“Actually, I get paid to do that.” I hear this every day in a client’s story as they lament a prospect expecting to get their thinking for free.
I say this every day in my own head too. And, I’m betting you mutter it under your breath as well.
And yet, most people struggle with finding the words to tell yet another “prospect” that what they’re asking for isn’t free. It’s actually the most rare of fruit that only comes from years of experience, study, real life trials and walking through the fire with a lot of clients.
You wouldn’t call a plumber and expect him to come to your house and diagnose and fix your problem for free – and yet every day, professionals, especially professionals of the creative class (doctors, lawyers, business coaches, marketing professionals, accountants and other knowledge based workers) are being asked to do that very thing.
If you’re a professional who draws on complex bodies of knowledge and experience to solve specific problems – you’ve probably faced this issue. So how do you keep from having this recurring problem impact your business?
Actually – it’s a marketing issue. And here are some ways to communicate away the situation.
Stop giving it away: This first suggestion is certainly the simplest in theory and the hardest in practice. If you keep rewarding the bad behavior, you will just get more of it. When someone asks you to share your expertise for free, you need to have a practiced and comfortable answer.
That answer should be based on your organization, your brand and your comfort level. It should respectfully and clearly explain that your advice is not free, in fact that’s how you make your living.
Set the expectation early on: Long before someone ever gets you into a meeting – you need to establish the rules. On your website, in your brochure, as a part of your “get to know us” PowerPoint – spell it out. Be very clear that your thinking time/expertise is delivered for a fee.
You don’t have to list prices if you don’t want to get that specific. Avoid being too nice and push yourself to be blatant that there will be a cost.
Don’t run after them: If they balk at being charged or try to get you to reduce your fee, be polite but stand firm. (This requires being fair when you set your pricing to begin with). If they walk away – let them.
I know this is tough when you really want the project – but they have just told you what value they’re going to assign to your years of experience. Is that really a client you want?
Give it away but with intent and purpose: One way to demonstrate the value of what you sell is to give it away. (I’m not contradicting myself, I promise!) So go ahead and give it away to a non-profit or a start up you’re sponsoring. (like our adopt a charity program)
Use that generosity to set the contrast for prospects. “Now as you may know, we did this same sort of XYZ plan for charity 123, but naturally, in that case, we actually donated our expertise.”
Next time you find yourself grumbling about this problem, remember – you ‘re actually the one giving it away. And only you can keep it from happening down the road.
Addendum: Someone just shared this post with me from Kevin Dugan. He’s ranting about the “can I buy you coffee and pick your brain” call, much in alignment with the post above. See — it is something we’re all facing.