When I was teaching weekly classes, I had a standard policy that your first class with me was always free. I had a number of reasons for doing this. People need to feel safe and under no obligation when trying out something new, and even if the dancer had significant experience with other teachers, that was no indication that she would enjoy my class or my teaching style. A free class seemed like a no-brainer. I thought it would attract students in droves.
But I left out one crucial thing…
Here’s part of an interesting post I found over at Cara’s Belly Dance World blog:
Charity and community events are a great way of gaining a positive reputation. Dancing for no or a minimal fee takes you very quickly out of the “seedy sleazy” category and places you in the “community supporter” one. These events are often also very high profile and inevitably there will be mention or even photographs of the fabulous dancing girls in the local newspaper. This is not only good publicity for the school or group in particular but also bellydancing in general.
Belly Dance “Open Days” or “come and try” days are a great idea. Ten minute tuition and short performances can be very encouraging to those who haven’t quite got the nerve up to come to a class.
So, here’s the thing. Yes, absolutely, a free “come and try it out” class or a free demo at a festival should help you build your business. But you still have to SELL it. People still need to be convinced that it’s worth their time, energy and gas money to come participate.
Fortunately, it’s easy to do. Here are four steps to help you sell your free class.
1) Give it a catchy name to get people’s attention and help them remember it. “Mother/Daughter Dance Together Day” “Shimmy for a Cause” “Fun Fitness Over-Forty” Whatever. Decide who you want to attract and make up a name for the class.
2) Make the class a special event, even if it’s a regular thing. It can be very difficult to convert one new dancer who’s taking your regular beginner class as a one-time free deal. You have to split your attention between paying students and the “new girl.” She may be walking into the middle of something too challenging. You need to start at the Very Beginning with these prospects, so hold your free classes when you can gather a whole group of prospects and focus all your attention on their needs. Besides, what’s more worth your time–converting five or six students after one free class, or one student every five or six months as they drift in and out of your regular class?
3) Make sure the prospect knows exactly what she’ll be getting out of the class. A gentle but energizing workout, time to spend with her friends, a new appreciation for her powerful body, new dance moves to use at the clubs, etc. Again, tailor this to your target audience. What will they want to get out of the class?
4) Create perceived scarcity by not offering this all the time. Do a mother/daughter class around mother’s day (hey! instead of offering it as a free class, you could hand out coupons or vouchers to dads or kids who don’t know what to give mom for Mother’s Day. A voucher has value, but doesn’t cost them a dime, and you get prospective students. You could give away a free class coupon with every Mother’s Day card sold at a local gift shop…or set up a display where Dads will be hanging out–the garden center or hardware store–tell them “Don’t forget Mother’s Day! Here’s a free gift to give her–a fun evening out.”) The point is if someone knows they can take a free class “anytime,” they’ll put it off. But if they know it’s a one-time only “learn some new dance moves before Prom” class–they’ll be sure to sign up (It’s pre-prom season right now…get those flyers up at your local high schools!)
The same thing applies to free events you’re offering to do at street fairs and summer festivals…even if it’s free, show me the VALUE.
P.S. about that Mother’s Day idea…Go to your local gift shop or florist and offer to do a swap. They give away your free class vouchers with every Mother’s Day sale and come Father’s Day next month, you’ll return the favor by promoting their shop to your many female students who will be looking for gifts and cards for their dads and husbands. It’s called “cross promotion” and you can set up partnerships with all kinds of local businesses. Just remember that when you approach someone with an idea like this, be clear how it will help them.