Post by Rebekah Leach
I think you definitely have to have the right mindset and advertising when it comes to running taster classes. When I first opened my business, I did them once/week (1 hr for free) because I was desperate for students, but I quickly got very bitter when I ran into a very common problem with Free One-Time Classes --> few people ever came back. They just wanted a free class. They wanted to “try it once” for fun and be done. (Note: We call these "bucket list" classes and they are a huge source of revenue, so it's not the best idea to be giving them away for free all the time.) I started getting really bitter because of all the free-loaders who should have booked a private group lesson instead -- I’m running a business!!! And so I stopped running them. But then...my student population was shrinking and I was desperate again...so I started them again, but with a new mindset and new rules in place. Now, I consider my “Test-Drive Tuesdays” to be one of my most effective ways of getting in new students. But, I had to structure it very carefully to make it successful (and me not be bitter). One degree to the right, I would be a bitter teacher running a bunch of free classes for a population that can’t afford aerial and just wants to suck me dry. One degree to the left, now I am a kind-hearted studio owner, graciously offering free classes in return for word-of-mouth advertising and a chance to welcome eager new students into a non-intimidating environment to find out if we are a good fit for each other.
So, here are the rules I live by which have made all the difference. Disclaimer: these rules fit my personality. and my studio vision. They may not fit yours. If you would like help finding more about what would work for YOU, sign up for a mentorship hour and let’s talk more!!!
1) I only run Free Taster Classes when I have other lessons going on in the space. At first, I did this simply because I couldn’t afford to clear the studio for a free class, but I’m starting to realize the benefits are far more deep than the financial side. Often times my taster students are really inspired by what they see other students doing on the other side of the room. At first, I thought that this could go south, that the intimidation factor would discourage them. But, seeing other students is very powerful. They end up really want to join because they see other humans doing this, not just the amazing instructor. :)
Another benefit that I didn’t anticipate- but what has started happening at my studio--is that my regulars cross paths with the newbies and encourage them to join! They have become my biggest advocates and sellers of my classes right there in the studio to the new people. For the ground-up, we’ve established a welcoming air, an community attitude that is excited to have new people join and we encourage each other. So, rather than new people feel intimidated by the other students because they are advanced and awesome, those amazing aerialists actually encourage the newbies to stick with it and try it a second time because they looked and felt the same way on their first class. They might call over, “Yeah, that hurt for me too when I first started. It takes some time but you’ll toughen up.” Or they might chat with them before or after class and answer questions that they have about how long it took to get comfortable going upside-down or something...and it means SOOO much more coming from another student than an instructor.
2) When I run a taster class, I run it at the same day and time as the first day of a new intro 4-week course, (which is sold at a ridiculously good price, so many new people have gone straight for that rather than the free class). That means that paying customers who have signed up for a 4-week session are right alongside freebie students who might only come once. This motivates me to feel like the hour is not wasted because I actually have paying customers in the mix. Having more people on the first day of the session makes it feel fun and festive, so everyone welcomes the extra newbies. The whole time, I talk about what we will learn over the next 4 weeks and the Taster students can definitely take my hints! (I want them to sign-up for the whole session.) I don’t give any discount on the session because it’s already at a low price, so when they sign-up for the whole session at the end of the first class, no one feels like they are getting a bad deal. After all, they did just take the first class for free...so they are understanding about it. And when they sign-up for the rest of the session, I feel amazing and justified because that class wasn’t free afterall. They end up paying the same price at everyone else who already planned to be there all 4 weeks.
3) The next time I run a Taster Class, it is right smack dab in the middle of the 4-week course (week 3). I only do this if the enrollment is less than 6 people. Because my intro course starts on a new apparatus every week, it's easy to have new people jump in in the middle of the course. For example, if I only have 4 people signed up for the 4-week course, I will allow 2 people to come in for a taster course at week 3. If they are interested in signing up for the course, I let them finish out that course with us and then take the first two weeks of the next course, so they get all 4 classes in the end. Or, they might start at the beginning of the next course, but that’s still a win because they are coming back!
4) Sometimes I get a session where no one signs up for the intro course. That’s when I slightly change my strategy for the Taster Classes. I have the room for more people into my Taster Class, so I might get up to 6 people trying it for the first time (which is more risky because I might get a bucket list group). I still run it every other week, but I shorten the time to 45 minutes. And I describe it as an orientation class. I want people to feel like they are getting a tour, not a free class. It's important to make the small shift in expectations so that they come in with the right mindset. Also, since no one in the class is paying for this free class, I am not obligated to give them a full class-worth of aerial skills. While I still introduce them to aerial things, I change what we do based on what they might be interested in.
I typically start with a short tour of the studio,chat about rules and guidelines, and while we are warming up, I tell them about myself and the studio. I have them share about themselves and why they are here. It's important to note WHY a student came. If they tell you, "I just wanted to try this once and will likely never come back," I politely tell them about our "Bucket List" private parties where you get a group of friend who all want to get together and do the same thing. Even just the name hits them where they are at and they see the possibilities...
In this way, the class becomes a strategic way to advertise. But, it's important to figure out why they are coming and what they are interested in getting out of aerial. If they came for a gentle stretch, and you give them a crazy workout, it's not a great match. And vice versa. So, as we go along, I tell them all the different things we offer which makes them want to TRY all the different things we offer...or they might pick one that they are really interested in.
Typically, we start with a gentle aerial yoga introduction. As I’m going over the moves, I might say “If you come Mondays at 6:30 to Aerial Yoga, this is the inversion that you will be doing...Can you come Monday nights? Does that work for you?” The whole class becomes more of a probe to see what classes they would be interested in and what fits their schedule. I also want to make sure that fit the prerequisite for any classes that they are interested in. If they are going to be dropping into aerial yoga, I want them to feel comfortable with doing an inversion, and can access if they will continue to need a spot or can do it on their own after the first class. Occasionally, I get people who come in super strong, and they can already invert and climb well. I’m practically begging them to enter our higher level classes by the end of the class.
It’s important that the students envision themselves at the studio. If I can understand what they are looking for, and explain what would best fit their schedule, then they are generally asking about prices by the end of class. I save the last 15 minutes to talk about our pricing plans (punch card or automatic monthly payments). I always offer a special introductory deal for them to help entice the sale. After all, you are speaking to the population who came to the free class, they are deal-hunters and deal-snaggers. If they were of the other type, they would have already signed up for a session.
I've learned the hard way how to make these small tweaks so that this class is a purposeful part of growing our program. None of this comes instantly. It's amazing how the smallest change can have a large impact on a program. Don't immediately dismiss an idea because it's not working. There are many Tuesdays where I have had no one show up for class. When that happens, I simply take away the positive message that my prices are not what are keeping people away! If they are not showing up for a free class, then that tells me that they are not even hearing about the studio in the first place.
However, many times, the free class sparks a large chain of word-of-mouth advertising, which is a powerful form of advertising. Whenever I get students who don't come back, I don't worry, because they no doubt told their friends about this crazy thing that they tried last Tuesday. Some of my biggest advocates have been people who just tried it once and they just wanted to show off pictures of them doing something cool on Facebook and Instagram. Then their friends signed up for a session. It's really hard to track word-of-mouth growth, but I swear by it because it's the only form I'm engaged in at the moment. I can't afford any other kind. These Test-Drive Tuesday classes I run seem to help fire up the word-of-mouth train like nothing else, so until I figure out something better or I get enough students to afford not to have them, I'll keep having them!
To give you a little statistic of encouragement (or discouragement depending on how you look at it), you can generally expect to retain 10% of your reach. So, if you can reach 100 students with your advertising, you are likely to get 10 people in the door. If you get 10 people in the door, you are likely to have 1 become a dedicated student. If you send out 100 e-mails, you are likely to get 10 people to read that e-mail (about 20 will open it, but they won't really read it). To take my studio for example, we got about 400 people in our doors during the first year, and we have about 40 dedicated students who pay automatic monthly payments at the moment. Sometimes it's nice to know it's not me when people don't come back. It's just the reality of running of a business. There are what the numbers look like for everybody! If you do any better, pat yourself on the back and send me your secrets. :)
Let me know what works to build your clients. Feel free to comment below or continue conversations in our secret Facebook group. :)
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