Most of us regularly use online products and services in our daily lives and businesses. Today, it seems like almost everyone has a free trial offer, making it easy and accessible to explore and use online services, seemingly at no cost. In this post, I’ll show you how to avoid the feeling of disappointment and frustration that comes with forgetting to cancel a free trial only to become an unwilling paying customer.
Free trials can have a bad rep. They are often perceived as a trap by companies to entice people into a product or service knowing there is a high chance that people will forget to cancel the trial. While this can be true, when managed well, a free trial is a valuable tool to determine whether a product or service is going to meet your needs and deliver value before you part with your hard-earned cash.
The Pro’s and Con’s of free trials
When we sign up to a free trial that requires our payment information upfront, we are entering into a delayed subscription contract with the service provider. The upside of a free trial is that we can ensure the product or service delivers what we want and provides good value before we pay for it. At the same time, we are accepting the downside risk of paying for something that we don’t want or need if we don’t act during the ‘grace’ period. This is an experience that too many of us have faced and I will show you how to avoid with some simple steps.
“When we sign up to a free trial that requires our payment information upfront, we are entering into a delayed subscription contract with the service provider”
Usually, we enter into a free trial to evaluate a product or service – we want to try before we buy. We want to understand whether we’ll get value before we part with our money. You might be checking out other products or services at the same time in a bid to decide which one you will use. Alternatively, you might just want to use the services for the trial period and have no intention of ever becoming a paying customer.
What to do before your sign up
Schedule time to take advantage of the trial
Whatever your motive, before you leap ahead and sign up you need to be asking yourself if the timing is right to begin the trial. Do you really have the time and resources to effectively use the trial period to get what you need and make a decision on whether to continue? We are time poor people and a common mistake I frequently see in a short-term trial is thinking that we have enough time. Before you know it, the week is through, the trial is over and now you need to part with your cash to keep using the product because you haven’t had the time.
“a common mistake I frequently see in a short-term trial is thinking that we have enough time”
Before you click that register button, set aside some time in your calendar to use the service and arrive at a decision on whether to continue. If you aren’t planning to start using it right away, you should be asking yourself why you are signing up now. Signing up to a trial will only take minutes of your time so wait until you are ready to begin and give yourself every advantage for success.
You’ll also need to ensure everything is in place to begin getting value from the trial. Don’t make the mistake of signing up to a free web hosting trial before you have your domain name, web content and everything organised or you simply won’t get value from the free trial period.
Plan to terminate the trial
Any commercial contract manager knows that the time to plan and negotiate the end of a contract is before the contract is signed. You need to apply the same logic and discipline to your approach before you register for your trial.
Despite how optimistic you may be about the product or service, schedule a reminder to cancel the free trial before it expires. From someone who has had plenty of experience in this area, I can tell you that it can often be more difficult than you realise to cancel a free trial or paid subscription. The reality is, companies often don’t prioritise customer cancellations as a function of their product or service. Some companies intentionally make it difficult to cancel which is an uncomfortable truth but a factor that we also need to manage.
Your first step after beginning a free trial should be to understand how the trial can be terminated. A quick scan of your online account settings will give you an indication of whether this is a simple click to cancel or if you will need to contact a support person to cancel the trial. If you find yourself unclear on the cancellation process, refer back to the company’s terms and conditions which will usually outline the specifics. Plan to cancel at least two days before the expiry/renewal date to give yourself some extra time if it proves to be a difficult cancellation process.
Plan ahead in case you forget
Depending on the nature of the product or service and the company’s business model, you may find that you can select a payment plan for once the trial lapses. I recently trialled Longtail Pro on a $1 trial (not quite free but almost!) where I had options for monthly and annual plans at a level of Starter or Pro once the 7 day trial lapsed.
Despite your optimism for the particular product or service, I recommend that you approach this from a perspective of cost minimisation and damage control. Select a monthly subscription option at the lowest possible price to minimise your cost exposure in the event that the free trial becomes an unwanted paid subscription.
“approach this from a perspective of cost minimisation and damage control”
Now of course, monthly plans are going to be the most expensive option long term and a lower level plan may not provide you with what you want. However, I can assure you that if you choose to continue to use the product or service, the company will be all too happy to take more of your money and upgrade you to a longer-term payment or premium plan option whenever you want.
Utilise Paypal for purchases where possible
When it comes to handing over your payment details, I would recommend that you pay with Paypal where it is offered. A great benefit of Paypal is that you receive an email notification (and a push notification if you have the Paypal app) every time a recurring payment occurs. In the now unlikely event that you have forgotten to cancel a trial for an unwanted service or the cancellation has not been processed correctly, a notification of payment will quickly steer you towards correcting the issue.
Paypal’s payment notifications are one of the key reasons why I use Paypal for recurring payments wherever possible. The notifications are also useful in ensuring that the ongoing payments reflect what I signed up for during the free trial and I don’t become the victim of an ongoing and expensive billing error.
What to do once the free trial period is over
Hopefully at the end of the free trial period, you have uncovered a valuable product or service and made a decision to proceed with the product. However, if the product is not what you had expected or you are unclear whether it will serve your needs, it’s time to terminate the trial and move on.
If you do plan to continue with a paid subscription, there are two further steps that I recommend at this point. The next step is to review the pricing models and get the best value that you can for your money. Annual subscriptions will almost always provide a lower cost than a monthly subscription but are only good value if you are confident that you’ll use it over the long term. Otherwise, if it is short term need, or you are just strapped for cash, select for an appropriate monthly plan.
The final step in the process is to set aside some time in the future to review the product/service. Just as you did with the trial, you’ll want to schedule some time into your calendar to remind yourself to review whether you are continuing to get value. Our lives, businesses and careers are constantly evolving and so the disciplinary practise of scheduling some time to ensure you are continuing to get value from the service will save you money, of that I am confident.
schedule some time into your calendar to remind yourself to review whether you are continuing to get value
If you have opted for a monthly payment, I recommend a review within five months of moving to a paid subscription. For an annual plan, 10 months is a sensible time to review. This gives you the ability to terminate with at least 30 days notice which some companies will require.
In this post, I have touched on some simple, proven steps to manage free trials so you don’t become an unwilling paying customer. Some upfront planning will keep you in control and it takes only minutes to do.
So the next time you decide to sign up for a free trial, set aside enough time to use and evaluate product and ensure everything is in place to do so. Schedule a cancellation reminder into your calendar at least two days before the trial will end and select an ongoing payment plan that will minimise your cost exposure if you do forget to act. Leverage the payment notifications of Paypal so that you know when your payments are coming out and ensure you are billed correctly. Finally, remember to schedule a regular review of your paid subscriptions so that you continue to get the value you deserve from your hard-earned cash.