Free Falafel, Birchbox, and Your Business

By Michael Roderick  -  On 10 Mar, 2015 -  0 comments

So I’m about to say something that a lot of coaches and consultants will disagree with, but I really need to say it:

Complimentary sessions are not the most effective way to build your business.

I once spoke with a coach who told me that he offered a certain number of free sessions every week and he could always count on a percentage of them converting into paid clients so he kept offering free sessions and just took the 5 or so hours with people that didn’t convert as a loss. The psychology is that if someone receives something for free, they are more inclined to want to pay the giver back. This is one of the weapons of Influence described in this incredible book by Robert Cialdini. It’s entirely logical, but when I think of this model, I always think of that poor kid on the street corner in midtown Manhattan handing out a free falafel piece on a stick. I have yet to see someone who takes that piece and walks in to purchase, but I guess that they can afford to work off of the percentages. The next time you’re in the grocery store and you take that free coffee or cube of cheese, ask yourself how many people actually buy the box of the product. It’s a pretty fascinating thing. Here’s why I think this is an awful model for people who are just starting out:

You need money and you need an honest evaluation of your service.

If you are a beginning coach and you offer a free session, your “client” got that “piece of falafel” for free. Do you think they really care how good it tastes or will take much time to give you honest feedback about the service? Nope. They are going to take your advice, and head on their merry way and many times leave you to pay for the lunch or the coffee after you have given them a sampling of your expertise that could save them time and money or move their business forward. Do this enough times without conversion and your coaching or consulting business could pretty much be over before it gets a chance to start. Now let’s step away from the idea of a free session and think about the idea of a paid sampler.

Have you ever bought a Birchbox? The model is pretty straightforward. You pay a fee and get a box of samples of products. If you like any of the products in there, you can buy them at a discount. You give an honest evaluation of each thing because you paid for it and many times you seriously consider the items for purchase. I think that this is a much better model especially if you are just starting out. What type of small offering of your service or services can you provide for a small fee and how can that help you get real feedback on your service or offering? The other important part about this when you’re just starting out is that you can start to find out who your real clients are faster. If they won’t spend $100 on you, they probably aren’t buying a $1000 coaching package any time soon.

That coach I mentioned before offered me a free session and I was not impressed. I also was not the right client for him. If he had asked me to spend $99 to sample his work, I probably would not have paid it and we both wouldn’t have wasted our time. There are other people who I have spent a few hundred on to evaluate the service and then spent thousands on later.

So if you are just starting out, ask yourself if you want to be on the corner handing out falafel or . . .

Do you want to be like these ladies?

The answer’s pretty clear to me.