Free Trials: They’re Not Just for Software Companies. Or Costco.

(This post originally appeared at MainPath.com.)

We all love free trials.

The software-as-a-service world thrives on this age-old marketing tactic. Maybe you’re even taking advantage of an eternally free trial from Dropbox, or Spotify, or Hootsuite, or Buffer right now?

But it’s really not a new approach.

Think about that excitable person in Costco offering a pinch of seasoned brisket. Or the local froyo shop and the miniature cups they provide so you try a new flavor. Free samples can work for many industries, read on to see how they can help your business.

What Other Industries Have Learned About Free Trials

Those industries have learned that free doesn’t mean worthless.

Offering people a free trial is a compelling way to turn a potential customer into a paying customer, at relatively low cost.There’s a great thread on Quora with a few noteworthy software companies’ stats on how often they work. If you really want to geek out about this, read this post and check out one professional’s full flowchartfor leveraging free trials and turning them into paying customers.

If you sell to businesses, you’re faced with the reality that 93% of buying cycles start with a search: not a phone call, not a quick review of a Rolodex.

In fact, B2B buyers are often 57% of the way through their selection process before they get in touch.

This means that a decision-maker’s first encounter (or lack of an encounter) with you and your business is likely to happen online, not offline. And that encounter needs to be credible and provide immediate value.

Hence, the popularity of free trials.

Your Service Firm Can Offer Free Trials, Too

If it’s expertise you sell — and really, isn’t that what we all sell? — the “free trial” is your best weapon.

Your industry experience; your case studies of successful work completed for clients; your articles and well-researched whitepapers that show an understanding of the demands in your client’s daily life; your free consultations with customers: these are variations on the theme of free trials.

But if you limit those free trials to free consultations, you’re missing the boat: It’s likely that everyone in your industry offers them, and you aren’t differentiating yourself or your brand.

Smart content is your free trial.

Your most powerful trials are freely available and gated content (only available in exchange for a name and email address) that helps people:

  1. Develop awareness of you and your company as a subject matter expert.
  2. Rely on your wisdom and experience.
  3. Develop a preference for working with you.

You can grow your business through well-built conversion elements on your website and valuable content on your blog, whether you’re a lawyer, plumber, real estate agent, swimming pool installer, or financial planner.

There is no such thing as an industry that won’t benefit from valuable free trials.

4 Keys to Providing Free Trials that Generate Leads for Your Company

Here are four keys to putting your own free trials into motion no matter your industry:

1. Stun People With Your Expertise.

Are there statistics or insights that you’ve come to know are true that are either lesser known or under-appreciated? This is difference-making, preference-building content that serves as the first step in a free trial.

But you can’t state the obvious. You’ve got to really educate them. Stun them, even.

If you want to stand out, go beyond the obvious recommendations like, “File your taxes on-time to avoid complications,” or “Communicate often with your clients to generate trust.” The more specific and expert your content is, the more likely it is to get shared, linked-to, and preferred.

2. But, Speak to People Like a Human.

Don’t overly rely on jargon or acronyms. Write like you speak, but show that you can relate to your customers and clients by speaking to where they’re at in their understanding, not where you’re at.

Don’t over-complicate the simple.

And if you’re using WordPress to power your blog, and you’ve already installed theYoast SEO plugin as well, you should know there’s a valuable indicator in there called the Flesch Reading Ease score. Check it out. Great feedback. Oh, and this post scored a nice, clean 68.

3. Share Data That Backs Up Your Claims.

One company learned that when they share data in the form of infographics, the visibility and traffic they generate is off the charts compared to writing standard blog posts.

For example, if you knew that the average Google first-page result contains 1,890 words, would that challenge your thinking on blog content generation? It should.

Data works to convert free trials into customers.

4. Write Content Aimed at Different Moments in the Buying Cycle.

The companies who have succeeded most with this definition of “free trial” have done so when genuinely aiming to add value and answer questions their customers have.

That means that much of your free trial content should not be promotional. It should educate and inform, but it should not be a sales pitch.

Some people are just getting started — they’re at the Awareness stage. You’re building your brand’s credibility with them. Some are at the beginning of their buying cycle — the Consideration stage, and you’ve helped them with wisdom and factors they should keep in mind.

And then some people are right there, ready to select a new vendor. They’re in Buying mode.

Your Free Trials Will Win You Business

When you seek to solve your customer’s’ problems in the form of content, you’re leveraging your own version of a free trial. You can’t attend every trade show, nor reach every decision-maker via cold call.

Free trials can be your answer, regardless of your industry. And we’re happy to help.

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Career advice for you twentysomethings

I hit a crossroads early on in my life, at about 22 years old.

I sat in my apartment just off the campus at the University of Kansas, kicking back in my super-cool papasan (replica pictured below). And as I looked over that little apartment, the idea that More was expected of me (by whom? why?) entered my mind.

Uh huh. More with a capital M.

papasan-chair

Some of the conclusions I arrived at I’ll save for a future post.

But that moment also served as the inspiration for a question I posed on Quora a good 18 months ago…to which answers still hit my inbox.

It’s received, to my surprise, 29 answers to date.

Here’s a roundup of the “Best of…” answers I’ve received.

  • “I have learnt that you don’t need to be stuck to one field/job all your life. A person can have more than one calling. Changing jobs and trying out different things doesn’t mean you’re fickle minded or confused. It only means that you are willing and honest enough to admit what doesn’t work for you.” (from Chaitra Muldihar, Pune, India)
  • “Talk to people a lot, and make lots of friends. It’s one of the best things you can do for your career.” (from Satvik Beri, Boston, MA)
  • “Figure out one bad habit, which you think can hurt you, and fix it.” (from Anonymous)
  • “Do NOT hold back.” (from Margaret Weiss, New York, NY)
  • “Stop wasting time on useless activities, instead use every second you have to learn hard and create valuable things.” (from Andrei Cristof, Berlin, Germany)

All great advice. I was thinking that, since I asked the question hypothetically I should give my own response to it. That’ll come in Part II.

 

Public speaking for those who hate to, but have to

The polls say that public speaking is Americans’ number two fear, right behind snakes. What a shame.

(I suppose it stands to reason, then, that public speaking ABOUT snakes would cause instant death. I don’t know.)

I say “what a shame” because there is so much to be gained when everyday people are called upon to share personal expertise or experiences to enrich others’ lives. And yet here we are.

I see this a lot. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we witness our own members giving the weekly addresses to the congregation on Sundays — not a paid, professional clergy member. Obviously, given the “lay” status of members, you don’t get professional speakers. You get what you get. For 10-15 minutes.

The amazing thing in our Church is, despite how nervous most people are who are asked to speak — despite feeling they’re way too shy, or not enough of an expert in the subject they’re asked to speak on, or that they rarely have to speak in front of 200 people (who does?) and therefore simply lack the public speaking know-how, they regularly inspire, motivate, and educate.

But that nervousness and those feelings of inadequacy do hold a lot of people back from being willing to speak initially. Actually, it freezes some people entirely and they turn the opportunity down. It holds a lot of people back professionally from progressing, too.

So I’ve compiled five ideas that I hope help you overcome that fear, if you’re saddled with it like many others.

1. Someone believes in you.

First of all, if you’re asked to speak on a subject, take heart in knowing that someone believes you can do the job. Somebody has confidence in you. They believe that you have gained sufficient personal experience or expertise in a subject to share for the benefit of others.

Or, they at least trust that you will stop your life for a bit, ponder about your life experiences and expertise, and work from there.

Or, maybe they trust that, given a good starting point of reference materials woven together with your personal experiences, you can craft a simple message that will help others in some way.

Take some fuel from that.

2. Despite what I just typed, it’s actually not about YOU.

Whether you’re speaking to five people or 500, you’re job isn’t really to motivate the masses. That’s a huge undertaking, especially if you’re not getting paid for this speaking engagement. There may be just one person who benefits in a deep way from the words you share and the feelings you get across. That is perfectly fine.

It’s also perfectly fine that you never know who that one person is. But let that purpose guide your willingness and your preparation: if one person benefits, that is enough, because they may benefit in a life-changing way.

3. Your audience is rooting FOR you.

They’re not rooting AGAINST you.

Very few people who are not trained to present in front of large groups watch someone else speak and think, “This guy is so unpolished! Look at how he’s standing! He says ‘Uh’ a lot. And gross — he just shared a poignant, tender personal experience!” Or anything like that.

Most are thinking, “Better him than me!”

Their expectations are low, because they imagine how much they’d hate being YOU. But meanwhile they’re also dying to be educated, inspired, or motivated. Maybe all three.

They WANT you to deliver the goods, but they’re not expecting something legendary. They want “real”.

4. The more conversational you are, the easier to prepare, and the more powerful the result.

Just talk. Once you know what you want to say. Just say it. To yourself. Then write THAT down. Don’t “craft” a speech, or a “talk”. Just write down what you want to say.

When you do this you are using your real voice. The way you’d talk to one person. That will be far easier on you. And far more relatable to your audience.

Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean. Now, Sir Kenneth Robinson is a speaking pro. But let me tell you, this talk does NOT come across that way. It’s just his natural voice and opinions shining through. He’s talking to me. He’s talking to you.

5. We’re all in this together.

The more willing to share expertise and experiences people are, the better off we all are. Think of the TED Talks, like the one I linked to in #4. You probably wouldn’t have ever heard of 99% of the people who speak at these things. But watch their talks and you’re blown away 99% of the time.

When you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and share, you are far better off, personally. You’re stronger. More confident. More sure of yourself. More certain of your topic. More committed. Maybe you’re more inspired, yourself…

Hey maybe, just maybe, YOU are the one that benefits the most from being willing to speak.

That’s okay, too.

Things I carry: Hardware, software, and a secret weapon

I could live without some of these things.

I was hyper-productive 10 years ago without any them, but oh how I’ve come to rely on them now…

1. Moleskine notebook(s)

I’ve got three. A large black Moleskine for work notes – every conversation, every meeting gets jotted down in that sucker. A large red Moleskine for entrepreneurial thoughts – potential partnerships, variations on competitors’ products and services, it’s all in here. And a large black Evernote version I’m just now testing out.

I love #2 on my list of “things I carry”, but nothing beats scribbling and sketching on real paper when I’ve got to get an idea down quickly. And no, I don’t literally carry all three at the same time.

2. iPhone 4S

Okay, maybe the iPhone 5 is faster and has more screen real estate. I don’t care. Mine is more than sufficient. I’m on Verizon, and the lack of ability to do the whole data/call-at-the-same-time bugs me, but I can live. I don’t want a behemoth screen, and I don’t want my phone any thicker than this since I often go dangerously case-less.

3. iPad Mini

It’s the perfect size and weight. I grab my ORIGINAL iPad occasionally – the one I’ve cast off as a gaming device for my kids – and holy smokes that one feels like it weighs as much as a pregnant watermelon. First world problems, I know. Screen resolution is perfectly adequate, and the speed is unreal on wifi.

Alright…here’s the meat of this post. Between my iPhone and iPad, here are the apps that I use nearly every single day, beyond the standard social network apps: BoxDraftsDropboxEvernoteFeedlyFlipboardGospel Library, Keynote, Kindle, MailboxPocket, Skitch (buggy, but still useful), and Wunderlist (oh how I love thee, Wunderlist, though it was hard to part with Orchestra and its awesome emailing-in-a-todo feature).

4. Diet Coke

Don’t lecture me. I need to some day wean myself off. But that day is not today.

What do you carry?