3 Reasons We Don't Offer Free Consultations

*Disclaimer: I fully understand that many fitness professionals are bound by the obligation to provide free consults per the policies of their employers.  Who am I to get in the way of the service offerings and corporate policies of the likes of Equinox and other big-box gyms?  With this in mind, this post is geared toward those of you who have flexibility in your service model and pricing structure.  Enjoy!

I’ve “entered the unicorn”…

I had the opportunity to present at the Motivation & Movement Lab hosted by Mark Fisher Fitness this past weekend in New York City.  Harold Gibbons described the objective for the event as “Perform Better meets The Fitness Summit”. They NAILED IT.  My presentation was titled Innovative Selling Strategies for Fitness Professionals and it covered exactly how I go about converting Cressey Sports Performance leads into scheduled initial assessments.

The unique (and fantastic) thing about this event is the part-presentation, part-workshop format.  Presenters were tasked with preparing a 20-25 minute talk which would be followed by a 45-minute breakout session where we “workshop” our ideas.  Coming in to the experience, I expected to breeze through the presentation piece and struggle with the group discussion component.  In the end, my experience was the exact opposite.  Condensing a concept into a 25-minute presentation window is far more difficult than standing in front of a room and plowing through 50-60 minutes of content on a PowerPoint deck. 

For those of you who have an upcoming public speaking event on the books, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Talk Like TED.  I have made a habit of rereading this text prior to every speaking engagement I book.  Each time my presentation topic changes, I find that the material in the book resonates differently with me.  As Todd Bumgarder said to me at Saturday night’s social event, “the way we interpret the material we’re reading in any given moment is entirely about context.” 

A tour of MFF with Michael, the "Business guy"

A tour of MFF with Michael, the "Business guy"

One statement I made that sparked intrigue…

Nearly every time I deliver a presentation, one or two specific statements or concepts will lead to the bulk of the follow up questions.  This time around was no different.

I mentioned that in nearly nine years of running CSP, we’ve never formally offered a FREE initial evaluation.  If you want to walk through our doors, you’ll need to find $99 to get things started.  What followed was extensive elaboration on this policy during our breakout sessions, and even further discussion as I sat on the expert panel at the end of day one. 

How do you justify not offering a free first visit?  Are people turned off by an initial charge?  How many of them do you convert to business at the end of the assessment?

All reasonable questions.

Why we charge for the initial evaluation at CSP

I have a good friend (and former intern) who has extensive experience managing the personal training team in one of Massachusetts’ busiest commercial gyms.  He recently explained to me that only 30% of the members who were offered a free consultation with a personal trainer upon opening a membership actually took advantage of the opportunity.  This may be a solid conversation rate from the perspective of the commercial gym owner, but not for the independent contractor who doesn’t see a single penny of the monthly membership dues these potential leads are paying.  A 30% conversion rate tells me that 7 out of 10 people decided that something for nothing was actually worth nothing. 

Prior to opening CSP, I paid for (and underutilized) memberships at three different commercial gyms in a four year span.  I was offered the free consultation each and every time.  I declined, each and every time.

Albert Einstein is famous for saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”  With this quote in mind, and taking into consideration my own prior exposure to “free consult” offers, rolling out a CSP initial assessment protocol that featured a FREE component would have qualified as an insane move on my part.  Why not try a new approach?

These are the three ways I justify having an initial assessment charge:

1. I sell with conviction

Eric Cressey had multiple college degrees on the day we opened up CSP.  He’d brought the Magnificent Mobility DVD to market and was on the cusp of releasing Maximum Strength, a text that would soon sit on the bookshelves of Barnes & Nobles.  Why, then, would we expect people to come through the door assuming that he owes them something for free in order to prove himself?  Would you walk into a salon and expect your first haircut for free so that you could decide whether or not you were going to take the jump and invest some money in coloring or highlights? 

I understand that a free initial offer is a textbook lead generation tool, but it does not need to apply to the kind of experienced fitness professionals who take the time to attend seminars on the weekends and to read fitness-business-specific blogs such as this one.  Your time is valuable.  It isn’t mandatory that you decrease its perceived value by slapping a $0.00 price tag on it.

2. I’m not handing out samples

A free consultation is like the sample of General Gau’s that you grab as you race past Panda Express on your way to a glorious Sbarro calzone.  It’s a passing indulgence.  To me, the term “free” screams: Unlimited supply!  Generic!  Vanilla!

A $99 initial evaluation at CSP is the first step in the process of addressing your own unique training needs.  It’s an informational and enlightening 90-minute window where we’ll closely review your injury history and training experience.  We’ll see if we can identify any faulty movement patterns or flexibility limitations that might need to be addressed.  We’ll articulate the importance of a thorough warm-up before training.  We may introduce you to some corrective exercise.  You’ll learn how to properly hip-hinge. 

This is a comprehensive experience.  If you had to assign a fair market value to this service based on my description, would you say it was $0.00?  It’s time for me to rethink my approach if you did just that.

3. Extreme(ish) Investment

Mark Fisher gave a fantastic presentation at this past weekend’s event covering the transformation program that really put MFF on the map: Snatched in 6-Weeks.  He explained that one of the seven “hell yeahs” of the Snatched program was extreme buy-in.  At a price point somewhere in the $800 range, this program is anything but cheap.  By making an extreme investment in one’s health, a Snatched client feels inclined to see it through right down to the very last session.

We see this psychology hold-true on a smaller scale here at CSP when we charge a fee for our initial assessment.  Clients who spend $99 to get the wheels in motion feel an obligation to extract as much value as they possibly can from their initial investment.  This is accomplished by committing to a month of individualized programming design based on the findings of our evaluation. 

An investment on day one serves as an unofficial declaration of commitment to the process, while execution of a free consultation feels more like an experiment that you may or may not decide to pursue further.

Don’t Forget…

My last piece of advice is to embrace the role as a price leader.  Premium services should command premium price points.  If you believe yourself to be “the best coach in your area”, then your service costs should reflect your confidence in this service…right down to the initial visit.

If you are pitching someone who has taken the time to send you an inquiry email, call for an explanation of your services, or drop-in to see you in action, they’ve already demonstrated that they see value in your offerings. 

After all, they found you.