We debate the best way to structure trial memberships in the martial arts industry: Should prospective members pay? Does it make sense to offer a class or classes for free? The core of the trial membership discussion surrounds how to attract new people to your martial arts school while maintaining, communicating, and demonstrating value.
Supporters of the paid trial philosophy say that payees are more serious about keeping initial appointments. Because paid trial members already invested/financially invested in a shortened version of your program, the hardest part of transitioning to a full membership—the first sale—is completed. The experience, growth, and relationship with you become further selling points for your trial member.
Opinions of free trials are less straightforward. What giving out free trial memberships will get you is a substantial increase of leads. And we really like leads. Retail market research suggests that consumers are attracted to free product samples (or in this instance, free classes) because of two strong elements of community that we also find in martial arts: relationships and reciprocity. However, the potential drawbacks of free trials within your business model are:
We think paid and free trials have valuable returns when you consider the strengths of each to create a marketing/lead generation strategy that fits the specific needs of your business. The first step is to use a different approach for your external audience (fresh leads who don’t have an in-person relationship with you) and your internal audience (your current students and their social networks).
Giving samples of services for free is more effective when you leverage your existing relationships. Your current students are your best advocates for the value, example, and growth you provide for your community. An in-house referral program is a perfect structure to include no-cost-attached lead generation.
Skip any overt sales pitches when you talk to your students about bringing their friends to class. Hardcore sales talk will feel disingenuous in established, trusting relationships. Approach your referral program—or bringing a guest for free, as you may say—as a privilege students have earned. It’s a softer approach that relies on networking and your ability to create an attractive community for new prospects.
We recommend that you offer discounts or rewards for students who refer friends and for new students who converted from a referral.
Paid trials will continue to draw more qualified, serious leads to your school regardless of additional swag you give as a new member package. However, including a uniform, gloves, or another bonus adds to the idea that paid trial members are joining a niche community. Again, you’re aiming to further the feeling of emotional investment for paid trial members to convert them to full-time members after the trial period ends.