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Stop Giving Advice Away for Free

By Michael Zipursky

Have you ever noticed that when you give someone advice for free they don’t take action on it?

When someone pays you for that same advice they are much more likely to use what you’ve shared with them and benefit from it.

Those kinds of people do exist. They just want to get what they can for free and aren’t serious about hiring someone.

This isn’t a universal truth that applies to 100% of people. It is however what happens in the vast majority of cases.

It happens so often in fact that what’s revealed is a bigger issue…

People don’t value what they get for free.

When you give your advice for free, people may say “thank you” and “I appreciate your time”. Pleasantries are nice, but you’re not giving advice to have your ego stroked (at least you shouldn’t be).

You’re giving advice because you want the person to benefit from it. To take action on it, to implement and to get the result they are looking for.

Consultants often ask me, “Michael, my clients and prospects always want my advice but they’re not willing to pay for it, what should I do?”

My answer…

Get a new client!

Sounds harsh, yet it is a real option.

You see, if you’re dealing with a client or prospect that is just looking to be a leech and suck away your time and knowledge they may never be willing to pay you for help.

Those kinds of people do exist. They just want to get what they can for free and aren’t serious about hiring someone. They’ll try to do everything themselves and will end up taking three times as long to get where they want to go and often won’t ever reach their destination.

Instead of giving away all your advice for free, ask the buyer as many questions as you can to understand their situation.

If you sense that’s who you’re dealing with, it’s time to move on and find a real client and buyer that needs help and wants to hire someone that can deliver great value.

Real Buyers and Clients

If you’re dealing with a real buyer or client, one that is willing to pay you for your advice and the value you can deliver, take a different approach.

Instead of giving away all your advice for free, ask the buyer as many questions as you can to understand their situation. The more questions you ask the clearer the picture will become and the more you’ll know if and how you can best help them.

You can see a list of recommended questions to ask clients here.

Once you’ve dug deep and asked all the right questions, you’ll know whether or not you can help them and how best to make that happen.

Now tell the buyer what you see going on. What the problems are and where you see the opportunities for them to improve.

Get Agreement

Get their conceptual agreement that they want to solve the (fill in the blank) problem they have.

Once they’ve said “Yes”, tell them you can help them.

You can outline HOW you’ll help them and what the result will be.

Don’t get into every single detail of WHAT you’ll do or WHAT they need to do.

If they’d like your help you can tell them about the investment and project or often better, tell them you’ll get them a proposal for the project in the next 24 hours.

This approach allows you to engage with a real buyer in a meaningful way and avoid giving away all your advice for free.

After all, providing advice and applying your knowledge is what the consulting profession is all about. Giving away everything wouldn’t be fair to your paying clients now, would it?

17 thoughts on “Stop Giving Advice Away for Free

  1. Kevin says:

    Love this!

  2. As consulting engineers, we use a hybrid approach.

    We have a policy of not charging for short phone calls (under 15 minutes.) If we can provide a quick answer or recommendation, we do so for both new prospects and existing clients.

    But if it is going to take longer, then we give an estimate, followed up with a formal quote as needed. As you suggested, we ask enough questions to proceed.

    We consider the “free” advice part of our marketing. Only one abuser in 26 years (which we stopped with the suggestion of a paid consultation.)

    The upside is plenty of new business (and referrals) and a reputation for being approachable. More details here:

    Good post!

  3. That balance of what you give away and what you get paid for is a struggle for every business owner

  4. Luisa says:

    I love to hear it repeated over and over again.
    Information and manuals are everywhere, available and cheap. Consultancy is something else!

  5. Chris Burns says:

    Great advice for an emerging entrepreneur! While I am focusing on learning what I want to teach others and the information that is important to them, I will need to know how to curate the info in an effective and possibly profitable way. Thus helping myself and others to the largest degree possible.

  6. Stract Consulting says:

    Great information for a consultant that is just starting out. I especially love the part of asking as many questions as possible to understand what the client needs. That’s very insightful.

  7. Ronald Hitson says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m not a consultant but I’ve been very successful in business. People seem to always want to ask me endless amounts of questions. I’m going make it clear, a consultantation fee is required. I don’t need clients but I cannot let people use my axe that I’ve spent 25 years sharpening, at no cost. Not to mention I don’t have an engaging personality[I’m introverted]so it becomes a very annoying situation for me.

    Thanks again

    • You are very welcome and thank you for the thoughtful comment Ronald and glad to have you in the community here.

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