The Pros and Cons of Offering Trial Periods on Your Membership Site

What else draws a crowd like free products and services? Not much! After all, the idea is a win-win for both business and consumer.

As a business owner, you have a chance to pitch your products and services to a crowd, and consumers get free goods! Of course, offering your product for free doesn’t come without risks—but things worth doing often involve some risk, right?

Types of Trial Periods

There are different ways to offer a trial period. You can give potential clients a free trial-membership period—say, thirty days of free access to your membership site.

Or you can offer a limited-access trial where you allow potential clients to peruse your membership site but with a limited amount of features. Perhaps you restrict them to the entry-level tier, or maybe you let them into the mid-level tier but restrict access to certain features, such as e-courses or discussion boards.

Also keep in mind that trial periods don't have to be free. You can offer trial periods at a discounted rate or offer an incentive, such as giving leads a month of free access if they commit to buying a membership.  

What Type of Trial is Best? 

You'll want to take a few things into consideration depending on the type of product or service you're offering. 

First, consider whether the trial period is long enough for a consumer to determine if they'll benefit from your product or service. On the limited-access side, you'll want to determine if the restricted resources are enough for them to decide if your product or service is a good fit for them. 

Next, consider the financial aspect. Can you afford to give away products or services or allow free access? Similarly, is the discounted fee worth the time it'll take to take to get a non-client set up?

Finally, how long do you estimate you'll have to wait to see if trial customers buy and turn into clients? As you know, time is money when it comes to business.

By carefully assessing the answers to these questions, you’ll be better able to determine which kind of trial offer works best for your business model.

Pros of a Trial Period

As we’ve discussed, trial periods get your product in front of an audience and give you a chance to prove how awesome your services (and you!) are. By offering a free or nominal-fee trial, you allow your audience to see what they're missing (your service or product) and ease their fear of commitment by showing them what they can’t live without.

Another pro is that a lead who participates in a free trial (as opposed to a lead from another source) has taken the time to login, set up a profile, and view the content available. That means they're more likely to stick around for the long haul. Not only that, but you've gained their email address for future communications.

Trial periods are also a great opportunity to ask for feedback on your services and products. You’ll most likely gain great insight—it’s marketing and product-testing all in one!

What's more, the products and services offered during a trial practically sell themselves, so no additional marketing or persuading is necessary—that is, of course, as long as you’ve ensured that what you're providing is top-notch.

When leads are considering whether to fully opt in to your membership site during their trial period, you can take advantage of having their attention by offering additional incentives, such as discounts on a yearly membership, a referral discount or kickback, or maybe even early access to an upcoming course you’re planning to launch. 

And if you need one more reason to convince you to offer a trial period, it's this: customers who experience your service before they buy already know what they’re getting when they actually make the purchase, so their expectations and satisfaction are already met. (Now just keep it up!)

Cons of a Trial Period

Though it seems like the pros are endless, there are, naturally, a few downsides when it comes to trial periods. Probably the most glaring is related to money.

Not only should you consider whether you can you afford it, you should also be cautious about those who have every intention of taking you up on your offer but who have zero intention of ever signing up for your membership site. That’s why it's important to consider the risks of allowing nonmembers access to your content.

One fail-safe you can implement is to go the discounted-fee route rather than the free route, especially if you're offering a trial on some of your most valuable content. Because you'll need to collect payment and personal information when you invoice on the trial membership, many of those who are out for a freebie will back out knowing they need to provide such information and that they need to contact you to cancel their membership. 

Another con is related to time. If your trial period is not long enough for someone to truly form an opinion of your service, both your and their time is wasted.

But it can take some trial and error to perfect that sweet-spot on how long a trial period should go based on the product or service you're offering. Your best bet is to ask for feedback when you follow up with the lead. Simply ask them if they felt like they had enough time to formulate a decision.

Now it's your turn: Have you offered a trial period? What were the pros? The cons? What advice can you give readers who want to launch their first free trial? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: Business
About Lindsay Flanagan

Lindsay Flanagan is a senior editor and project and social media manager at Eschler Editing. She earned her Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and spent over a decade working in higher education before joining the Eschler team. She and her husband are the proud parents of two brilliant daughters and make their home in Heber, Utah.

1 Comment

    Warren McPherson

    February 14, 2019

    I use to offer a free trial but I recently stopped, now I offer a 7-day trial for a $1.00 that automatically cancels after the 7 days. I realized the free trial was attracting a lot of people without a credit card, debit card, or even PayPal account, so there's no chance of these people ever joining the paid membership. To eliminate those people from even being on my list, I offer the 7-day trial for $1.00. I've literally only implemented this about a week ago, so I'll let it run for a few more weeks and see how it goes. Thanks for the article.