How Long Should Your Free Consults Be?
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?
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.
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 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 Step 1). 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 first 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.
Then 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 (Step 2).
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 a high level of consistency. He 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 clinical or coaching 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 phone. It’s easier to get off a call quickly if it’s not a good fit, and it makes you less accessible, which places a higher value on your time.