If you’re a coach, consultant, or service professional, it’s possible that you offer some kind of free introductory session, sample session, or complimentary consultation. Indeed, this is the primary method of “marketing” taught in some coaching schools. It goes something like this: “Go offer free sample sessions to everyone you know. Ask them if they’d like to continue coaching. Some will. Congratulations, you now have clients!”
And you know what? Some people will hire you. Maybe one out ten. Maybe two out of ten. Chances are, some won’t want to pay the going rate for a coach or other service professional, some may even insist on “trading services” instead of cash, but they enjoyed your service, and they’d like “more, please!”
You rationalize, a client is a client, and you take a few under-paying clients.
Now you’re somewhat busy (though not making much money), so you go find more people to give free intro sessions to. And the cycle repeats… you give umpteen free sessions to find a few clients who might not even be willing to pay your rate, much less stick around for the long term. Invariably, they leave about the time you find your next new client, so it feels like you are just spinning your wheels.
And it’s getting harder, not easier. You’ve exhausted your initial list of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and other warm contacts, and now you’ve got to go meet complete strangers you hope will hire you.
You give free sessions to friends of friends. You offer sessions to people you meet at grocery stores. You network like a maniac. You blog. You tweet. You give introductory sample sessions, and just in time, because the first people who hired you have now run their course, so the new clients are just replacing the ones leaving through attrition.
Congratulations, you’re broke and exhausted. Welcome to self-employment.
What went wrong!?
Let’s take a look:
1. You used the scattershot method of marketing.
You didn’t wait for people to identify themselves as prospective clients; you simply went out and found people who could fog a mirror and agree to a sample session. The result is that now you’re trying to convert prospects you didn’t even really attract in the first place! It’s more like you “attacked” them – by putting them on the spot to do a “free sample session” with you.
The solution to this is to have a systematic way of actually attracting the right people. By using a marketing message that appeals to your ideal client and by delivering that message in different formats to audiences who are looking for you, you’ll attract prospects, and not just warm bodies willing to book an hour of your time.
2. You didn’t qualify your prospects.
Perhaps you asked people to sample your services because they fit some market “niche,” such as parents, athletes, artists or entrepreneurs. Perhaps you even happen to observe that they could really use your services! But do they know they need your services? Are they actively looking for the solution you provide? Could they even afford your services, even if they wanted to hire you?
If you can’t answer those questions in the affirmative, then you most likely you are giving your time away to a “tire-kicker” who isn’t a qualified prospect.
3. The “free sample session” is the wrong model, because it doesn’t convey the value you provide.
Perhaps the “free sample” method works well with chocolate, but it falls short of communicating your potential value as a coach, consultant or service professional.
This is why I recommend doing a Strategic Session instead of “sample sessions” or “free introductory sessions.” Coming from the medical model I honed in for my first career as a plastic surgeon, it’s essentially a “diagnostic” approach in which you look beyond the immediate pain, problems or symptoms to discover the underlying issues.
Will it take longer to gain an understanding of the prospect’s core issues – the “big picture” – and recommend a plan for moving forward? Of course it will, and it will also be infinitely more valuable for them. If the value is clearly communicated, and if they are a qualified prospect who sees the value, wants what you offer, and can afford your services, then chances are they’ll willingly pay for that value.
You’ll be offering much more than a “sample” or an introduction, you’ll be providing a diagnosis and a strategic game plan. You’re offering them the solution for which they’ve been searching, something truly “worth paying for.” Additionally, you’ll be helping them invest in their own solution, and they’ll have a greater chance of actually following through with a plan they purchased, rather than one that was given to them.
4. You have no system or proven method to convert even qualified prospects into long-term clients.
Relying on good luck and your magnetic personality is not a proven system, nor is hope a good business strategy. To successfully use initial sessions to convert prospects into clients, you need:
- The ability to clearly state the value you provide and for whom.
- A method to easily obtain a “snapshot” of your prospects current situation
- A way to articulate the value your Strategy Session will provide for them, and to invite them to do a session with you so that they are naturally inclined to say “yes.”
- The ability to deliver tremendous value such that they gain stand-alone benefits from the strategy session, whether or not they choose to continue working with you.
- Pre-determined criteria of who is and isn’t a “fit” for you as a client.
- A client engagement agreement that defines the terms of moving forward.
In summary, you need a system that naturally and logically leads the right clients to hire you for extended work.
Having a system for attracting prospects and converting prospects into long-term clients is essential for any business person, and yet, too many service-oriented professionals spend years studying and honing their crafts, only to “wing it” when it comes to finding and keeping clients.
And without clients… all you’ve got is a hobby, not a business.