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How Long Should Your Free Consults Be?

 

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Many practitioners give free consults as a tool to introduce potential clients and patients to their services and enroll them into packages or programs.

It can be an effective sales tool, if you know how to do them right.

The question becomes, how long should your free consults be?

It depends.

A number of factors come into play here, including your pricing, your credentials, and whether you use a 1-step or 2-step sales process. Let me explain.

Your Pricing

This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally, the less expensive your services, the less time you should spend on the free consult. Here’s a rule of thumb:

  • If your programs are less than $1,000, you likely only need to spend 15-20 minutes.
  • If your programs are $1,000 to $3,000, plan on spending at least 30 minutes and possibly up to an hour.
  • If your programs are more then $4,000, figure 45 minutes to an hour.

 
Your Credentials

Your credentials are another factor that affects the length of your consults. If you’re an MD, DO or ND, people don’t expect to get much (or any) of your time for free and you can often spend less time than a DC or LAc.

If you’re a nutritionist or health coach, you’ll often need to spend more time, as your services are perceived as less valuable (not fair, but we’re talking perception here), and you’ll need more time to build rapport and demonstrate the value of your services.

1-Step versus 2-Step Sales Process

How long you spend also depends on your sales process. In general, you’ll need to spend more time on the free consult if you’re using a 1-step sales process. A 1-step process looks like this:

Free Consult —> High Value Package/Program

In this scenario you’re selling the prospect directly into a high value package or program from the free consult. There’s no intermediary step.

In contrast, a 2-step sales process looks like this:

Free Consult —> Initial Session or Intro Package —> High Value Package/Program

In this case, before you offer your high value package or program, you offer a lower priced, shorter initial session or intro package as a stepping stone. This allows you to spend less time in the free consult because the leap isn’t as great for the client. It allows them to get a sample of your services before making a larger commitment of time and money.

Let me give you an example. I have a client who’s a functional medicine MD with a 100% cash pay practice who uses a 2-step sales process:

He offers a 15 minute free phone consult on his website, which people can book directly through his online scheduling software. Fifteen minutes is booked, but he actually has 30 minutes available on his schedule in case the call is going well and he needs a bit more time to close the deal. He will typically talk for 20-25 minutes with the person who’s a great fit, but he has a built-in excuse to get off at the 15 minute mark if it’s not going well or it’s not a good fit.

Towards the end of the free consult, the only thing he offers is an Initial Intake Session. This is a 2-hour session which includes a complete health history, timeline, and review of recent labs. This session is $750 — not cheap, but not nearly as much as his 3, 6 and 12 month programs. If they are willing to make this initial commitment, they’re a likely candidate for his longer, higher investment programs.

At the time of their appointment, he conducts the 2-hour Initial Intake Session and makes sure to allow 15-20 minutes at the end to review their options for moving forward. When they booked the Initial Intake Session, he sent them a digital Welcome Packet with his practice philosophy, policies and program descriptions and prices. They’ve had a chance to look things over and now he inquires about which program they’re interested in. He gives them his expert opinion too, advising them on the program that he thinks will work best for them given what he’s learned in the 2-hour session. They decide together which program will work best, taking into consideration their health issues and budget, and he enrolls them into either his 3, 6 or 12 month program.

Of course there’s some attrition along the way (not everyone will sign up and move on to the next step), but over time my client has refined and perfected his sales funnel so that he has consistency and can quite accurately predict how many programs he’ll sell based on the number of free consults he schedules in any given month.

Now let’s look at a 1-step sales process. Remember, this is where you’re offering your high value program directly from the free consult — there’s no intermediary lower priced step. Let’s say you have a $3,000 program where you work with people over 6 months. You offer a payment plan of $500/mo to make it more accessible, but still, it’s a significant commitment. In this case, you’ll need to spend at least 30 minutes in the free consult, and possibly 45 minutes to an hour. When you’re new at the process, you’ll need more time. Over time, as you get more comfortable conducting consults, and your reputation grows along with demand for your services, you can spend less time.

How Should I Conduct Free Consults — In Person or By Phone?

One final tip: Based on what my clients are telling me, it seems more effective to conduct your free consults by phone rather than in person. When you do them in person, people often have the expectation that they’re getting a free session. It also makes you too accessible. We want to limit your accessibility before someone has made a commitment by “putting their money where their mouth is.”

If you’re currently conducting your free consults in person and you’re less than thrilled with the results, try shifting to the phone. It’s easier to get off the call quickly if it’s not a good fit, and it makes you less accessible, which places a higher value on your time.

Now, I’d love to know, how long are your free consults? Have you found that your experience jibes with what I’ve shared above? Please share your comments below.

Comments

  1. For a functional MD practice, I’m curious about the 2step sales. What would a 3 month,6 month or 12 month package look like? you mentioned $300-$500 hourly rate, would there be a discount if the person signed up for a 3 ,,12 month package? or additional services that comes in the package?

    • Hi Onna, great questions. A 3 month program might look something like this: two 45-minute sessions in the first month (assuming they’ve already had a longer initial appointment, since we’re talking about the 2 step sales process here), then two 30-minute sessions in Months 2 and 3, for a total of 6 sessions. It might also include quick questions answered through the patient portal in between sessions, a 10-15% discount on supplements, and access to any education materials you have such as videos, handouts, recipes, meal plans, etc. You would estimate the total time you’ll spend per person in the program, including communication and research time, and calculate a program price accordingly. (You may find your estimates are not entirely accurate as you get experience. Then you can either find ways to be more efficient, or increase the price appropriately.) Typically you would offer a pay-in-full discount of around 10%, or a 3-month payment plan (for a 3-month program). Does this help?

  2. I agree with what you say about MD and ND’s people are fine with my 10 minute free consult on the phone. Mostly they want to know if I can help them before they invest the money for the 1st visit . And usually. 10-15 min is more then enough time for me to hear their issues, and tell them yes and briefly how I might approach their issue, what to expect out of a 1st. visit, or to say no and try to refer them to a practiciner who better suits their needs. Usually it seems people just want to hear yes I can help them and genuinely what my limitations might be and then most make appointments right then. I don’t see it as selling myself, but more as giving people hope that help is available. So 10 minutes on phone is more then enough. Lastly in also helps at that point to transfer them to my front office to set up an appointment and go over costs if I had not already.

    • Hi Stacey, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a great point — there’s nothing pushy or salesy about it. It’s about whether or not you can help the person, and if you can, of course you’ll let them know. Another client of mine, when she feels confident she can help the person, says “You’re in the right place. We can help you and we’ll map out a clear plan of action to do that in your first visit.” This seems to work like magic, as people are often at their wits’ end and desperate for someone who can help them. They want to feel hope and a feeling of confidence that they’ve finally found the right practitioner who can figure out what’s going on and relieve their suffering.

      I also like your point about transferring them to the front office to schedule their appointment and discuss costs. It’s ideal if you have capable front office staff to do this, but if you’re a solo practitioner, it’s fine to handle this yourself. You’ll just need to allow a bit more time.

  3. Thank you for this helpful information. Very useful! I am not an MD but I do practice holistic functional medicine. I typically have 20 min free consults over the phone. I prefer the 2-step sales process so the client feels less pressure upfront. I tend to hold follow up consults for 45 min, keeping in mind that I really want the bulk of the consult to be over in 30 min, allowing some time for review and questions at the end.

  4. Not sure if that’s a good idea… If you do not value your time, your clients may not value it… I give free services in the form of tea sharing (I collect Chinese tea) only to VIP clients…However, if I have a new provider in the team, I will often gift existing patients with complementary services from the provider. The key is to give free away to existing patients not perspective patients… I learned this from Purple Cow…

  5. I am trying to start a functional medicine practice and am working as a conventional MD. so your client example was great for me = thanks. I have also been taking a tapping course for coaches and there recommending an 1 hour clarity action session – but know I know with my degree I can do a much shorter session. That is great info. And thanks for sharing numbers. the current functional practice locally charge $300 per hour. close to what your client charges. thanks for the free info. That FM med practice mentioned to me possibly getting you to help them in the future. I am currently taking the EVOMED – 60 day accelerator program for practioners. Stretching outside my knowledge with tech and autoresponders. by the way my website is only partially completed the psych stuff was just part of theme I purchased. just wanted to say incase you went to my site

    • Thank you, Ann, for sharing your thoughts. Best of luck starting your FM practice, and do reach out if/when you can use some coaching support.

  6. Great article with good tips.
    Do you have advice on how to decide you and your client are a great fit by asking the right questions at the free call. I can imagine we dont only want to spend our time on free consult and not closing deals;)

    • Hi Rana, here’s a recent article I wrote that should help answer your question: http://juliazaslow.com/should-you-offer-free-consults/. In the free consult (or whatever you choose to call it — discovery session, introductory chat, health strategy session, etc) you’re listening for the person’s level of motivation and commitment to solving their health challenge(s). Sometimes I even ask “On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to solving [whatever big problem they told you they want solved]?” The best fit will be the person who says “I’m a 10! I’m ready to solve this NOW!”

  7. I am a nutritionist with Masters in Holistic Nutrition and a PhD in biology. How much should I charge? I use PhD, MSHN as a sign off credentials on my business cards etc.

    • Hi Zuzanna, that’s a great question, and not entirely simple to answer. It depends on your practice model, where you’re located, your competitors’ pricing, your positioning in the marketplace (do people know you? do you have a strong reputation?), your experience, and more. I advise clients to find out what others in their area are charging, and then go for the mid to high end of the market. Back it up by providing great value and getting fantastic results for your clients. I also recommend not charging by the hour, but rather creating packages and programs that provide additional value beyond just the time you spend face-to-face with a client. You don’t want to attract bargain hunters who are making their decisions on hourly pricing only. Does this help?

  8. Thank You this is very helpful! I’m a nutrition consultant and would really appreciate an example of one who does not have a medical degree.

    • Hi Megan, I’m glad you asked. For those without a medical degree, the process would be the same except your prices would be lower. Functional medicine MDs, DOs, NDs can charge anywhere from $300 to $600+ per hour. Nutrition consultants are typically in the range of $75 to $150+ per hour, depending on their location, experience, and reputation. Important to remember when pricing your packages and programs is to account for ALL of the time you spend on a client, including reviewing their health history, researching their condition, looking up supplement/drug interactions, writing recommendations, preparing meal plans, answering questions, etc. Where practitioners get into trouble is when they only charge for the actual time they spend with a client/patient and don’t account for all the rest. Does this help?

  9. Great info as always Julia!! Have given free consults in person and on phone – definitely prefer the on-phone approach!

  10. I have just launched my practice and still working full-time elsewhere. I have had my first client and did a 10-minute free phone consult which is advertised on my website (which was not up at the time…went live yesterday). We were able to discuss their expectations and fees and have turned into wonderful clients (mom & daughter). Tomorrow is their 3rd visit. I charge $225 for a 3 visit package.

    • Fantastic, Janice. Nice work! Depending on where you live and what services you provide, you may be undercharging. Food for thought!

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