It’s not unusual for someone setting up a service business to be advised to give a free consultation as a way of winning business. In the coaching world in particular (and many other service businesses) this is recommended as the main way of winning clients. Many coaches are assured (often by the people selling them their coaching training) that all they will need to do to have a full practice is offer free taster sessions, and somehow those people will magically transform into paying clients.

This in my view is one of the Big Fat Myths Of Building A Coaching Practice, and it really annoys me to see would-be coaches being duped and misled in this way. The fact is, with any buying decision, the buyer has questions and concerns that need to be addressed, and not all of them will be handled in the free consultation.

Over the years I’ve encountered people who are frustrated and demoralized by their conversion of free consultations into paying business. So what’s the answer? Are we for or against free consultations? My take on this is that free consultations might work, but you need to use them in the right way, and that means asking the prospect to take the next step at the end of the session.

The Free Consultation Won’t Do The Selling For You!

The trouble is, many people use free consultations in the hope that the consultation will do the selling for them, and they won’t have to engage in the ‘dirty’ business of asking for the order. So the consultation comes to an end, the service provider says, “I hope you enjoyed that/found it useful”, and then waits for the client to initiate the next step, because they don’t want to be ‘pushy’. Meanwhile the prospect is actually waiting for some direction from the service provider, yet when none is forthcoming, leaves, or ends the phone call, confused. So if you are going to offer free consultations, make sure that at the very least you invite the prospect to take the next step, and find out what questions and concerns they have about proceeding.

The free consultation should pave the way for a sales conversation to take place, not replace it. They Take Up Your Time The main objection I have to ‘free consultations’ as a selling tool is how much time they take. When you’re running your own business, time is the most valuable resource you have. You can always make more money, but none of us, not even Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey, can manufacture more time. Most people, especially when they are starting out, think that they are cash-poor, but time rich, and therefore happily offer free sessions in the hope that it will win them some business. The trouble is, if you’re even half way good at what you do, it won’t take long for word to get round, and your calendar will be full with free consultations, but no paying clients.

I suggest that instead of offering free consultations ‘one-to-one’ you offer group tele-coaching preview calls. That way you will leverage your time and can simultaneously reach a number of prospects.

What Type Of Prospects Do You Attract With Free Offers?

I hate to say it, but in my experience it’s true, when you offer anything for free, you will attract a percentage of people who will never, ever buy from you no matter what you do for them. I have had many successful coaches admit to me privately that it was only when they found the confidence to charge for andintroductory’ session that they attracted a better caliber of client. I’m not saying don’t offer free stuff – but offer things that are low cost for you to deliver and high perceived value to the prospect e.g. special report, e-book, free teleseminar. Things that take your time on a one-to-one basis are a HIGH cost to deliver, because it’s time you can’t sell to anyone else, or time you could be spending on other projects.

Why People Say No To Free Consultations

Some people are mystified that even when they offer something free – people don’t want it. I’m reminded of the man in Hyde Park who, as an experiment, started offering ¬¨¬£5 notes to passers by, only to be refused! There are a whole host of reasons why someone might be reluctant to take up your free consultation.

First, they might be worried about what they are getting into, secondly it’s wrong to assume that the financial risk is the only barrier preventing someone from doing business with you. They might be worried about being vulnerable or looking foolish. In these circumstances the prospect will take the safest option i.e. do nothing!

So should you offer free consultations? Well, at the risk of sounding like a politician, it depends. What I’ve done in this article is give you some things to take into consideration. At the end of the day, you have to consider all the options and make the decision that is best for your business right now. (You can always change your mind later).