When I launched my business in 2005, I was the poster child of success for using “free introductory sessions” to build my business. Indeed, free sessions helped me build my coaching business to an annualized six-figure income in only 73 days! With a combination of networking, events, and complimentary introductory sessions, my income grew to the six-figure mark, and then doubled by the end of the first year. As this kind of jump-start is almost unheard of in the coaching industry, it became a sort of calling card, garnering me interviews, introductions, and more.

So why would I abandon a system that delivered so much success!?
While I did some things very right, such as offering diagnostic “Strategy Sessions” that offered stand-alone value, parts of my system didn’t work so well. (I explain more about diagnostic Strategy Sessions vs. “sample sessions” in a previous article, “The Problem with Free Introductory and Sample Sessions.”

One thing that didn’t work so well was the “free” part of the sessions. While free for the prospect, there was a high hidden cost for me: an enormous commitment of time and energy. I would meet anyone who appeared to be a potential prospect, whether they came from a workshop, website, referral, or other means. I would painstakingly gather all kinds of information about them and their business, and next, I’d spend literally hours conducting a free Strategy Session with them.

My Strategy Session gave the prospect a road-map for accelerating their business growth. It gave them a game plan, focus and confidence of direction. I organized thoughts, strategies, and ideas into cohesive pathways. The client and I would spend two, three, even FOUR hours accomplishing this! They would be appreciative and excited about the strategic game-plan, though interestingly, many failed to act on it.

In spite of all this sizzle, there was no steak. Most of the time, lack of funds, limiting beliefs, and a myriad of other reasons made the prospect a poor fit for my coaching. After giving away the best I could offer, I’d have no client to show for it. I was exhausted, discouraged, and I was working a lot of hours for free. And I still had a business to run! I didn’t have all day to go chasing after new clients.

Worst of all, my results were actually going downhill! Initially, my prospect-to-client “closing ratio” was a respectable 30%. Those first prospects were somewhat “pre-screened,” as they had already invested time and a little money for a seminar I offered. But when I started giving free sessions to a wider pool of prospects, my conversion rate actually dropped to a dismal 10-15%!

I had no consistent way to pre-screen prospects. People who were “less ideal” were being attracted to my “free session.” I was meeting with everyone from network marketers to people who were just “thinking” about starting a business, and I had no filtering mechanism to weed out people who weren’t well-matched, motivated, or who couldn’t afford to hire me.

I desperately needed a system for ongoing client attraction and conversion that didn’t drain all my time and energy! I needed a way to

  • attract qualified prospects
  • naturally lead them to become paying clients
  • honor my time and the value I provided, and
  • duplicate the process.

There seemed two obvious solutions to my quandary: either spend much less time with each prospect, or start charging!

The thought of doing a 30-minute “complimentary consultation” just didn’t sit well with me. In my previous career in plastic and reconstructive surgery, I had never watched the clock. I just did whatever needed to be done. Limiting my time, holding back, and only offering a fraction of the value I was capable of giving just wasn’t my style.

I did, however, wonder, “How could I make this better, faster, more efficient?”

Instead of asking my prospects a laundry list of questions, I got wise and put the most important questions in a “Snapshot Questionnaire” that I could email to people. Interestingly enough, this became a great qualifying filter! Sometimes people express interest working with me, but won’t even follow through and return the questionnaire. Although I would love to help everyone, I realize now that not everyone is ready to be helped.

In spite of streamlining, I was still doing sessions with people who couldn’t afford my coaching. I realized that if I charged something, that would add another filtering mechanism. I reasoned, “If they won’t pay for my guidance up front, will they pay for my help after the session?” Not likely.

I began offering Strategy Sessions for a “fee” instead of “free.” Now, with the questionnaire and the fee as a filters, my conversion rates shot up, and my time investment was minimized. Plus, when a questionnaire suggested that someone wouldn’t be able to hire me, I could still help them in an appropriate way. I could spend a few minutes (not an afternoon) giving them some suggestions and resources to move them forward.

The results of using Paid Strategy Sessions?

  • I spend less time prospecting for clients and more time serving them.
  • I do Strategy Sessions with qualified people. I rarely work with a prospect who isn’t an appropriate fit for coaching or can’t afford it.
  • My conversion rates have gone through the roof! From as low as 10% a few years ago, my “closing ratio” is now upwards of 80%.
  • People approach the sessions as partners rather than prospects. (And now they’re not “prospects, but actually paying “clients”!) They’re more invested and much more likely to take action on the recommendations.
  • The energy feels “cleaner,” with an equal exchange of value. Clients expect and receive value without fear of obligation, and I feel more at peace with the process.
  • I can help a wide variety of people with different needs. I can give someone stand-alone value and a “strategic game plan,” whether they hire me as a coach or opt to implement the plan themselves.
  • The process is consistent with good business practices. I am honored for my time with compensation, and the process also serves the client.
  • Paid Strategy Sessions help me attract more and better clients. If I’m always giving away my time, it’s going to be hard to attract well-paying clients!

I’ve learned a lot of lessons that I trust have value for others as well. I used to claim that one day I would help a client to a six-figure income even faster, and sure enough, I recently coached a client to the six-figure level in only 70 days, using this and other strategies. Probably the best result of this new system is the ability help others duplicate my success, minus the exhaustion and frustration!