How To Stop Doing Things for Free

by Alicia Arenas on February 24, 2011

When three clients ask me similar questions in one week, I figure it’s time to write a blog post.

1st Client Question:

Someone who follows me on Twitter asked to have coffee with me. It sounded like she was interested in hiring me, but she ended up asking me for free advice the whole time. I wasn’t sure what to do. I ended up giving her some pointers, but how do I handle situations like that in the future?

Answer:

Before you agree to meet with someone, pre-qualify the appointment. Determine what the person wants before you spend money on lunch/coffee and spend time with them. I used the word “spend” on purpose. Many entrepreneurs underestimate the value of their time and in truth, this is one of your most valuable assets. Think about how little time you have to take care of your business. And what about the time you would like to have with your family, volunteering or in spiritually renewing activities? Carefully evaluate the ROI (return on investment) of your time. You are either generating revenue for your business or you’re losing money.

I pre-qualify appointments tactfully (and truthfully) by saying, “I have a jam packed schedule, so I won’t be able to meet in person for a couple of weeks. But I have a few minutes right now. What would you like to talk about?”

2nd Client Question:

A woman in my networking group told me that she paid someone in my field $5,000 for advice. Then she asked me to help her for free. It really made me mad. What should I say?

Answer:

How aggravating. You should be mad! What makes your time and advice any less valuable than the other “expert” she paid? Tell her to go jump in a lake – respectfully of course. Here’s how I do that.  I usually say something like, “I would love to help you. I work with my clients a couple of different ways. I do individual, one-to-one coaching where we focus on your specific business goals. I also run a boot camp for entrepreneurs. Which of those options sounds most beneficial to you?”

Might I also encourage you to do something else? Take a look at your own behaviors. Is there something you are doing or saying that is sending the message to people that it’s okay for them not to pay you?

3rd Client Question:

I did my 30 second commercial at a networking group and a woman asked me later to tell her more about what I do. When I finished she said, “Wow. I think I could do that for a business. If I buy you lunch, will you tell me how to get started?”

Answer

This is an interesting one. When I first considered coaching as my second career, I went to a local professional coaches association. I met some wonderful people there and asked them if they could share a bit with me about what it is like to be a coach and how they got started. Two folks in particular were very generous with their time and their answers. Please note that I wasn’t directly competing with them. They were executive coaches. I wanted to be a small business coach.

I would never give a direct competitor information about how to do what I do without charging them a significant consulting fee. Consider one of my clients. He is a kind and generous soul. He owns an art studio, has mastered a particular type of art, has been trained by masters (literally) and offers classes to people who want to learn to do this type of art. Over the last several years, he was approached by people who wanted to become certified. Because he is such a giver, he agreed and didn’t charge them any more than he charged a regular person who wanted to take a class. Here’s the kicker. He recently discovered that a new art studio opened up 2 miles away from his. And the art instructors? Well, their whole staff is comprised of the people he trained.

Carefully consider how much information you give away and to whom. If someone is a direct competitor and you want to be helpful, refer them to a professional association in your industry, a small business development center or even a coach. There is a time to be generous and a time to be silent.

And may I suggest something else? Re-evaluate how you are describing your services. Are you saying something that makes it sound like your business is so easy that anyone could do it?

How to Say No

I saw a Slide Share presentation a couple of weeks ago that frankly, has some outstanding advice about how to say no. It’s called “No You May NOT Pick My Brain.” Check it out. It’s worth your time.

What do you think? Have you been in a situation similar to these three clients? How did you handle it?

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Alicia Arenas is a business coach and corporate trainer. When she’s not singing or song-writing, she helps her entrepreneurs increase their sales through coaching and her business boot camp. Alicia is based in San Antonio, Texas, and coaches people nationwide.

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Jon Long Sr February 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

Alicia, I liked this one. After doing my “strengths”, I discovered that my main strength was “Empathy”. Great for a counselor, but not so good for a small business owner in the contracting business. Learning to say NO and placing VALUE on the things you find easy to do, is critical. I have learned that one the hard way. It is amazing to me, how many clients I see think that once they do business with you, that free advice and support are open ended. The trick as I see it, is how to create professional closure of each “job” and then be able to charge for future requests. Times as they are, I find many people trying to get something for nothing. Thank you for the post, Jon

Reply

Alicia Arenas February 26, 2011 at 9:24 am

Jon, you said something interesting, “placing value on the things you find easy to do is critical.” This is an important point.

There is a story a heard a long time ago about a man and his wife who were traveling in Italy for their 25th wedding anniversary. While traveling they heard about an artist. The husband found the artist and asked him if he would draw a picture of his wife’s most favorite subject – horses. The artist said yes and asked him to come back the following day to pick up the drawing.

The husband came at the appointed time and the artist invited him to watch. The artist took a charcoal pencil to the blank white paper and in 20 minutes a beautiful horse came to life.

The husband knew his wife would love it and asked the artist, “How much to a owe you?”

The artist said, “2,000.”

“2,000?” the artist exclaimed. “But it only took you 20 minutes!”

The artist replied, “To the contrary my friend. It took me 40 years.”

Reply

Pamela Price February 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Oh, I love that story! So true. I think in creative and personal development-oriented fields, we have a tendency to undervalue our gifts/abilities/skills because–more often than not–our culture does the same.

I’m sure that the gentleman in the story, seeking top-notch legal advice, might not hesitate at paying a princely sum for 20 minutes of consultation–and even accept a bill rounded up to a full half hour. As to whether a personal memento/artwork is more valuable than access to legal knowledge, well… that’s a question of what one values in one’s life, I guess.

And whether or not the lawyer keeps you out of jail. =)

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Alicia Arenas February 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Love it Pamela!

I was at a sales conference this week conducted by Carolyn Herfurth. One of the things we learned is how to speak about the value of our businesses based on the results our clients achieve instead of describing the things we do. There is a big difference between saying, “I’m in PR” vs. “My clients get media exposure in major news outlets which increases their credibility and brings in an average of 5 new clients.” Food for thought…

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Joe Lavelle March 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Great post Alicia! The reason that I decided to be a professional coach was that I was spending so much time coaching people for free. Many would consult me after they were not getting results from their $250/hour coach. It is still hard for me to say no…

Reply

Alicia Arenas March 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Just say “no” Joe! You are worth every penny you charge and even more. When you truly understand the value of what you contribute to your clients, it makes it much easier for us “givers” to charge what we are worth. Perhaps start there?

You’re awesome. Don’t sell yourself short my friend. And thanks for stopping by! :-)

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Denise Sample March 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Thanks so much for the MUCH NEEDED advice, Alicia. It’s great to realize that this is another opportunity to just say NO. It’s really quite ironic when someone says “Oh, I can do that! Now tell me how.”

I loved the brain picking Slide Share. That is something I’ll be sharing!

Always appreciative,
Denise

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