Are you wasting your time on ‘free’ trials?

Are 'free' trials wasting your time?What unmissable free trials have you signed up for recently? A great bit of software with a free trial period? A PA service with a few jobs thrown in to test it out? I know I’ve tried out lots of different options, always convinced it was going to be the right solution to my need at that moment.

These can be very appealing, but if you’re not careful you can waste valuable time and energy on them.

Are you that time-wasting client?

Andy McKenna, founder of phone answerering service Best Reception, has seen it all before. His company offers a 30-day trial period to interested new clients, but he says he can tell from the beginning whether someone is likely to become a paying customer. ‘The best clients put the work in from the start,’ he says. ‘They give us a good brief, tell us how they would like us to greet their client when we pick up the phone,  and give us lots of information we can use to deal with their calls. But with other people, I sometimes think, why do they bother?’

Best Reception’s service only works for a client if Andy’s team can answer the phone as effectively as a ‘real’ office receptionist would. So if you’re testing his service without equipping his staff to do it properly, you may as well be asking your mum to do it.

The risks of trying out software

I’ve recently started working with the book writing software Scrivener. It has a 30-day trial period, and a very detailed tutorial that takes at least a couple of hours to work through. The thing is, though, if you’ve never used it before, most of its features are anything but intuitive. You have the choice: you either invest that time in the tutorial in order to understand what it can do, and risk realising it isn’t for you, or go it alone, and risk never really understanding how powerful it can be.

I forced myself to do the tutorial, and I know that 1. I’ll almost certainly buy it once my trial is up, and 2. if I hadn’t, I would have wasted much longer either getting frustrated or trying to work out solutions for myself.

Four steps to making sure your free trial gives you a real benefit

1. Do your research.

If you’re looking for a new service or product, work out what you need from it before you sign up for anything.

2. Be selective.

Even a free trial has a cost: your time, your energy and attention, and possibly your computer space. Only sign up for a free trial if you’re sure it’s something you have a need for, and that it meets all the requirements you found in your research.

3. Decide what you want to learn from the trial.

That way you can assess whether or not it’s worked for you, and if it hasn’t, you can investigate whether it could be adapted.

4. Go into it planning to make it permanent.

Invest the time that it needs at the beginning. It won’t be wasted time: even if that particular supplier or product doesn’t work, you’ll have learnt things that you can then apply to another supplier. If you go into it in a half-hearted way, it’s likely that even that time will be wasted.

If you’re a habitual free-service sampler, ‘fess up here! Or if you’re the perfect client, and only get into things you mean to commit to, tell us your tricks now. Share your secrets in the comments below!
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