Giving Away Free Consulting

I often speak about not playing fetch and avoiding the pitfalls of giving away free consulting. So, it is no surprise that after a recent webinar with Hinge Marketing (there is a replay available), I received more than 1 email asking me how the webinar was “different” from that advice on free consulting. I’m being politically correct, since the gist of the message was “it’s ironic that you say to not give away free consulting and then do a 1 hour webinar packed with advice on closing the professional services sale.” And, since we had almost 100 attendees on webinar, I couldn’t exactly hide from the question.

It comes down to 2 critical rules to follow:

Rule 1: Never Give Free Consulting Unwittingly

One of Covey’s principles of highly effective people is to “seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” Too often, we talk about our solution before we fully understand the problem. I encourage people to be generous with their time. Successful businesses can elect to help others and not receive top dollar (or any dollars in some cases) for doing so.

What we should avoid is answering questions before we fully understand the root of the issue. When we jump into answers, we run the risk of opening the faucet and start flooding the room with random information. Without the right skills, one can quickly get pulled into the vortex of evil and spend an hour telling them all of our stuff, without learning anything about the client’s needs. There is an interesting dynamic when we are selling services. The greatest influence for a buying decision, as shown by many research studies, is how well the buyer feels that we understand their specific situation. How can we demonstrate that we know their situation when all we talk about is us? So, not giving free consulting goes beyond giving away stuff for free. More importantly, blurting out our stuff prevents us from learning about their situation to know if it is worth our time to try to find a solution. In that case, we are seeking to be understood before we fully understand. I’m pretty sure that bad stuff tends to happen under that circumstance.

Rule 2: It’s OK to Give a Taste – Don’t Give Away the Full Meal

Am I contradicting myself when I write an article, post a blog, or host a webinar? Probably. But, that’s not the point.:) It is OK to give away pieces of your intellectual property to establish your expertise and experience. In essence, whet their appetite. Our content also gives our clients and potential clients a sense of our approach, philosophy, and style. For those who see it as a good fit, it works well. For those who do not, the content helps ensure that neither party wastes our valuable time. There is also a component of giving back to the community. For example, I often encounter entrepreneurs who cannot afford my services but still need help. The content on my website and in other publications provides a resource to help them make an impact, though clearly not as dramatic as my paying clients. If a good portion of your living comes from being a public speaker, like me, sharing our ideas and style help event planners to determine if our approach could help their audiences.

One last thing, when we share our content, we shall not under any circumstance finish with a sales pitch. The content is designed to share, educate, and inform. Those who find our content valuable will be able to figure out that they can contact us if they want more of what whetted their appetite.

I completely support the notion of intentionally giving away “tastes” of your talent to help establish your position in the market. But, be sure to limit your taste to something that won’t satisfy their hunger. Most importantly, use your time with prospects to learn about their needs to determine whether or not you have a fit. You’ll be surprised that if you do a good enough job learning about them, they’ll make fewer requests for free consulting.