Join My Free Trial Lesson
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about this persistent problem of no-shows for free (or even paid/low-cost) trial lessons. I have to admit that in the 6+ years of teaching online I have had very few no-show instances, and so this phenomenon piqued my interest. When I began sharing my free trial system on forums I realized that perhaps there’re a lot of other online teachers out there that might suffer from the same issue, hence today’s post is all about setting up a free trial lesson system.
Disclaimer: I will be showing some of the tools I’ve used in the past, but if you are building your site on wordpress you may not really need the tools I’m listing. What you do need is the system that works and doesn’t fail (most of the time). You might be frustrated because you’re working with this specific clientele segment that just enjoy not showing, but you can change that tendency just by assuming less.
What are your main assumptions?
If you’re just starting to teach online, or if you’re starting to teach per se, and if you happened to be (God forbid) an A-student or an A-personality or somebody whose plan always works then you will find a lot of surprises in your job! One of the reasons is – you have too many assumptions.
A few years ago I was working at a College where we had students from all walks of life, and here I was this 4.0 GPA Always-Getting-A’s-Teacher trying to explain “simple” things to them, and some of them just didn’t get it. This is when I learned (the hard way) that assuming too much equals disaster.
When you begin teaching online here’s what you might usually assume (“these people” stands for the people who’re signing up for your lessons):
1. These people know all about online learning. Otherwise, why are they signing up?
2. These people know what a free trial lesson is. Of course it’s a lesson via skype (surprise! Half of them thinks you’re going to send them a lesson in an email – trust me).
3. These people know how to navigate through different the time zones.
4. These people know how to use skype.
5. These people know that when I schedule their lesson they must confirm (and they know what it means exactly – to confirm).
6. These people know they need to check their email (including the junk mail box) to find your free trial lesson invitation email.
7. These people know how to use the online payment systems.
8. These people know that using a stationary computer or a laptop is preferable to using a phone, especially in a situation of a free trial lesson.
9. These people know that if they need to reschedule they should let me know 24 hours ahead of time.
10. If these people are under 18 they know they should inform their parents about this lesson as the parents will be the ones making the payments.
This is a new online teacher’s general expectation/assumption list, and even if you have at least a few of those on your list you might be disappointed to find out that your future client has given you a no-show just because he simply didn’t know how to use skype (or he didn’t know what a “skype name” was).
Because of my rich experience of assumptions when teaching in a traditional classroom, when I started teaching online I knew better not to expect too much from the people who’re signing up. I also knew that a free trial lesson has to be as automated as possible, and I had to eliminate the back-and-forth via email.
One practical reason for that is I was in different time zone with the student, and if I responded right away, chances are my student would be sleeping at the time, and could only respond in 6 hours, if he/she is diligent enough. So I created a form that included a lot of things which would help speed up the scheduling process and reduce the back-and-forth.
Let’s have a look:
I used formsite.com to create a form that I could integrate on my blogger (Google) website. Blogger is pretty basic, and when I was starting out that was the best I could learn on my own. I also used this simple no-sign-up website button maker to create the buttons that went with my blogger template.
Right now I’m on wordpress (thanks to my genius friend Dan Perlman), and wordpress allows you to build forms without using third-party extensions.
The point however isn’t the plugin or service that you use. It’s what you include into the form to cut out the back-and-forth, to streamline the scheduling process and to eliminate the no-shows as much as possible. For that you must include the following components into your form (regardless which one you use):
Name: first AND last
In many languages a “name” means just the first name. No assumptions, please! Unless you don’t care about the full name of the student include 2 slots for the first and last name.
That’s a given. Next to the email address (or probably at the bottom of the form) you can give an option to receive weekly updates from you. The form above doesn’t have that option because I used a different method, but I do encourage you to think list-building even as you invite this person for a free trial lesson.
Skype name (if available)
The reason why I used skype is because it’s the easiest of all programs for many people with little exposure to online education. But believe me even the people who have used skype on a regular basis may not know where to find their skype name. So you might include a short “hint” (which is possible with formsite) to say where they can find the skype name.
City/country of residence
I included it because I used to have diversified prices for different regions with which I used to work. I no longer advise that for sage teacherpreneurs, however when you’re just starting out you might just need that price scale to get more practice and experience. Be sure not to include too many price options though.
Age is important. I sometimes got forms from teenagers who knew very little about learning online. I eventually weeded them out and never responded to them because I just had no desire for the babysitting version of English lessons and focused only on adults. If you do work with younger kids you need to know the age of your student and if they’re a teenager you might add the stipulation (see the footnote) that these students do double-confirmation (more on that later) and bring a parent or a guardian to the class.
How did you find out?
Since I kept a log of all the free trial takers (which actually isn’t that difficult with formsite because it does the log for you) I would analyze at the end of the month how many people have signed up, where they came from and (consequently) what area I had to focus on to bring in more students. This gives you an idea about what your funnel looks like.
If a person was referred by somebody I had a loyalty perk for the reference. I would give a bonus lesson or a one-time discount to that person, so that line was very important for me. It boosts your enrollment too, by the way, since in some business models (not all) direct referrals are the best tools of student recruitment.
The best time for the lesson
This is a huge time-saver. You put in your generally available time slots and let your student choose the window. Why do I not send people to my calendar? Too many options make the choice harder. Plus that also means that you assume that a student can in fact click and schedule the lesson. It all depends on how technically savvy they are, but I would recommend that you keep it simple.
Do not assume that your students can easily navigate through time zones. I put the name of the city + time because it’s easier to understand than, say GMT+4 (what is it anyway?). I also recommend that you add the worldtimebuddy link and a little explanation of how to use it.
Best day for your lesson
Offer the days that are open for free trials. Some people don’t care. Others have a lot of things going on. I never worked weekends, so you won’t find those on my form (or if you do it was probably meant for my colleagues that are working with me). List only what you have available and don’t make any exceptions. In fact, the form helps you avoid those emails where people say, “Could you please please have a lesson on a Sunday?” (and then you say “yes” and nobody shows).
The student may make it to your free trial lesson, but they may not be ready to purchase the package with you yet. Invite them to your mailing list and if they agree you will potentially receive a client at a later date.
Note: your future client does all the thinking, and all you do is just receive and review the form. When a form arrives in my inbox I look at the person’s availability, check it against mine and decide on the time for the free trial lesson. Then I open my “free trial response template” copy and paste it into the new message, change the dates and time, re-read it and click send (!) All this takes 2 minutes max.
What do you include in your initial free trial scheduling email?
Here’s the actual text of my email:
Thank you for signing up for a free trial lesson with me. Your trial is scheduled for 7 PM (Moscow time) on Thursday, May 10, 2015. Please check my google calendar on my website to see your lesson up there (link). Please confirm by May 9, 1 PM by responding to this email with the words “I confirm.” If the lesson isn’t confirmed it will be canceled.
Please be aware that you only have 1 chance to take your free trial, and if you do not show up you will have to pay the standard fee.
The lesson will be 20 minutes long, please prepare a talk about yourself and your hobbies.
The lesson will be conducted on skype, and you need to set it up (a link on how to do it is here) and add me to your contacts (my skype name is …).
To ensure the best quality of your lesson, use your headset and your laptop or desktop (not the mobile phone). The use of your web camera is optional.
In the meantime I invite you to sign up to my newsletter to receive weekly tips on learning English.
- Greeting (introduce yourself or your company)
- State in bold the date, time, day of the week and time zone of the lesson.
- Add the link to a worldtimebuddy to check the time zone.
- Add the link to your google calendar (if a person isn’t sure they can always check on your website – that is optional, but is very helpful).
- Explain what application you’re using for the lesson (skype).
- Tell them to add you on skype (since they only have you, and you have dozens of other students).
- Add the link on skype where they can learn how to do that in case they don’t know.
- Tell them what you expect to cover in the class and how long the class is going to be.
- Tell them what equipment they should have ready and why (some never bother about the headset, but then you have echoing issue and it destroys the first impression).
- Invite them to join you on social media or to sign up for the newsletter (the latter is a better option).
If your lesson is confirmed – most likely you’ll have the lesson. If not you take it off your schedule and forget about it.
Why do I use a form? Because it communicates to the student that I’m serious about my time and if you’re not serious enough to fill out the form and check your calendar then we won’t be working together.
What happens after the free trial? Ideally, a sale. But again – you need to set up a file system with a follow-up template, a terms-and-conditions template, a price chart and a time slots available. You need to know what to discuss in your free trial lesson. Then there’re ways that can help you charge more for your lessons – one of them is customization. Customizing your packages to make them unique (!).
I spent a couple of months last year putting all of these items in place and created a Customized Pro Toolkit for ESL teachers that allows them to save time organizing and setting up systems to spend more time teaching <3.
Here’s a short overview of what’s included into the toolkit:
- A free-trial check-list;
- a syllabus creation kit;
- a package description template;
- a price-setting sheet;
- an ESL teacher’s website portfolio (includes 55+ websites that focus on targeting specific skills and ideas how the websites could be used);
- a home assignment check-list;
- 10+ ready-made syllabi for different student levels;
- a free-trial follow-up email template;
- the terms and conditions template and many more.
Ready to get organized?
Over to you!
What issues have you had with free trials? What systems have you used that have worked for you? What other tips can you share? Please discuss in the comments, I’d love to hear from you! ~ Elena