Learning From the Big Names in Business

What do huge companies like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix all have in common? They offer you the chance to test-drive their products and subscription services before you have to pay. They give you a taste – a free trial – to whet your appetite and help you decide whether you want to commit to making a purchase.

Let’s face it: after you’ve experienced lightning-fast shipping or streamed your favorite tunes and shows on-demand, it’s a lot easier to see the appeal of what these companies offer. In fact, it can be downright painful to cancel your trial subscription!

So, what can we as online course creators learn from this strategy? That’s what we’re going to dive into in this post. I’m also going to explain who shouldn’t offer free trials, so make sure you’re paying attention!

The “Why” of Free Trials

I don’t want to just talk in the abstract about my thoughts on free trials, so let’s hear from one of the most successful online course creators today. Sam Ovens’ Consulting Accelerator course believes that putting students’ needs first will ultimately benefit his business as well.

“The decision is based on [what’s] best of the student, and that’s clearly a free trial. This decision may hurt us, but it will help the student. And what’s best for the student [is what’s] best for us, even though we may not see it.”

-Sam Ovens

To me, that means that offering a free trial can seem a little counterintuitive. After all, it can be hard to track how offering a free trial boosts your ROI!

But I really like the idea of students being able to see what a course have to offer before committing to a purchase. In theory, the more they experience firsthand, the more they will be able to see the benefits of enrolling. It could even mean less marketing and pitching – they’ll already have the information they need to make an informed purchase.

A Big “But”

That said, this means that your course content really needs to be of top-notch quality and highly effective. Your prospective students need to see the value that you have to offer! What they experience in that free trial is going to either convince them to stick around, or to take their money elsewhere.

So don’t just assume that a free trial equals more sales. You have to have a product that meets a real need, and it has to work.

What I’ve Learned

Now, I wouldn’t have made this video without testing the concept out for myself. After a 7-day free trial experiment with my own course, I’ve definitely learned a few things and have some thoughts. 😉

Takeaway #1: Collect Payment Info Upfront

Just like Netflix, you have to make sure you collect credit card info at the beginning of the free trial period. 

At this stage you’re not charging anything, but when a prospective student signs up it’s super-important to have their payment details on file. Surprisingly, having people enter their information in advance can result in higher conversion rate!

Takeaway #2: Send Out Notifications that the Trial Period is Ending

During the signup process, make sure you let people know that you will notify them three days before the trial period ends. This is very important for building trust. You are establishing that you will communicate with them again so that there are no unpleasant surprises in their bank statement later. No one wants to have to worry about that! 

Takeaway #3: Your Course Has to Be Incredible!

This should go without saying, but your course offering has to stand out in both quality and effectiveness. The trial period lets your students experience this firsthand, and they are going to know if your content isn’t up to snuff. 

That’s why I actually don’t recommend doing a free trial if you are still on your first course iteration. Get some experience under your belt, work out any bugs and upgrade your content where it needs it. Make sure you have a proven track record of happy students with good learning outcomes. Then you can think about implementing this strategy. 🙂

Takeaway #4: The Trial ≠ The Course

Simply put, your course has to be longer than the trial period. If your prospective students can complete all your course content during the trial, they won’t need to stick around for more. And they certainly won’t pay for more! So make sure that the length of your course exceeds the length of the trial period by a significant amount.

How to Set Up a Free Trial

Let’s get into how you can set up a free trial for your course. So, speaking generally, your funnel will consist of:

  • Sales Page: This doesn’t have to be super-”salesy” since you are offering something free, but you do need to communicate value in order to get people’s email address and payment information. Describe the benefits of your course, and make sure to include some great testimonials!
  • 2-Step Order Form: Ideally, you’ll start by asking for a name and email address. After the person submits this information, then you can ask for credit card information (remember – you are not billing anyone at this stage!)
  • Confirmation Page: This is where you’ll provide info on how to set up the trial account and log in.

Okay, now the website-based side of the funnel is set up. What’s next?

The Reminder Email

Like I mentioned earlier, you are going to be sending out a notification three days before the trial period ends. Your prospective student should feel confident that you are treating them with respect and that you’re not doing anything underhanded. So make sure this email communicates clearly what they need to stay in your course, and how they can cancel if they don’t want to enroll.

An Example From My Own Sales Funnel

Like any entrepreneur, I have some favorite tools that I use for my business. I’ve been a fan of ClickFunnels for a long time, and currently my sales funnel for theonlinecourseguy.com has seven steps – all set up on ClickFunnels. 

Let’s walk through the seven steps together.

Step 1: The Sales Page

sales page

One thing you might notice about my sales page is that it’s pretty low-key. It’s not elaborate and it’s not very “salesy.” I’m not trying to push anyone to make a purchase. Why? Because right now on this page, all I’m trying to do is get an opt-in for my free trial.

Step 2: The 2-Step Order Form

If you watched the video (it’s here if you missed it back at the beginning of this post), you’ll remember that I walked you through my 2-step order form. Why does it have two steps? Because it’s a lot easier to ask people for their payment information after they’ve already said “yes” to sharing their name and email address. You have to work your way up to the bigger asks.

Make sure you emphasize that there is no charge for your free trial. And make sure you are very clear about the fact that the person who is signing up can cancel if they don’t want to make a purchase. Remember, you are building trust and helping your prospective students feel comfortable.

Step #3: The Order Confirmation Page

This one is a no-brainer. You need to confirm that you’ve received the person’s information, and you need to tell them how to log into their free trial. Enough said. 😉

Step #4: The Cancellation Page

This next part is a bit trickier. Unfortunately, there isn’t really an easy way to automate the cancellation process on my end through ClickFunnels and Stripe alone. I’ve looked into this extensively, and for now here’s what works best for me:

  • The person who wants to cancel accesses my “Cancel Free Trial” page through the link I’ve provided them. This triggers an email that notifies me about the cancellation.
  • I go into my Stripe account, pull up their account information and manually cancel their subscription.
  • I manually send the person confirmation of their cancellation.

Step #5: The Free Trial Cancelled Page

This page is only seen by those who have chosen to cancel their free trial.

Steps #6 and #7

The two remaining sections are the Membership Access page and the Membership Area page. For now, let’s take a peek at the product creation aspect of this funnel in ClickFunnels.ocg products

Since I offer both a one-time payment option and a payment plan for this course, I have two different products set up in ClickFunnels. Each of them starts out free for the first seven days, then the account will transition into the payment option that the student selects.

I use Stripe for all payments, but there’s an important trick I need to pass along in regards to free trials + payment options. Trust me on this, because I learned this the hard way!

I actually enter two payments into this particular plan in Stripe, because the free trial period will show up as a one-time payment of $0.00. It seems silly, but if I don’t do this then people are never charged for their actual enrollment. Ouch! :/

The same thing goes for the 4-month payment plan option: I enter five payments, the first of which will be for $0.00.

A Reminder About Reminders

When a person signs up for my free trial course, they are automatically added by ClickFunnels into a new mailing list in Active Campaign. This helps me make sure that I send them their 3-day reminder before billing them for the full course. 

You don’t have to use Active Campaign – there are other tools out there – but I want to make sure you remember how important the 3-day email reminder is. It really goes a long way toward preventing complaints from people who forgot they would be charged if they didn’t cancel.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it: an overview of my entire sales funnel. If you already have a ClickFunnels account and want to use my approach for your own funnel, you can purchase my template (link coming soon).

If you’ve never used ClickFunnels before and you want to give it a try, you can use my affiliate link to sign up for a free trial (sense a theme here?). I’ll send my template for free!

I think the jury is still out on whether the free trial strategy is a win-win for online courses in general. But I’ve seen some great results for my own course, and it could be worth a try for yours, too!