(This piece is a guest post from career coach Laura Simms).
I don’t do “buy now” buttons for one-on-one coaching. For the nearly three years of my coaching practice, I’ve offered a brief, free consultation before taking on new clients.
I think it’s quite possible to be successful without offering this kind of freebie, but they’ve been central to my business. I’ll share why I do free consults, the benefits they’ve provided my clients and me, and some tips in case you decide to make free consults successful and a part of your business plan.
Why I Offer Free Consults
I admit I started out offering these complimentary calls because I thought that’s what everyone did, and what I was supposed to do.
I’ve stuck with them because, at least at this point in my business, there is no better filter to determine who ought to work with me than me.
Yes, the free call is an opportunity for a prospective client to scope me out, but it’s equally a chance for me to vet them. With my current signature offer, I spend about six hours coaching each client. Free calls allow me to make sure that 1.) I will enjoy talking to this person for six hours, 2.) the person’s expectations of what I can do with them are accurate, and 3.) I feel confident that I can solve the problem they are coming to me with.
One argument I hear against free consults is that they’re a waste of time because people will stand you up. In the past six months, I’ve only had three no-shows, and the conversion rate for these free sessions has been 60%. That’s worth a little “wasted” time to me.
The Benefits of Free Consults
Have you ever been around a group of coaches, and eventually the “tell me about your nightmare clients” conversation is timidly initiated? I’ve sat in on several of these conversations, but I’ve never had anything to contribute.
Why? Free consults have ensured that I only work with great people. I can claim no crazies or drama queens in my crew; just awesome people I would like to spend time with outside of coaching sessions.
The Great People Only factor has had a ripple effect. I’ve never had to issue a refund to an unhappy client, I consistently get great testimonials that forward my business, and clients are happy to refer their friends to me. But perhaps most important is that my clients are never a source of stress. I get to genuinely look forward to each session like I might look forward to having coffee with a friend.
And because clients have the chance to speak to me personally before they pull the trigger, once they’re in they’re really invested. There’s a high level of trust and co-operation before we even begin, and I know that contributes to my clients’ success.
Make Free Consults Work for You
Here a few tips to make the most of your free sessions:
1. Automate the process
I use an automatic scheduler (consider Satori or Time Trade), which allows prospective clients to sign up for a free Hello Session by clicking on my sales page. They schedule their session, and are sent a short questionnaire to frame the conversation we’ll have and some details about the intention of the call. This helps set expectations and make them comfortable before we speak.
2. Work from a loose script
My free calls all follow a similar format. After much experimentation, I’ve learned the best ways to open and close the call. When I stick to my little formula, things flow well.
3. Know your secret passwords
When talking with a potential client, there are a couple phrases I listen for to determine if they’re ready for the work I do. When they say, “I’m really ready to do this,” “I’ve read your whole website,” or “I’ve done a lot of personal work on myself, but I can’t seem to put all the piece together when it comes to my career,” I know they’ll be a good fit.
4. Trust your gut
Any red flags? Then this is not the client for you, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why. Be prepared with a compassionate way to recommend that they seek some other kind of support rather than working with you. Have a list of appropriate people and books you can refer them to.
5. Don’t give away coaching
This is a consultation, not a free session. Don’t do any heavy lifting or problem solving. The point is to sniff each other out and see if you’d work well together. I will often say, “Here’s where I’d want to start if we were going to work together…” and then outline some of things we’d tackle, but that’s as much detail as I go into. Since I’ve set this expectation in the automated emails from Satori, people aren’t disappointed.
6. Give honest answers
“Have you ever done this work with an attorney before?” “How many people have you coached?” “I think I might be depressed; can you help me with that?” Answer honestly, and don’t fudge. If they don’t want you where you’re at, or their problem is out of your league, then you don’t want to move forward. You should never have to convince anyone to work with you.
Free consultations can be a boon for your business. As with everything, treat them as an experiment and develop your own best practices for you and your clients.
Laura Simms is a career coach who helps purpose-driven people find careers that feel like home. She’s the creator of Your Career Homecoming, the author of The Purpose Paradigm, and her work has been featured on US News & World Report, LKR Social Media, and Psychology Today. Get her FREE training to connect the dots between you and money: Get Paid for Being You.