“Free!” is one of the most attention-grabbing words in marketing. For local businesses particularly, there can no more compelling way to get someone to try your product or service than to give them a free sample of what you offer. If they like it, they will want more. Well, that’s the theory. In practice, however, that’s only part of the story. Giving away your business can become a financial trap if you don’t draw the line on just what a “free” ends and service begins.
First, be sure to provide a sample, a taste, not the whole thing. Sometimes a “free consultation,” for example, can slip into becoming the whole meal. A free consultation is an opportunity to discover a client’s needs and talk with them about what you can provide. But if you provide it, you’ll have done them favor, not provided a service.
If you do volunteer to provide your actual work product in order to establish a track record, get a foot in the door, generate testimonials and references or get future referrals, be sure those you are working with know you are offering them a special arrangement. Let them know what your regular fee is and how it is special for you to work with them in this way.
Then mean it. A free sample or a volunteer project is a one-time offer. Folks can’t come back for more. But be sure to let them know how they can get more.
If someone loves your samples at a trade show booth. Ask if they’d like to take some home with them. If you’ve given away a free consultation as a door prize at a networking meeting that goes well, don’t wait for them to call you for appointment. Tell them you’d like to keep working with them and ask if they’d like to make an appointment.
Make it easy to take the step from a sample to the real thing. Have a range of services or products so people can choose the level of investment they feel comfortable with. If a client frowns at signing on for a series of ten sessions or a 10 pound order, have an alternative to suggest right away, “how about we schedule one month and see how it goes?” “… Or, I have a five pound starter pack you might like.”
And, of course, follow up later with those who sampled but weren’t ready yet to buy. If you do it right “free” can mean money or time well spent.
Adapted from a prior column in Connection Connection.
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