As a heart-centered business owner, you’re very supportive of others. This can mean you’re not mindful about your boundaries sometimes, and you give away more than you sustainably can.
When friends or family are interested in your services, do you instinctually offer them free sessions or access to your programs?
Here’s my recommended guidelines regarding what to offer for free to family, friends and colleagues:
You have a very limited amount of time and energy each week to offer sessions to clients. Each slot is valuable, so I recommend charging for all of your 1–1 sessions — even if it’s friends and family… with a few exceptions:
Besides the above exceptions, your friends/family should especially pay you. You’re a small business owner. You don’t have a surplus of time and money. If they want you to thrive, paying for your services is a basic way to support you. Your time and energy could otherwise be spent with clients, or with the marketing activities to get new clients.
What about colleagues who could refer clients to you? Should you give them free sessions? It depends. If they have a big and relevant network of your potential clients, or if they’ve been very supportive and you wish to express gratitude, then you might feel great about offering one (maybe up to 3) free sessions for the purpose of them experiencing your work, and giving you their feedback and/or testimonials.
If they want more after that, they should pay the regular rate, or you can offer a free session for every X number of clients they successfully refer to you.
What if there are friends or fans that you want to help, but they can’t afford (or don’t want to pay) for your services? You can set up a separate calendar (or “appointment type” in your scheduling software) to allow one or two free sessions each week, so that once those few sessions are booked, the “free” calendar is closed for the week, and people will have to book farther out. Make sure those free session time slots are very convenient for you, and not prime time slots that you offer paying clients. You don’t want to end up resenting those free/volunteer sessions!
If friends, families, or colleagues want your service but can’t or won’t pay, you can always refer them out to a trusted colleague who will charge them properly.
For good-hearted people like us, it’s important to practice making decisions that disappoint people ;-) as long as it’s done with kindness and for the purpose of healthy boundaries.
What if you still have a lot of open slots for paying clients… time that you’d like to fill?
In that situation, consider adding more time slots to your “free” calendar. Selectively offer these complimentary sessions to colleagues, fans, and potential referral sources, being mindful that each person should probably not receive more than 3 free sessions from you.
In other words, your free sessions should be given to more potential referral sources rather than to only a few people.
As you successfully fill your paying client slots, you’ll then taper down the number of free slots you have each week.
If you run a group program that can only have a limited number of members, then each slot is valuable. Everyone should be paying.
The exception is that if you have a colleague or fan that is a real potential referral source, you might then offer them access to your group for a limited time, e.g. 2–4 weeks, so they can get a taste of what it’s like.
Let’s say you’re a member of a mentoring group (e.g. my business mentoring group) and you meet some members whose group energy and contribution you really value. Let’s say they also express interest in your work. In that situation, it can make sense to offer some of them discounted access to your group program, with their promise to engage and offer feedback. Those individuals will add positively to your group culture, and make it more valuable for your other members.
Paid Online Scalable Courses
Let’s say you offer online courses that are DIY (do it yourself, aka “home study” programs) such as my online courses for solopreneurs. This means it doesn’t matter how many people join your course, it doesn’t take you any additional work. It’s “scalable”.
You have the ability to gift these types of digital products more freely than your services. Same idea with your digital/e-books.
Still, since those items are usually for sale, you shouldn’t just give it to anyone who wants it. You should still be selective — gift it to your super fans who specifically tell you that they can’t afford it, but are eager to engage and maybe to help you promote it, or to interested friends and colleagues who promise to give you feedback/testimonials.
Again, be mindful of the value of those courses when you give it to friends and family. They must request it themselves and genuinely wish to engage. Otherwise, giving it to them is like giving a homework assignment they didn’t ask for.
You can also offer such products as a bonus to your services… or even as a bonus to a colleague’s service or product, as long as it’s the right fit!
If, however each person who joins your course means more comments and questions to respond to, then it’s not a scalable course, it’s a group program!
The bottom line:
You are a small business (or solopreneur) with limited energy and time to earn money from your services, so you need to be very mindful of what you give away that should be paid. Be strict if you want to keep your business healthy.
You’re welcome to share this article with any family, friends, fans,or colleagues who are expecting you to give them free stuff. Let this article do the explaining on your behalf ;-)
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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