Tag Archives: credibility

How to sell a free service

From the Lisbon Chill Out Tours website…

We are a team of creative and free-minded tour guides who work as a part of United Europe’s independent network of free walking tours throughout continental Europe. If you support sustainable tourism or you’re just looking for a tour free of formalities, free of commissions, free of pressure and full of authentic experience – just show up to our meeting point.

There are three magic words in the marketing lexicon – new, you, and free. Despite what we may say, we’re all attracted to something flagged up as ‘new’ and ‘free’. But is it possible to run a viable business by offering a free service? Chill Out Tours seem to have done so – they’ve been operating free walking tours around Lisbon for nine years. Here are some insights into the apparent secret of their success,

Make it free and easy to join The freedom alluded to in the website blurb is not just about not having to pay for the guided walking tour – an important element in their offer – but also the convenience of being able to just turn up at a fixed time and place; no need to book. You can leave the three-hour tour at any stage.

At an accessible central location, the guides are easily identified with bright yellow bags from about 30 minutes before the start time. Importantly, they also advertise their business on their bags as they walk around the city.

Keep your publicity simple Their main publicity tool is a credit-card sized folded leaflet – printed on recycled paper. It’s handed out at the meeting point before the start of the tour, distributed to visitor accommodation (including Airbnb) and given to walkers at the end to distribute any way they can. They could have been handed out on the tour, but our guide didn’t do so.

The leaflet includes essential information in English or Spanish – meeting times and place (with a simple map), membership of different associations, contact details through social media and an invitation to find out more and share feedback. Enticing photos are used to tell the story on their website and through social media – with lots of images on Instagram and short video clips on Facebook.

Establish your credibility There’s fierce competition for your time if not your Euros – Trip Advisor lists 15 walking tours in Lisbon, and a rival provider of free (but sponsored) tours set up in 2013 with the same start time and location. So standing out from the rest is important.

The folk at Chill Out Tours do this by emphasising that all their guides are local to Lisbon and experienced – our guide Rafael had been leading tours for six years. In a veiled reference to the immediate competition, they describe themselves as the ‘original’ free tour company and stress their independence – they are not paid by any of the businesses along the tour route. They also establish their green credentials – see below – and their membership of a European-wide association gives reassurance. Ultimately, they can point to happy customers – on Trip Advisor Chill Out Tours are #29 out of 650 tours in Lisbon, with a 91% rating as ‘excellent’.

 Build your brand The public imagine of the tour company is everything if independent of support from providers of travel and accommodation. For Chill Out Tours their green credentials are important. As their website blurb makes clear, they push walking as sustainable low-impact tourism, their leaflets are printed on recycled paper, and their identifier bags are handmade from waste materials by a local company. Like all good businesses, they encourage their customers to spread the word – on and offline – at every opportunity, knowing that personal recommendation is always the most cost-effective promotion.

Make it personal With a rival company touting for business at the same time and place, it was important that the Chill Out Tour guides were  friendly and forward, without being pushy, from the start. They welcomed people coming especially, tried to attract the odd passer-by (we gained two en route) and informally they kept a check on waiting walkers who had gone to the nearby coffee bar for refreshments before the start.

At a first stop on the tour (in a quiet backstreet) everyone was invited to give their names and countries of origin, sharing a bit about their particular interests in relation to Lisbon and Portuguese culture – our expectations for the tour. Our friendly guide – Rafael – introduced himself with a bit of background (establishing his authority) and explained the plan for the three-hour tour. The tour commentary was informed and informal with references to the interests of the walkers where relevant. In short, we struck up a friendship with our guide and the group very quickly – skilfully orchestrated by Rafael – and the time passed quickly.

Be honest and upfront about the deal Although ‘free’ is the main hook (a selling point in the broadest sense) the website and the guides make clear that walkers are invited to donate what they think the tour is worth at the end. Of course, a dissatisfied customer can choose to pay nothing (but will probably not have stayed to the end – literally voting with their feet!)

The pay-what-it’s-worth principle puts obvious pressure on the guides to impress (and can make decisions about ideal group sizes a bit tricky) but the ratings on Trip Advisor confirm they’re doing a consistently good job. We were told of this payment arrangement at the start, during, and at the end of the tour.

Have a big finish – the reward As we got to the three-hour mark, and with legs getting weary, Rafael urged us on for a final climb (Lisbon is very hilly), promising a reward for our effort. For us that reward was a fine view across the city and a recap on the route we’d taken and the sights and landmarks along the way.

For Rafael the reward was genuine appreciation from the group – reflected in generous donations. Most of the 15 – 20 people in our group seemed to give willingly and without embarrassment. Comparable paid-for tours charge between 12 and 22 Euros per person and I’d estimate this was replicated by the donations on our tour.

And for Rafael, even after six years, one hopes he gets great satisfaction from knowing his obvious passion for the job, for Lisbon, and it’s living history had fired a similar interest in our small, happy, dispersing walking tour group.

Author’s note: These are my personal observations – based on a walking tour in September 2018 – I was neither paid nor encouraged to write this blog post.

Further information https://www.lisbon-chillout-freetour.com and Trip Advisor  https://bit.ly/2Rby6Rj

Eight top tips from ‘experts by experience’

Create and share the vision…

“Having a clear vision is important, particularly when well-intentioned people are in danger of diverting you. But making sure that vision is one which is shared is also important; the whole consultation process was about taking people with us. For sustainability, that strong foundation and broad backing is essential, as is having the right legal structure with community interest at its heart.”  Rosamund Webb, Station House Community Connections http://bit.ly/1wfUF6D

 Passion is important, but not enough…

“Unless you have a real desire and passion, don’t do it. Social enterprise is not a route to making money, so the desire to make a difference has to be genuine. But passion is not enough. You should learn as much as you possibly can about the subject, but don’t feel you have to do it all at once. It can’t all happen overnight, so have realistic expectations.” James Hogg, Music and Memories http://bit.ly/1p6Lwax

Be guided by your achievements and successes

When starting your business, stick with it. “You’ll have a huge idea at the start, with blurred surroundings so you can’t see how to get to your destination. But be guided by your achievements and successes.”  Amanda Keel, FullSpoon http://bit.ly/1BrZpsI

 Make it sell-able at a viable price…

“ If you want to make money [from your artwork]… you need to make it saleable and sell it at a viable price. The designs you come up with have to be commercial if that’s what you’re in it for. If you’re a creative being who wants to create art, don’t think of it as a business proposition.” Teresa Crickmar, Craftworks http://bit.ly/1qEEU8E

Get your public profile right…

“Look the part. The reason Forest Owl is getting into schools and talking to businesses is that we communicate effectively through our website and social media. We’re also building credibility by nailing our colours to the mast. We live our brand by getting out and about, not sitting indoors in an office.”  Ian Henderson, Forest Owl http://bit.ly/1xIoDEF

Learn to let go…

“Don’t underestimate the people you’re working with – particularly when they’re volunteers. Learn to let go, people are very capable and if you give them the opportunity, they’ll learn.” Nicky Kearns, Secret Space http://bit.ly/1BrZ4Gx

It takes a long time to build a reputation but a second to destroy it…

“It takes time to build up reputation and loyal customers – I favour word of mouth over any other publicity. I stress with the guys that it takes a long time to build a reputation but a second – one hair in the food – to destroy it. So we’re very strict on quality control.” Sam Speller, All Seasoned http://bit.ly/1CRpgvG

Give it a go and be patient…

“Be open to new ideas and experiences. Give something a try and if it doesn’t work out, don’t worry; it’s the trying that’s important. I stuck with jobs that didn’t suit me, resilient in the face of poor management for the sake of the children in my care, until other career stepping stones came along.”  Hannah Burns, Nurture by Nature Forest School http://bit.ly/1lTbOC8

 

More tips from Experts by Experience at:  http://bit.ly/1dQplX3