What I learned from Offering Free Services as a Digital Marketing Start Up?

Recently, I along with one of my friends decided to offer two weeks of free digital marketing service to the prospective clients by posting in Facebook groups targeting small and local business owners. We got a lot of leads which was the best part but the overall plan did not seem to go in the right direction as planned for a startup. Here is what we learned from offering free services to the clients.

Leads Quality are bad

One thing is we learned was that the lead quality was not so good. We posted in facebook groups for small business owners a post saying that we are going to start a digital marketing agency and we are planning to give two weeks of free digital marketing services to top five clients. The idea was simple. Get as many clients, even though on the name of free service, try to give them a good result with those two weeks period, win their trust and ask them to onboard us.

Most of the leads that we got through either personal messages or through a comment on the post were not actually a lead. Most of them were small business owners with not a fully functional website or idea of what they are trying to achieve through their business. Also, most of them were still in the figuring out stage.

Filtering out the leads

In total, we got around 60 leads of which most were small business owners who were local to the facebook group. Those 60 leads had left a comment on the post showing their interest. We then asked them to fill out a form. The idea of filling out the form was to filter the businesses which had the potential to pay us as an agency in the future.

Filters & Criteria

Following were the small set of criteria which we set to filter out the potential businesses.

  • Industry type
  • Ad spend capacity
  • would they like to hire us in the future seeing our performance?

Out of around 60 leads, we followed up with all of them. Out of 60, around 20 replied or fill up the form. The next step was to have a peek at the clients and look for future opportunities based on the form fills.

Opportunity gauging

We went through the entire list of 20 leads and we found out that out of 20, around 8 were worth following after. Rest of them were too small to hire an agency or even a good freelancer. So, finally out of 60, we were left with 8 good leads. We began following up with them such as

  • Setting up a discovery call
  • Sending them an introduction email

Out of those 8, around half of them replied and the rest of them did not reply or showed any further interest. So, we on-boarded them for two weeks of trial. In total, out of 60 leads who showed interest in us, finally, we had only 4 genuine leads that we were pursuing.

Free Services

Messy accounts

Out of the two weeks of the free trial, we decided to give one week to strategy, account discovery, setting up a business objective, putting bare minimum pixels in order to track conversion, setting up the account, deciding a landing page, etc. Though doing almost everything in a week was doing a lot of things with too many hours involved but still, we decided to do that. One thing we discovered was that the whole account structure was messed up. Here are some of the examples:

  • The client using a third party free website for registration and payment
  • There is no proper landing page
  • There are no ads account setup
  • There are no basic pixels on the website and a lot more

Burning out

So, within a week, we made some discovery calls with the client. Sometimes, even meeting in person and asking them the current issues, learning about their business, website, budget, setting up goals and more. On the other side, we had to get a landing page, set up the bare minimum pixel, get the ads Account live with credit card information, make ad copies and creatives and a lot more. This all discovery and setup almost burned us out.

The first week burnt out

Since we had decided to dedicate the first week towards finishing up the pre-requisites. In the first week alone, we had to execute a set of actions

  • Account access/ setup with credit card info
  • A small test media plan along with strategy
  • landing page makeover
  • pixels and tracking
  • Writing ad copies and creatives

In the first week itself, there were a lot of requests from the client to change portions of the landing page, etc. and we almost felt burnt out. We were giving out energy and hours just with the hope that everything works out and we could show some result to the client.

The second week burnt out

In the second week, it became even warmer. There were constant calls that needed to be answered. What I observed is that in that period, the client wants to utilize you as much as possible as they know the limitation. Overall, I felt that two weeks, not enough time to give any free service to the client. I think we had needed at least a month to show them some result properly.

Quality Compromises in Rush

But to get us running, we had to do the bare minimum on all the instances and keep us running. For example, setting up the google or facebook pixel on the website, setting up google analytics, making some tweaks in the landing page, writing ad copies, finding out some images from the website as an ad creative and a lot more.

Throughout this whole process, we realized that even though we wanted to give cent percent to the client in terms of quality, we had not enough time to discuss, strategy and think in an integrated way to approach the whole tactics. Anyway, we continued and within a week, we launched out ads though we knew that we were compromising with the quality/

Client expectations are high

Even though we produced some good leads at a lower cost that could not satisfy the client expectations. There are some reasons for it. Here are some of them:

  • The client does not understand the difference in MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads) and SQL (Sales Qualified Leads).
  • An online campaign can bring in MQL and later on, those leads need to be curated through sales process funnel to become a sales lead such as through email marketing, phone calls, offers, one to one relationship, etc.
  • However, the client was totally interested in SQL which is a very tough task

After we finished running the ads, the cost per acquisition was not per the client expectations. Well, if you are a digital marketer, you would know that running a week of the campaign without proper discovery is hard to get the results. Even though you get the results, the next client-side problem is that they want all the leads to convert.

Since these clients do not know the basics of marketing or still in their initial phase of business, it becomes very hard to make them understand the subtleties of online marketing.

Overall, I would say that it is not so bad to offer free services to gain some word of mouth, testimonials, references, etc. However, if you are planning to offer two weeks of free service, here is the list of hot items that you might have to deal with:

  • Client’s lack of knowledge of digital marketing
  • The very short time period to show good performance
  • Be ready to burn out and be over capacity
  • Be ready to answer your client whatever they ask
  • Keep them lured and engaged so that they eventually convert.

All the best!!!

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