If you're a business owner, chances are you've considered giving away free samples of your products or services to drum up new business at some point. At its core, it's a brilliantly simple idea: I give people a sample to show how great my product is, and they'll come back for more!
But is it really that simple? There are certain risks involved with free samples that small business owners should be aware of.
The biggest criticism of using free samples to generate business is that they can devalue your product or service. Often, a customer will see an ad for a free sample and think, "If it's free, how good can it really be?" As price-conscious as consumers are, the perception still exists that price often relates to quality.
Also, free samples don't necessarily breed customer loyalty. Some people see "FREE!" and take as much as they can without having to pay. Especially at a time when everyone is trying to save money, people will take anything they can get without necessarily planning on becoming a repeat customer.
Finally, free samples can create expectations among customers, especially for service businesses. Say you offer marketing consulting services. In hopes of increasing business, you offer a day of your services for free. What do you do after you've provided these free services for a customer and they call you and say, "Hey, just a quick question for you..."? Since you've already provided them with eight free hours, they may feel that another 15 or 20 minutes is no big deal.
There's nothing wrong with free samples as a marketing tool, but you should be aware of some of the risks involved. They may be a good way to hook customers, but they also come with certain perceptions and expectations that will need to be managed.