Clicky

Should You Offer Free Consults?

 

Free Consult

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a subject of debate in the practitioner community: Should you offer free consults?

Some people will tell you never to do them (“Don’t give away your time for free!”) and others swear by them as an integral part of their enrollment process.

Here’s my take. I’ve talked with hundreds of holistic, functional and integrative practitioners in the past year and the consensus seems to be that free consults can and do work well, with the caveat that they must be done the right way. This means following a few simple rules:

1. Don’t confuse a free consult with a free session

This is a big mistake that a lot of practitioners make. They treat a consult as a coaching or treatment session and try to solve their client’s health challenges right then and there.

Yet this is a surefire way to virtually ensure that a prospect walks away without signing up for your services. You see, when you conduct a consult this way, here’s what’s going on in your mind:

“I’m going to wow this person with my deep knowledge and understanding of [health, nutrition, functional medicine, etc]. If I demonstrate how much I know, they’ll be so impressed that they’ll jump at the opportunity to work with me. It’ll be a no-brainer!”

And here’s what happening in your prospect’s mind while you’re sharing all this wisdom:

“Oh, wow, this is a great information. Hey, thanks for answering my questions! It’s so generous of you. I think I’ve got what I need. Thanks again. I’ll be in touch when I’m ready to get started. See ya!”

Then the person hangs up the phone or walks out and you never hear from them again. Problem is, they think they’ve got all the information they need to fix their problems and they’re excited to have gotten it for free!

But the reality is different. YOU know — with your deep understanding of the body’s systems and your knowledge of the extensive investigative work it takes to get to the root of complex issues — that there’s little chance a brief interchange is going to actually transform their health and change their life.

Even if you had a crystal ball and could tell them exactly what they need to do and laid out all the steps for them, as clear as day, it probably wouldn’t matter — because real, lasting change almost never happens this way. If it did, no one would need our help because the world is overflowing with free information.

Plus, people don’t put a high value on free. When they don’t value something, they don’t take it seriously.

Here’s the truth: Someone can be told what they need to do, but knowing rarely translates to the kind of long term, consistent actions that result in transformation.

So, if you shouldn’t coach or treat the person during the free consult, what do you do instead?

2. Uncover their goals and motivation for seeking your help

Here’s a secret every practitioner should know:

People don’t buy services. They don’t buy techniques, treatments, supplements or even your time.

What people actually buy are the results, or outcomes, that they believe they will get by working from you.

In other words, they aren’t buying an intake session or chiropractic adjustment. They’re buying weight loss, relief from pain, and better energy. They’re buying self-confidence and a return to a normal life.

They’re buying the picture in their head of what their life will be like when you help them solve their health challenges.

This is something practitioners understandably get confused about. Because we’re immersed in and fascinated by what we DO every day, we think our potential clients and patients are too.

But for the most part, they aren’t.

They just want to feel better.

When you understand this, you’ll start to infuse every conversation with results-oriented language, connecting what you do to the results your clients and patients get by working with you.

You’ll say things like:

“I understand what you’re going through. Many of our patients come with exhaustion and difficulty losing weight too. The problem is, no one has taken the time to identify their underlying thyroid and hormone imbalances, or to investigate whether there may be hidden food sensitivities, which is often an issue too.

We do all of that testing and leave no stone unturned. That’s why our patients quickly start to feel a lot better, have more energy and shed pounds too — even when the weight has been stubbornly hanging on for a long time. Not to mention an immediate reduction or even elimination of headaches, like you said you’ve been experiencing.”

Notice how this language gives your prospect hope that they can experience similar results. It’s this hope or belief that ultimately motivates them to make a commitment to get started.

Now on to the third rule of free consults, which is…

3. Take the lead and keep control of the conversation

When a potential client or patients comes to a free consult frustrated with their current health situation, it’s easy to let them take charge of the conversation. After all, they have a lot to vent and you want to be respectful.

It can go something like this:

You ask them what’s going on and they launch into a non-stop verbal flow outlining their entire health history. Then they proceed to ask a series of specific questions like:

“What do you think about gluten? I’ve heard it could be causing my symptoms. Should I try going gluten-free?”

“I’ve been having headaches a lot. I read that it could be a food sensitivity. Do you think I could be sensitive to caffeine or chocolate?”

And so on.

The problem with this scenario is that it puts you in reactive mode and you’ve fallen into the trap of answering the person’s questions and wearing your coaching hat. This serves neither of you at this stage of the game.

Here’s what you need to remember:

YOU are the expert and your time is valuable. YOU are the prize, not them.

If you let someone consume too much of your time for free, you are sending a clear message that your time is not very valuable.

Certainly you want to allow the person to share a bit about what’s going on with them, but it’s important that you take charge right off the bat by saying something like:

“It’s nice to meet you. We’ll get into specifics in a minute, but can you tell me briefly what made you decide to invest the time to speak with me today?

(Note the specific phrasing highlighted in bold — you are planting the seed that this is an investment in their health.)

Let them answer, but interject (softly, respectfully) if they go on too long:

“I understand. I hear that you’re [feeling, experiencing, etc; reflect back what they told you] . Can you tell me a little bit more about ______? When did it start?”

You must keep the conversation moving forward to its inevitable conclusion:

Is this a good fit or not?

If it’s a good fit, wonderful. Sign them up for a program or package.

And if it’s not, no worries. You’ve created goodwill and you can happily refer them out to someone who would be a better fit.

If you would like help growing your practice, you can learn more about Julia’s coaching here.

Next Up:

How Long Should Your Free Consults Be?

Please share your comments below. Have you tried free consults? Did they work for you?

 

Comments

  1. Great info Julia. I too offer free consults and at times have difficulty on how to end or manage the time effectively. I do like the sound of the telephone consult, but the negative is you cannot read the person and their reaction to the information you are presenting. I am new at this, so still tweeking the process. Again, thanks for your info.

    • Hi Angel, as a business coach with a virtual practice, I do all of my free consults (I call them strategy sessions) by phone. Interestingly, I’ve found that I can read a person extremely well by the tone and energy of their voice, and how they respond to my questions. In fact, I can almost always tell within the first few minutes whether there’s a chance of them becoming a client or not. I think you’ll find the same with enough experience. Give it a try!

  2. Thank you for the great article Julia! I really appreciate it. It is definitely making me re-evaluate how I conduct previous consultations. As well, as focusing on making my future ones better.
    So after the 15 min free consult ends, do you have any suggestions about to gently & professionally turn away an individual who is not a good fit for you?

    • Hi Blake, great question. What I find is that the folks who aren’t a good fit tend to naturally sort themselves out. For example, they may say “I can’t afford your prices” (whether or not that is true), that they need time to think about it, or give some other excuse. If they don’t excuse themselves, so to speak, it’s perfectly okay to say “Based on what you’ve told me, in all honesty, I don’t think I’m the best person to help you. I recommend you look for an [fill in the blank] or I recommend you contact [fill in the blank], who specializes in X.”

  3. I currently offer a free 15 minute consult knowing that it will most likely be 20 (which like another person stated makes the potential client feel like they received special treatment) and I always do phone consults as it makes it easier to end the conversation. For me, I feel that they are beneficial – they help me to determine if the potential client and I would be a good fit. I appreciate the suggestions for specific language to use and up until now had not been asking why they were investing their time for this consult – I will start asking that question from now on. Thanks!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Marissa. A client of mine does something similar to you — he advertises 15 minutes, but has 30 minutes blocked out on his calendar in case it’s going well and he wants to stay on longer with them. His packages are pretty high priced, so it’s worth it for him to spend that extra time. Also, I agree, I have found that phone consults work best for that reason — it’s easier to end the conversation if it’s not a good fit. Plus it places a higher value on actually getting to work with you face to face.

  4. Annie Sharp says:

    Thank you very much. Very helpful. Practical.

  5. I appreciate the article and the specific suggestions to keep control of the conversation . I will incorporate them. Thank you! I do an initial 15 minute phone conversation for my practice as it is my way of intuitively screening out patients who I do not feel are a good fit for me ( specifically those who would be too big an energetic drain.) I don’t call it a free consultation but it serves the same purpose: we both get to decide if it is a good fit. I prefer to put the time in on the front end over the phone to protect and preserve my in person energy. Since implementing and refining this practice, I have not had a single patient that I regretted spending time with in person. it has minimized cancellations and set appropriate expectations .

    • Hi Shira, that’s great to hear, and you bring up a great point. I think it works better to do free consults over the phone rather than in person. For one, it’s easier and less awkward to disconnect (end the conversation) if it’s clearly not a good fit. It also places a greater value on getting to meet with you face-to-face. With that said, I have a client who swears by the in-person consult where the potential patient gets to experience her well-run clinic and friendly office staff. She has a process that works well for her, although she is continually refining it too. That’s the key…. to adjust and refine the process so that it works for you. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi Julia,
    I thank you for this timely piece. I’ll benefit from your suggestions.

  7. I provided Free consults for years and found exactly what is written in this article to be the most efficient method of doing them. Great outline to use. One of the most important things about a free consult is to keep a STRICT time limit. I gave 15 min and typically ended up with 20 so potential patient felt they were getting special attention. When time was nearing a close at about the 10 minute mark, I would say something like, “Our time is coming to an end and I have patients to see now so lets get you scheduled.” Or something along that line. I got to the point in doing these where I could tell in the first 5 minutes whether person was going to be a patient or not. Definitely you have to maintain control in a free consult just like you do in a treatment.
    I no longer have the time to do free consults but they were a part of my practice for years.

    • Thanks for sharing, Janet. It’s good to hear that my assessment is in line with your experience. Great point too about keeping to a strict time limit. That reinforces the value of your time. And you’re right, free consults may not be necessary beyond the first few years of growing your practice. After that, unless something changes with the market or your practice model, you should be able to be sustained by referrals.

  8. Kimberly says:

    This is very helpful for someone like me just getting started and trying to figure out how to go about it. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Well put, thank you.

    I’ve also found it very helpful to practice non-attachment. Attachment to a specific outcome (them signing up for X, Y or Z) can be felt and interpreted as desperation. Who wants to work with the desperate? I close on about 90% of consults (partly by remembering this), and those who don’t sign up I wish upon their merry (or not so merry!) way!

    • Yes, Dave, you are exactly right. Desperation scares people away faster than anything. That’s what I was getting at when I said “YOU are the prize, not them.” Have confidence in your abilities and offerings, and if it’s not a good fit, so be it!

  10. I love this article! I recently had a similar conversation with fellow coaches and this fits perfectly into what we were communicating. Thank you for the confirmation and support!

Speak Your Mind

*