This is an age-old question and quandary for many service providers in all types of industries.
I’ve heard of people embracing the policy that the first two hours with a new potential are free. Wow! That is a lot of volunteer time that gets racked up over the course of a business career!
One of the problems with not charging an initial fee is that you’ll end up wasting a lot of time with “tire-kickers,” people who are just shopping around for the lowest price and/or using other less- than -desirable buying criteria.
I also understand the reticence to charge an initial fee. You may scare off a potentially good client. However, charging an initial fee does serve as a filtering mechanism; just make sure the client knows about the fee BEFORE you arrange to meet with them.
Having said that, I suggest a different approach:
- After a potential client has contacted you and expressed an interest in speaking/meeting with you, have them fill out a brief questionnaire that gives you background on their situation.
- Then after you have reviewed that questionnaire, schedule a time to speak BY PHONE for up to 20-30 minutes. Then share any suggestions and recommendations you might have.
- If appropriate after that, offer a fee-based strategic planning session as the next step in working with you.
This initial session coupled with a questionnaire is not only an efficient approach, it gives you the ability to assess whether this would be a good client for you, moving forward.
Once you get comfortable and confident with this approach, you can actually charge significant fees for an initial strategic session.
Here is an example…
One of the bookkeeping services that I suggested this approach to ramped up their business to $100k in the first 12 months of being in business. 5 years later, $1M.
Coincidentally, this very day, I happened to get an email from the owner thanking me. This is a snippet of what he wrote: “All of our time together years ago, especially around paid-consultative sessions, is coming to fruition in some fun and interesting ways this spring. Several large companies who want to work together with us have approved 10-15 hour blocks of time at $150/hour for us to scope out our work together, so that we can give them an accurate proposal. Thanks again for the great coaching and belief years ago!”
So this approach can and does work.
These days, it seems that everyone knows someone looking for work. Savvy job seekers prepare their resumes, polish their interview skills, and network like maniacs in the hopes of “getting hired.”
As a service professional, “getting hired” is no less a concern for you! No clients, no paydays. You may have finely honed your skills and abilities as an independent business owner in your chosen field, possibly obtaining degrees, certifications, and undergoing many hours of practice. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good you are at serving your clients if you can’t get clients to hire you.
It’s actually very simple (though not necessarily easy) to get clients. First, you have to develop marketing strategies to attract prospects. Next, you need a reliable way to convert those prospects into clients, customers or patients.
One popular way to convert prospects to clients is through initial sessions. These could be free or paid introductory sessions, strategy sessions, or consultations.
There are ways to dramatically increase your chances of converting a prospect into a long-term paying client at an initial session, just as there are ways to dramatically increase – or sabotage – your chances of getting hired at a job interview. Nobody in their right mind would show up late in dirty jeans to an interview with a wrinkled, misspelled resume in hand. Similarly, you want to give yourself the best chance of “getting hired” by your prospects.
The process of converting a prospect into a client is often thought of as “selling,” or “closing the sale.” However, the real secret to success is getting clients to sell themselves… on hiring you! (more…)
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: (more…)
When I launched my business in 2005, I was the poster child of success for using “free introductory sessions” to build my business. Indeed, free sessions helped me build my coaching business to an annualized six-figure income in only 73 days! With a combination of networking, events, and complimentary introductory sessions, my income grew to the six-figure mark, and then doubled by the end of the first year. As this kind of jump-start is almost unheard of in the coaching industry, it became a sort of calling card, garnering me interviews, introductions, and more.
So why would I abandon a system that delivered so much success!?
While I did some things very right, such as offering diagnostic “Strategy Sessions” that offered stand-alone value, parts of my system didn’t work so well. (I explain more about diagnostic Strategy Sessions vs. “sample sessions” in a previous article, “The Problem with Free Introductory and Sample Sessions.”
One thing that didn’t work so well was the “free” part of the sessions. While free for the prospect, there was a high hidden cost for me: an enormous commitment of time and energy. I would meet anyone who appeared to be a potential prospect, whether they came from a workshop, website, referral, or other means. I would painstakingly gather all kinds of information about them and their business, and next, I’d spend literally hours conducting a free Strategy Session with them. (more…)