Maria Marsala

Article Summary:

How to ensure you're not giving away too much information for free!

Free Seekers: Turn then Into Clients or Turn Them Away!

Many service business owners these days are "giving away" their business services - and then wonder why people aren't hiring them in droves. In the name of "marketing," business owners are providing way too much information for free. Some shifts in thinking are necessary if these business owners expect to be in business years from now. Even trained coaches, I believe, do too much pro-bono work. Why? They say that they need to practice, but the bottom line, IMO, is that they don't value their gifts.

Shifts in thinking and action need to occur. One place to start is by moving yourself from an employee mentality, where you "give information for free because your company is paying you and it's just what you do in your job" to thinking like a business owner who values their gifts and expects to be paid for those gifts.

There's a definite shift in the right direction, thank goodness, taking place on the Internet. I think it started after the bust settled down. The first site that went from free to paid that I remember was Consumer Reports, a publication I've been reading since 1973! I thought, "how could they" and then realized what a novel idea - business web sites actually making money using a subscription based membership site.

Membership sites, for those who - like me - are "informational entrepreneurs," are on the rise, too. In 2001, Infopreneur Terry Dean's site went from "free" to a "paid" membership site, which brought him a minimum of 5k per month. His income is much more than that now, but you get the idea. Just like a toddler, we have learned from our mistakes and are taking the Internet from a place primarily for freebie seekers to a valuable sophisticated, professional marketplace.

The final shift is to always act like a "real" business owner and stop giving away the bank. Being paid for your service is about honoring your business, your talents, your precious time, your gifts and the skills you've developed. Setting boundaries on just how much free information, or free services, you'll give away is not easy to do. Just like pricing services!

However, no one expects to go into a shoe store, ask for free shoes, and walk out of the store! If you don't value your services, no one else will. So if you're holding back information that you rightfully should be paid for, and you believe that you're hoarding or being stingy, please look to see if that belief is based in reality.

VERY big shifts indeed.

Tiffany Bond, principal at BrandBond in Seattle, said it best: "People seldom value an opinion they didn't pay for - but they will sure assess blame to it!" So if you're going to take the blame, at the very least, get paid highly for it!

Yes, providing some limited free advice may be a good marketing strategy. It may assist someone to trust you. On the other hand, it might have the opposite effect, and cause people to wonder why they should pay you when they're getting the information for free. So, just be careful that you're not giving away the shop. As I tell my clients, "learn from my mistakes (and I did give away the shop until I got smart!), and go and make better mistakes!"

And what can you say to people who 1) ask outright for free information, or 2) just start talking to you about something, and you realize that they're trying to "borrow" your valuable resources without becoming a client? Here are some ideas. Try them on to see what "fits" you best.

23 things to say when someone asks you - a service business owner - for free information!

1. My charge for an initial consultation is "x." If we turn out to be a good match, and you hire me, I'll apply 1/2 of "x" towards your commitment.

2. I'm happy to give you 5 minutes or less of free time, however, most issues are more quickly & effectively resolved in an undisturbed session(s). May we schedule a meeting so I can give you my undivided attention?

3. If someone is very persistent, whip out a stopwatch & say "For $2 a minute I'd be happy to go into this now. May I start the clock & do you prefer to pay with cash or check?"

4. What I can do is refer you to a free resource on "_______."

5. I do work with two pro-bono clients, who are in desperate need financially. I'll take your card and add you to the waiting list.

6. Yes, I do work with clients on "name the issue." Would you like to set up a consultation?

7. That will cost "x" per hour.

8. There's a lot I can do for you that's similar to the work I did for "xyz" client. Would you like to get together and build a marketing plan? (And then charge for those services.)

9. Well, I'd love to suggest something; however, my fees are "xxx" per hour.

10. Are you looking to hire me?

11. Are you looking to hire _____? Well, I'd love to talk to you about that; my fees are "x" per hour."

12. You may call me for a 15-minute talk, very focused, on that issue.

13. "Well, the answer to that question depends" and then spend a few minutes explaining some of the options and considerations. For example, I may explain that the best way to identify the "solution" is to work backward from the desired end result and process. That provides a natural lead-in to: "If I were to work with you on this project, here's how we would do it..."

14. Sorry, I can't answer that unless you pay my fee (or hire me).

15. A complete answer to your question is going to take more than 15 minutes over the phone. Would you like me to send you a proposal on this?

16. I have really enjoyed talking with you and would like to help more. May I send you one of my brochures and a rate card?

17. Do you have a time line and/or budget in mind for solving this problem?

18. Have you looked at cost estimates from others who would like to help you solve this problem or complete this project?

19. It's not a good time for me to begin a session right this minute. Would you like to briefly discuss session times and fees?

20. Are you seeking generic free information on "the topic" or to work with a "your profession here" to address your specific situation? [If I have a free resource, I'll ask for their email address and send it to them.]

21. I provide a general 3-4 sentence overview of how I would address their concern with them. Then I say that I've found that the sorting of the information available and subsequent application of that information is so specific to each individual that I always recommend hiring a "your profession here" for getting that one project completed.

22. Well what I can offer you on that subject is an ebook (CD, audio, etc) called ________. I'll email you the link.

23. Refer them to these "free" or "almost free" resources:

  • The library has books/tapes/audios/CD/reference librarians.
  • To an outsider, your local SBA and SCORE Offices "look" free. They're really not "free" either. Their classes "cost $" and their advice is paid for by all of us as part of our taxes.
  • Find a professional who needs your services and see about some sort of in-kind exchange or barter. Again, this isn't totally free, as you do need to report it on your taxes, but in most cases, there isn't any money exchanged.
  • Join lots of ezines by experts in the area you're looking to learn about, but do it quickly while they are still free. And know that the 'best of the best' contain ads and affiliate programs, too.

Marcia Yudkin, Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Author says this in Marketing Minute:

"You can head off a good portion of that from paying clients by settingdown in writing what your fees cover and do not cover. While you don't want to come off as some sort of dictator with a stringent rulebook, it helps to set forth guidelines for a productive relationship. For folks who are not yet clients, feel free to copy what I do. If I can answer a question in five minutes or less, I generally just go ahead and do so. If a question is more complicated than that, I reply, 'I couldn't do justice to your question without a consultation. My consulting rates are ...' Prevent hassles by making expectations explicit!"

Remember, as a service business owner, part of what you "offer" clients and what they value from you is your knowledge and expertise. It's as much a part of your "services" as any tangible materials you produce. So make sure to treat it as such, and get compensated fairly! When you value your services, others will, too.

Maria Marsala is a Business Builder and former Wall Street Trader. With her motto of "Powering-UP service businesses and their owners", she provides articles, tips, classes, and resources to do just that. Learn more at Elevating

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