How to rock out free sessions


I recently created a week-long giveaway of 30-minute free sessions.

It did very well (three dozen free sessions, fifty new subscribers, thousands of dollars of sales) with bugger-all promotion (one newsletter, one article, maybe five tweets? I was sick, it was all I could manage).

I’ve had a number of people ask how I’ve been so successful with free sessions this time and in the past, and I promised to write an article detailing all the specific strategies that have proven effective.

More importantly, I’d also like to analyse the reasons why these strategies work for me, so you can adapt them to work for you, too. Because there is nothing more depressing than giving something away for free and getting no takers.

P.S. These guidelines apply to giving away other things, too, with some obvious tweaks.

Say it with me, kids: Specific. Tangible. Outcome.

The free session had a very specific focus. It said:

  1. People use Valentine’s Day in terrible ways, mostly as an excuse to take their partner for granted 364 days of the year, and then fix it with flowers.
  2. This is a pattern in many businesses, too.
  3. Let’s break the pattern for one aspect of your biz, in 30 minutes!

Any client who has ever worked with me for any length of time knows I have an addiction to two words: specific and tangible. A free offer – any offer! – MUST be both. Your target person will read this offer and imagine it in their life. Do they need this? Would it suit them? Will it fit in the living room?

And if the offer is vague they won’t – as people seem to hope – define it for themselves in the most positive light and decide this for them. Instead, they won’t make any decision at all, and will forget about your offer immediately.

Actually, I take that back. SOME people will take a vague offer and define it as perfect, and this people are your ABSOLUTE WORST CLIENTS. The ones with completely unreasonable expectations, with minimal grasp on reality, the ones you pray never give you money ever again.

Short version: don’t be vague, lovey!

Sure, most people who read it won’t need the specific thing you’re offering this time. But there’s always next time, something you’ll be encouraged to do if you get a blisteringly enthusiastic response to your offer instead of a tepid one.

Never devalue the work

When I’m offering free or discounted services, they are never the work I already get paid to do.

I see a lot of people go wrong when they offer a freebie or a sale of their work; they unconsciously broadcast the message “My work is not worth paying full price for.”* I don’t want to ever, ever give that impression (plus I don’t want the people who paid me full price to feel sad) so I don’t do free or discounted versions of my work. Sometimes I add bonuses, but that’s as far as I go.

On ze other hand, I don’t want to create something completely new, because that is hard damn work. Generally, I create something that is a specific (there’s that word again) slice out of a bigger work, or a themed approach that uses tools already in my toolbox. This Valentine’s Day offer was both.

*I mean, it’s certainly possible to offer your paid thing for free without that subtext of “This is cheap ‘cos no-one will buy it at full price”. But you need to be both a) totally confident about the value of your work, and b) 100% lacking in any form of desperation when you make the offer. For me, a) can occur around brand-new offers, and b) may manifest because I tend to make offers like this when something needs shaking up – whether it’s my empty calendar or my approach to the work or my energy levels. So I prefer to play it safe and stay far, far away from my paid work when doing giveaways.

Short version: make sure that your free session doesn’t undermine your paid work.

I could do this in my sleep!

I chose something I was reasonably sure I would be able to deliver with near-perfect consistency.

Because this offer uses the same tools that I use every day in my sessions, I felt superbly confident – even with the usual wild cards of brand-new readers thrown into the mix.

Plus it had the bonus of being a brilliant sample of my work for new peeps, which often leads to more business later. (And much happier clients, since they already have extremely accurate expectations about how the work will go.)

There seem to be a lot of people who get uncomfortable and weirdly ashamed when they let it be easy. QUIT THAT SHIT RIGHT NOW IT WILL KILL YOU, SHEESH.

I mean, I had at least two sessions a day on top of my regular work – one memorable day was six hours of sessions with only one break in it – while also running the rest of the business and client load and oh yeah, still being sick. Why on earth would I make this hard on myself?

Short version: the parts that are easiest for you are the ones where you are most effortlessly brilliant, effective, and impressive. So use them!

Follow the fun

One-on-one sessions are my most favouritest thing. Especially when they involve new people and old readers I’ve never gotten to connect with before.

The thing you give away should be something you are wildly enthusiastic about. It transforms the energy from, “Hey. I made you a thing, if you want it.” to, “Guys! GUYS! LOOKIT at this thing I made for you it is awesome do you want it I want to give it to you I sure do ’cos you’re awesome let’s have fun together waddaya say woop woop huzzah!”

Trust me on this. I’ve made a few free resources that Experts recommended would grow my biz and they were, you know, useful and pretty and alla dat, but I wasn’t wildly excited about them. And they accomplished bugger-all in transformative change for my peeps, or in supporting my business. The free sessions, by comparison, are always revolutionary and always a blessing to us both.

Short version: screw the gestalt. Only give away the thing you love. Especially if you need to be involved directly in it.

Give me a reason, sugar

We are suspicious of true generosity. Because, quite rightly, we don’t believe it really exists.

If you’re giving something away, you’re doing it because you’re getting something out of it. And if you pretend different, we’re gonna keep hunting for the attached string.

In this offer, I gave the reason that it’s Valentine’s Day, and I love my readers, and we keep doing this dumb-ass thing, so I wanted to give them a gift. That was enough of a reason to disarm the Suspicious Bastard sniffer for most people. It doesn’t need to be a fancy, elaborate backstory or justification; it just needs to confirm our unstated belief that no-one is really, truly selfless when they give. There’s always some motivation behind the gift.

By now, I probably don’t need to be so explicit about this, because I have developed a reputation over time for not screwing over my people, but in the early days especially it’s vital.

Short version: Be honest and upfront about why you’re doing this – I want to test a new format, I’m feeling sad after my panda died, I’m recruiting you into my army of the undead – instead of leaving it politely unsaid or hinted at.

Be madly generous

To me, extremely limited generosity is boring. Crazy over-the-top generosity is interesting. So whenever I do session giveaways, they’re almost always anyone-who-signs-up-during-this-week-will-get-one. The second time I did this – to simultaneously celebrate leaving the Day Job and also to solve the scary here-I-am-at-my-desk-now-what? problem – I got 90 signups and did most of the sessions over three weeks. Crazy? Yes. The thing that most grew my business in its first stages? Yep.

The first time I did this, I was still in my Day Job, so I spent weeks getting up at 5am to do the 30-ish free sessions before I went to work. Again, kinda insane, but also super-duper effective.

Of course, over-the-top generosity can take many forms, and you have to choose one that suits you and your constraints (which is usually easier when you obey the Fun Rule, but still definitely need to be considered). And crazy-ass generosity is not the only way you can make an offer that is innately remarkable and thus likely to be shared. But I’m a big fan.

Short version: go big. Give remarkably. Make it interesting.

Now, not later

I like using one week as a signup window. It’s a big enough time for almost everyone to have a chance to read the article and sign up, but not so big that they feel they have plenty of time.

(Oh, and international readership trick: I always use “You have until the end of the 20th” as my format. I end the offer when the 20th is finished across the globe. SO much simpler than any other method I’ve tried.)

Give your readers a reason to take action now, not “someday”. That can be as simple as a time or numbers limit, or a special gift for people who fill in the worksheet, or a competition, or a free hedgehog, or just an offer so freaking amazing that they have to move right now ’cause they want it so bad.

Short version: encourage them to do it now. You’ll both be glad you did.

Gift, not transaction

I asked for nothing from my people except for them to show up and allow me to help them. I believe I mentioned my services twice, like when one client was admitting she’d been wrestling with a name for her new thing and I said the Kickass Naming Service could be of help with that if she remained stuck.

But that was it. I spent the whole 30 minutes focused on them, and doing my best to rock their world. I had no sneaky self-serving agenda, and I will be completely and perfectly satisfied if that is all they need from me and they never pay me one dollar.

Of course, quite a few of them will buy something from me, and some already have. Historically, my conversion rate from giving with no expectation of return has been crazy high. Possibly it’s not as high as if I spent the last ten minutes discussing Ways We Could Work Together, but – especially considering number of calls I do – it’s usually enough to be more than worthwhile. And I like it more.

Sometimes I do more transactional sessions, like if someone emails me asking about whether I could help them with a specific problem. Then of course I’ll do a free session that’s two thirds world rocking and one third where-do-we-go-now.

There’s two vital parts to this:

  1. Know in advance whether you’re giving a gift, or making an exchange.
  2. Clarify your message accordingly.

We’ve all been ambushed by the “informational” teleclass which is just one long ad with three useful tips in it. We’re getting jaded, and cautious, and less free with our attention. Disarm us with honesty.

Short version: if you’re doing a transaction, announce it upfront. Never sneak-attack with it. But consider the possibility that an actual gift might be more effective.

What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happening

Nowadays I have a big enough audience – and enough people who regret not taking me up on a previous offer! –  that a minimalist announcement and social media outreach is enough to get a very healthy response.

But I did my first offering when I had, oh, forty readers, and I did it very differently back then.

I tweeted, I emailed, I posted the offer in every forum I was a member of… and my audience tripled in a week. It was hard work, and it was brilliant.

Short version: if your audience is small, you need to get the word out every way you can. (Again, this is easier if your offer is specific, tangible and interesting.)

Sell the freebie

There’s no price tag, but this is still a sale, which is something else a lot of disappointed coaches don’t seem to understand. I’ve seen a heart-breaking number of wonderful service providers who think two lines and a Sign Up box is enough to get people to give you a half hour of their time.

To a certain extent, the rest of your website is a sales page. It sells your approach and your values and your skills and your strengths. If those are good enough, you might do okay with a no-description offering. Maybe. But no matter how big your audience, or how clear your branding, you will always do better if you approach your free offering with the same focus and attention you give to the paid ones.

Short version: even if it’s free, you need to sell your offering.

Don’t have expectations. But be open to hopes.

You can’t have expectations of what you’ll get back when you give a gift; expectations immediately create a transaction (and one where you’re likely to be very pissy when you don’t get what you were hoping for).

But you can have hopes.

Because very, very good things always happen to me when I am insanely generous. Most of these things don’t seem to be related to what I’m doing – like a previous Pilot Light client paying me $1300 – but I am firmly convinced that on some level that this works. Good things happen to Generous Catherine.

I mean, I can reasonably predict I will end up with twenty new ideas for articles, and a renewed love for my work and clients. I can hope that some of these wonderful sessions will lead to paid work some time in the future, probably though offerings I create as a result of the work. (This time, it was Your Business Sidekick.)

Those are hopes, not demands. I’m never calculating what I expect in return, or how this will benefit me. And I think that’s the main reason I get such brilliant outcomes.

Short version: I never expect the good things to come. As long as I have done so, they keep showing up.

What’s your thoughts on free sessions?

Do you have any tales of success or woe to share? Any more questions? Want to disagree with me? Please, add your thought in the comments!

I love you, Soda Pop Guy.

I have clients who admit to me, shamefaced, that they hide things about themselves. “I’m too weird,” they say. “I’m too intense, I need to tone it down.”

To them, I say: meet the Soda Pop Guy.

Soda Pop Guy is weird. He is intense. And he is utterly fucking mesmerising.

What did you learn from Soda Pop Guy? Tell us in the comments!

A relentlessly pragmatic approach to self-care

Hey, I was asked to be part of this amazing series from Mara and Tamarisk on self-care. I’ve linked to the rest of the series at the bottom, so you can read this first, okay?

There are lots of people who regard self-care as a deep spiritual practice.

Sometimes I am one of them.

But mostly I regard self-care as a pragmatist. And the pragmatic approach to self care says this:

My business requires three pieces of equipment: a computer, an internet connection, and me. If either of the first two break down, I can find alternatives. So really, the only piece of irreplaceable business equipment I own is my brain.

Therefore, adequate maintenance is not optional. And self-care is maintenance of me.

My self-care needs vary depending on the time of year, my workload, whether I’m going through a growth period, the busyness of my personal life, etc. But these are the baseline essentials:


Three nights of bad sleep will destroy me. After even one night I feel fuzzy and I’ll struggle the next day. Most of the time, I don’t have to do much to ensure I get enough sleep: if you took me to a party attended by everyone I’ve ever admired and they spent the whole night telling me how amazing I was? I’d still be asleep by 11:30.

I am careful to ensure I have enough time to wake up naturally, which includes staggering my first appointment time depending on the season. In summer, I’m usually up and about by 5, and I sometimes do sessions at 6am. In winter, my first session time is usually 9am, so I have plenty of time to sleep in and still have breakfast before my first call.


Sometimes I try to pretend I don’t need this, and then wonder why I get so vague and crabby at 10am. In winter, I almost always go with porridge with dried apricot. In summer, toast with Vegemite and cheese (not as healthy, but I am yet to find an alternative I like better).


Especially in winter, where a daily dose of D3 is one of my secret weapons against Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also C and B12, and a cod liver oil.


I’ll usually go through a bottle of this during a client call. Back-to-back sessions have increased my talent as the Fastest Pee-r in the West, because I usually have less than a minute to refill my bottle and empty my bladder. Welcome to the classy world of the entrepreneur!


A new tool in the toolbox is an enforced rest every 90 minutes, which I’m defining as 15 minutes in which I neither create nor consume anything.

A shower counts, as does sitting in the back yard watching the fish in the fish pond. Doing the dishes would count, but I never do those in the morning. And lying down, comfy but not too comfy, is fab too, when I can resist the urge to bring along a book. A walk (without an iPod) also is a favourite, especially in autumn.

More and more, this is starting to feel like an absolute requirement. The science backs me on this, as does studies of successful practitioners, but also my personal experience. I feel less fuzzy, more focused, and less likely to drift off target.

Fallow periods are fab for freeing up short-term memory, and also for incubating new thought. The times when I don’t stop shoving new information and distraction into my brain are the times when I don’t create anything worthwhile.

Bored brains are creative brains. So I carefully feed myself measured doses of Nothing To Do on a regular basis.


I’m not perfect.

It’s on the to-do list?


I get engaging social contact online, which meets most of my needs. But I still require and receive plenty of hugs from The Dude.


If I go more than a few days without singing along to something, I start to feel lacklustre. I tend to put on music while doing things that don’t require 100% of my concentration – like World of Warcraft – and while cleaning.

Making things

This sounds funny, because I make things all day. But as The Dude put it, “You’re very tactile. You need to make things you can feel.”

So this year I’ve committed to the idea of making something non-business-related every day. Right now, I’m wrapped up in a Super Secret Project, but I’m also dusting off the sewing machine and sewing myself a tunic dress from a custom pattern.

Pocket money

Gods, this was a hard one to learn. When cash flow was tight I would always skip this and declaim, “No! I must live on sackcloth and ashes! It is what I deserve!

But honestly, having a wee bit of money to spend on myself every fortnight is a stunning investment with an excellent ROI.

(I bought a new dress! It is so pretty and so comfortable!)


Right now I have a coach, a hypnotherapist, an accountability buddy, and the Provocateurs.

They are 90% of the reasons for this long beautiful list of self-care activities.


I read a book a day, on average. This includes some days where I read nothing, and some where I devour three of them.

Since I now live near an excellent library, and go there once a week for biz planning, I’m reading at least one new fiction and one non-fiction book per week, and it’s usually more like five books.

I’m also enjoying picking one book each week far outside my usual sphere. This week, I’ve chosen a book about a basketball gambling scandal. Should be fascinating.

Bedtime ritual

As previously mentioned, I’m an early-to-bed kinda lass, while The Dude is an insomniac. So he puts me to bed every night, and we spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour snuggling and talking about things. During the time I was staying with my family, we both signed up for phone plans from the same provider so we could continue this every night without running up staggering phone bills.


If I’m not learning, I’m stagnant. Sometimes this is from books, but right now I’m also working on improving my extremely rusty French with a module of Rosetta Stone every week.

Once I’m finished French I’m eyeing off Italian. And then maybe Russian. YEAH.

Holy shit, I have a lot of self care!

I never looked at it in a big-ass list before.

But it’s also a recipe for how I want to live my life.

I mean, not everything I want – or want to want, in some cases – is here. My diet is still less than amazing, I don’t exercise, and I don’t go out and have adventures or do major volunteer work like I always planned I would.

But it’s still an interesting and enlivening life. It’s full, and meaningful, and quietly successful.

Which is of course where the pragmatist gives way to the spiritualist.

This relentlessly practical here’s-what-I-need-to-keep-myself-working list is also a pretty comprehensive list of Things Catherine Loves And Would Feel Sad Without.

Because Keeping The Catherine Machine Running as a priority (because the Catherine Machine is a valuable piece of capital equipment) is almost entirely indistinguishable from Loving The Ever-living Hell Out Of Catherine.

For me, I’ve found it easier to justify – ugly word, but there it is – really huge systems of self-care as a business decision. I honestly don’t know if I would have been so goddamn thorough with it just as an expression of self-love. I mean, I’m awesome, but this is a lot of time and energy here!

But does it matter? I’m still getting almost everything I need to thrive and be happy (and productive). Does it matter if this was more of a cold efficiency decision than a warm fuzzy one?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

And go check out the other articles in the Perfectly Imperfect Self Care series here! They are neato.

The Valentine’s Day problem in your biz, and a gift for you.

This guy has a lot to answer for.

It’s Valentine’s Day soon.

The Dude and I will be following our annual ritual: ignoring it completely.

Because both of us believe that too many people use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to take their partner for granted every other day of the year, and then “make it all better, for realsies” with a big armful of foliage.

It’s the Big Dramatic Gestures school of thinking. (With a side of the Fix It With Spending philosophy.) Hollywood and Hallmark are both prime collaborators in popularising the Big Dramatic Gesture: they’re attractive, remarkable, a good narrative device. But I don’t think that in the real world they’re very effective.

The Dude and I prefer the Small Consistent Gestures approach. We have more small rituals than I could list, from the good-morning kiss to the bedtime routine. And we add a bajillion small favours, like a back rub or getting him a drink when I go to the kitchen.

We’ve been together thirteen years, and our relationship gets stronger every year. So we think our approach is working.

Of course this brings me to business – doesn’t everything?

Because I think the Big Dramatic Gesture thinking is equally prevalent when people think about their business. And I think it’s equally daft in that arena, too.

It can happen in all sorts of areas: from ignoring your cashflow for weeks and then having the Oh Shit I Am Now Desperate Sale, or skipping your marketing for months and then drowning everyone in a firehose explosion of Let Me Tell You About All The Things, or of course running yourself into the ground and then disappearing for a fortnight while you try and catch up on six months of self care.

It’s bonkers.

So for this Valentine’s Day, I’m going to give you a present.

You and me, spending half an hour talking about how to bring more consistent attention and affection into your business. How you can make changes, right freaking now, to make your biz feel more loved and more nourished every single day.

For free.

I’ve opened my calendar wide and I’ll help anyone who signs up in the next week. Even if there’s two hundred of you, I will deliver to anyone who shows up.

Yes, that includes people who have never heard of me before today.

Yes, that includes people who have been reading me for years.

Yes, that includes you.

All you need is something resembling a business, and one area where you’d really like to quit the Big Dramatic Gestures approach and work on bringing the love every day.

[Edit: this is now over, my lovely! Thank you to the dozens of wonderful peeps who signed up.]