Has Social Media Created a Culture of Free Consulting?

Has Social Media Created a Culture of Free Consulting?

Has Social Media Created a Culture of Free Consulting?

No matter who you are, you get only twenty-four hours in a day and seven days in a week.

For professional service providers, whose most valuable commodity is time, this means the pressure is always on to strike the balance between working to make money and looking for NEW work to keep your pipeline full for the months ahead.

We know that people buy from those they know, like and trust.

That means in addition to attracting new business, you also need to find a way to build trust between you and your prospects.

And what better way to impress an interested potential client than to prove your knowledge and experience by offering a free consult to them?

In theory, a free consult is a powerful offer.

But it also results in many tire-kickers expecting to receive your insight and knowledge free.

It’s one thing to offer a free consult to a qualified, high-quality lead who has requested information about your services.

It’s quite another to feel obligated to share your knowledge with anyone who asks you to “pick your brain.”

And herein lies the trap…

Today, the expectation is you must fix people’s problems for free in the hope of getting paid work even though every hour of free consulting is an hour you don’t get paid for.

This can make for some very unrealistic expectations both your potential clients and you could have of yourself.

Somehow you have to manage the seemingly impossible task of finding new clients, establishing trust and authority and then doing the work you actually get paid for, all within the same 24 hours in a seven-day week. And you usually have to do it on your own or with a very small team.

How can you do it?

In this article, I show you how to move from being an anxious, overworked professional, who loses a lot of precious time and energy on free consulting, to becoming a trusted authority for your ideal clients, who is able to focus most of your working hours on work that pays.

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Offer Free Consulting

Your time is limited and valuable

Whether you are being paid for it or not, every moment of your time is valuable.

And because your work time is finite, you need to make sure you focus on doing the things that matter to you or those that will enable you to do the things that matter to you.

Time might in fact be your most limited and precious resource, so that time needs to be devoted mainly to the tasks that make you money.

Free consulting isn’t scalable

It’s true that to get paid work, you have to invest some of your time into building trust and establishing authority with potential clients.

You need to do this in a way that will help them to know, like and trust you enough to purchase your services.

But if you provide free consulting to everyone who looks as if they could be a potential client, whether you are going for coffee, getting on a call, or replying to a social media comment or message, you’ll lose large chunks of your day to busy work that doesn’t pay.

And what’s even worse? Free consulting isn’t scalable.

What does that mean?

Your time is finite. If you fill it with free consulting and completing your current paid work, you won’t have time to bring in more work or get any additional work completed.

It is also important to note that most people looking for free consulting will NOT ever purchase anything. They want the information because they either lack the funds to pay or prefer to do it themselves.

People don’t value free

It is also really important to understand the notion of perceived value.

This essentially means that it doesn’t matter what something is actually worth. It only matters what a person perceives or believes its value to be.

There is an interesting story of a literary and anthropological experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn. In this experiment, the researchers demonstrated how the power of perceived value can influence an object’s subjective value in ways that could be measured objectively.

In the experiment, Walker and Glenn listed insignificant objects on eBay with a heartfelt, well-written and purposeful short story about the item in the description section. The items, which were originally purchased at a garage sale for no more than $1.50 apiece, resold for a total of nearly $8,000.

The stories that were shared about each object increased the purchasers’ perceived value of that object and inspired them to bid higher than they would have otherwise. 

But the opposite also holds true.

People value free things less than they do those they pay for – even if the free item is of the highest quality.

This is why it becomes incredibly important to make potential clients trade something they value – such as their email addresses and the permission to email them – for your best free content.

Firstly, your knowledge is worth this exchange. Secondly, the potential clients will also value it more because it wasn’t entirely free.

And the higher the perceived value, the faster and easier it will be for them to trust you and for you to establish your authority in your area of expertise.

How to respond to requests for free consulting

You will be asked to consult for free, especially as your brand and reputation grow.

But don’t feel railroaded into doing it because you fear missing out on the work. The best clients are those who value your service and skills from day one.

The following is a two-step process on how to deal with requests for free consults.

Step 1: Screen the source

When that ask for a free consult drops into your inbox, consider who is asking. If it’s a dream client, it makes sense to devote some time to this person. 

The same goes for someone you already have a relationship with or who has been helpful with their advice to you in the past.

In these instances, it’s good to be generous because there’s a reasonable chance it will lead to paid work or good referrals.

But if the request is from someone:

  • you don’t know and/or have never met
  • who doesn’t appear to be a good fit
  • you need more information about…

…ask yourself the following.

Have they been very specific in their questions?

Have they acknowledged you normally get paid for this?

Have they made an upfront offer to you, such as to refer clients to you or buy you lunch?

Or have they simply emailed you asking for free help with the expectation you’d deliver?

Step 2: Be clear about what you’re willing to do

If you decide to get on a call, be clear about the length of the call, the subjects you can advise on and how deep you can go into your analysis in a limited time frame.

If you don’t have time for a call and they have provided you with some clear questions, email them short, clear answers, and perhaps share some resources. These could be links to the relevant content you created and any other links that may help them – as long as it answers their question without taking up more than a few minutes of your time.

This is a great tactic because you still provide help, honoring the person’s request with a response. This will start building a relationship with them that could become profitable in the future.

If you think the person is a tire-kicker who will bleed you dry for all your expertise before they put in a single penny, simply reply to them with a short message, listing your rates and inviting them to pay for your time.

While this may make you a little uncomfortable, it is also a guaranteed way to separate the tire-kickers from the people who truly value what you do and who would be a pleasure to work with.

Which brings me to…

The solution to free consulting is… content marketing

There is a way to establish your authority and build trust with potential clients who will respect your time. It’s scalable, and it’ll increase your perceived value.

This authority-building method is content marketing.

Content marketing allows you to showcase your knowledge and expertise to your ideal clients, helping them to solve a key problem or challenge, which builds trust and makes you a credible expert.

Once you create a piece of content, you can share it on all your digital channels (email, website, social media platforms), greatly decreasing the time spent establishing trust, leaving you more time to do paid work.

Finally, you can gate your best content, requiring a trade of their email addresses for your content, helping you to not only grow your digital reach but also increase your perceived value with potential clients.

Keep in mind that for content marketing to work, it must:

  • solve a key challenge or need of your ideal client
  • look professional
  • be easy to consume
  • be delivered consistently

If you can reliably provide this, you will soon have more paying clients looking to purchase your services and, more importantly, have more time to do what you love. And you will be able to say no to free consulting.

Are you ready to build a lucrative, predictable pipeline of high-quality leads for your business? One that frees you up to spend more time doing the work you love and less chasing new work? Then LinkedIn Domination might be for you. Let’s get on a call to talk about the problems you’re facing and how I can fix them. Click here to book your call now.

Comments

19 Comments

  • I think this is a really relevant topic for consultants. One of my strategies is to offer one free consulting session, face to face. You can book it online on my website. That way I can build relationships, but also limit freeloaders who sap up my time. You recommendation to move “requests” to a blog form which is really a great idea too. If a consultant is asked to share information for free, there must be some for of benefit for all parties.

  • Great article Melonie! Even though we mean well, I think this has become a real problem for may of us by our own doing. The boundaries you suggest make sense both from the side of offering value as well as to valuing our own time. Thanks.

  • Great article Melonie! Even though we mean well, I think this has become a real problem for may of us by our own doing. The boundaries you suggest make sense both from the side of offering value as well as to valuing our own time. Thanks.

  • Kudos to you for tackling a sensitive subject. That opening meeting where you want to share enough to win a client, but not so much they feel they do it “themselves” has always been a delicate balance in my business…and I agree wholeheartedly that it has been made more difficult in an online empowered world. One of these days I hope to learn how to keep one hour to one hour and graciously decline the attempts when folks want more.

  • Hi There,

    If people want FREE advice, I direct them to my Blog, everything I preach, teach and speak about is there, otherwise…book an appointment, you will be invoiced. Incorporating FREE into your business is merely part of your overall marketing strategy. Just a couple cents from me : ).

  • You nailed it, Melonie! As a Consultant, this is something I’ve encountered a lot of lately but the best thing to do is say, “No!” If someone walks into a store & takes something off the shelf & doesn’t pay, that’s considered theft. Consulting is no different.

  • Melonie, this post is perfect timing. For the last several months, I’ve been struggling with this very topic. I am a Virtual Assistant from NC who loves helping small businesses succeed.

    With that said, I like to offer something of value on my blog site by providing educational tools and tips. I understand that I gain more consistent and loyal web traffic by developing a reputation for quality by posting on my blog and that it’s truly a win-win, but am I giving away too much for free by offering all the details?

    Should I only be providing a little bit of information and have a call to action? Should I at least have a join my mailing list for all my time and effort? Hmmmmm!

    Most information that I offer can be searched on Google, but who has the time, not many people. That’s why I like to help. I’m really struggling with what direction to take on this, so your post is perfect timing. Any suggestions or advice is welcomed.

    Melonie, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing! ~Stacey

  • Melonie, this post is perfect timing. For the last several months, I’ve been struggling with this very topic. I am a Virtual Assistant from NC who loves helping small businesses succeed.

    With that said, I like to offer something of value on my blog site by providing educational tools and tips. I understand that I gain more consistent and loyal web traffic by developing a reputation for quality by posting on my blog and that it’s truly a win-win, but am I giving away too much for free by offering all the details?

    Should I only be providing a little bit of information and have a call to action? Should I at least have a join my mailing list for all my time and effort? Hmmmmm!

    Most information that I offer can be searched on Google, but who has the time, not many people. That’s why I like to help. I’m really struggling with what direction to take on this, so your post is perfect timing. Any suggestions or advice is welcomed.

    Melonie, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing! ~Stacey

  • Melonie, this post is perfect timing. For the last several months, I’ve been struggling with this very topic. I am a Virtual Assistant from NC who loves helping small businesses succeed.

    With that said, I like to offer something of value on my blog site by providing educational tools and tips. I understand that I gain more consistent and loyal web traffic by developing a reputation for quality by posting on my blog and that it’s truly a win-win, but am I giving away too much for free by offering all the details?

    Should I only be providing a little bit of information and have a call to action? Should I at least have a join my mailing list for all my time and effort? Hmmmmm!

    Most information that I offer can be searched on Google, but who has the time, not many people. That’s why I like to help. I’m really struggling with what direction to take on this, so your post is perfect timing. Any suggestions or advice is welcomed.

    Melonie, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing! ~Stacey

  • Melonie, this post is perfect timing. For the last several months, I’ve been struggling with this very topic. I am a Virtual Assistant from NC who loves helping small businesses succeed.

    With that said, I like to offer something of value on my blog site by providing educational tools and tips. I understand that I gain more consistent and loyal web traffic by developing a reputation for quality by posting on my blog and that it’s truly a win-win, but am I giving away too much for free by offering all the details?

    Should I only be providing a little bit of information and have a call to action? Should I at least have a join my mailing list for all my time and effort? Hmmmmm!

    Most information that I offer can be searched on Google, but who has the time, not many people. That’s why I like to help. I’m really struggling with what direction to take on this, so your post is perfect timing. Any suggestions or advice is welcomed.

    Melonie, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing! ~Stacey

  • Excellent post. Yes, I’ve been freelancing enough to be put in this bind as well. Clients can start to feel that sense of entitlement, and you have to defend your work. You want to win a client over, but you need to be paid for your work and your time!

  • Interesting issue, difficult (or impossible) to solve… After more than 20 years in the Telecom sector, I have seen that unfortunately the standard is that a lot of consultancy is given “in advance” with the hope of getting a contract afterwards. However very often you learn that the contract went to another company, veeeery annoying. My suggestion: give in advance the consultancy your gut feeling says that is needed to increase or keep a high reputation level. By the way, can you please explain how should I configure my linkedin account to…. (just joking). Greetings from Spain!

  • Interesting issue, difficult (or impossible) to solve… After more than 20 years in the Telecom sector, I have seen that unfortunately the standard is that a lot of consultancy is given “in advance” with the hope of getting a contract afterwards. However very often you learn that the contract went to another company, veeeery annoying. My suggestion: give in advance the consultancy your gut feeling says that is needed to increase or keep a high reputation level. By the way, can you please explain how should I configure my linkedin account to…. (just joking). Greetings from Spain!

  • The one tip I give every consultant is this. Double or triple your prices today. Not only is giving away free consulting bad, but underpricing your services is bad too.

    Thanks for being a great guest on Marketing Made Simple TV too, Melonie. Check it out here. http://bit.ly/MelonieD

  • Great post, and I think very timely. I responded on Google+, but I wanted to say Kudos!

  • Great post, and I think very timely. I responded on Google+, but I wanted to say Kudos!

  • Great post, and I think very timely. I responded on Google+, but I wanted to say Kudos!

  • Happily I’ve been too busy of late for free consults. There are so many nuances to Social Media a simple question could lead to an all day discussion if you aren’t careful.

  • Happily I’ve been too busy of late for free consults. There are so many nuances to Social Media a simple question could lead to an all day discussion if you aren’t careful.

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