but the experience could leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Simply put, you’ve got to discover how you can add additional value if you want to charge sessions in an industry where “free” is the norm. You might offer a comprehensive strategy, a personalized game plan, a diagnostic assessment, or tools and resources not available elsewhere. If you can’t figure out how to add additional value to the “norm” or status quo, you’re probably not going to be successful with paid introductory sessions.
3. You don’t have a definitive structure or model for your initial session.
If you’re just “winging it” in your introductory sessions, your chances for a successful outcome drop significantly. You need a format, a comprehensive approach for carrying out your session from start to finish. Though it’s not necessary that your session be “linear,” you do need to have structure, direction, and an end in mind. The benefit and value of your session should be easy for you to explain and also easy for the client to retain and describe afterwards.
Get comfortable and confident with your session format. Practice it, hone it, refine it. With free sessions, you can get away with providing a bit of “fluff,” hoping they’ll hire you because they like you. With a paid session, the client’s expectations are higher, so don’t “wing it.”
4. Your introductory session doesn’t have “stand-alone” value.
To successfully charge for your initial session, it must provide real value to the client, whether or not they continue working with you. You might even want to consider offering them a “guarantee” of some sort. If you can’t give them something of tremendous value – such as a game plan to reach their goals, an explanation of what steps they’ll need to take, and how you can assist them in the process, then don’t do a paid introductory session.
5. You don’t have a Core Client Process that can be integrated into your initial session.
A Core Client Process is a step-by-step methodology for how you help your clients get what they want. If you can’t find a way to showcase this methodology during your initial session, then don’t do paid introductory sessions or you’ll be likely to fall flat on your face.
6. You lack the confidence to charge for your introductory sessions.
A lack of confidence can plague experienced as well brand new service professionals, and it compromises your ability to ask for and receive payment with integrity. If you are lacking confidence, take actions to build it! Do more free sessions. Build your Core Client Process. You might even consider doing volunteer work in your field or hiring a mentor.
7. You want to keep a low barrier of entry to your services.
Maybe you haven’t been doing much marketing; maybe you’re a little “rusty” with your introductory sessions. You want practice. You want more prospects to say “yes” to doing a session with you, regardless of whether they’re ideal clients or not.
8. You’re trying to “get in the door” of a big client.
In this case, you wouldn’t lead off with offering a paid session. With a corporate client, the sales cycle is typically longer, so you’d start by having a lot of conversations to get to know the company and their needs and to explore the potential of working together.
Once they are interested enough to “test the waters,” you could then offer them a strategic session (or series of sessions) for a fee. Or if you feel the strategy session could be the “deal clincher,” you could also use a complimentary session (even a long and involved one) to demonstrate your long-term value to a potential high-end client.
9. You’re not sure that you’re dealing with the key decision maker.
If you offer a paid session, you might discover whether or not you’re talking to a decision maker, or it can bring you to a dead end. There’s no point in doing a free or a paid session until you get to the key decision maker, so don’t make the offer until you know you’re talking to one.
10. You’re working with government agencies or any other industry in which requests for proposals (RFPs) are commonplace.
Again, you can still lead them to a paid strategic session, but it would be a longer sales cycle.
Free or paid? My recommendation is to become proficient with free and paid introductory sessions. Having this ability situation makes you versatile in any situation!