Recently there has been a very dynamic conversation on a LinkedIn group I belong to about whether or not a period of free consulting is an effective way to acquire new business.
With over 1,500 comments there are many who believe it’s okay to give a period of free consulting to potential clients and many more who are adamant this is not a good idea.

What is FREE consulting?

Before knowing how you would answer this it’s necessary to define specifically what free consulting means. Once the definition becomes clear the answer is likely to be very simple.

In my book free consulting means the client (or potential client) wants to “test the waters”. I liken this to going to a lawyer and asking them to work on one case for me at no charge. After all, don’t I have a right to see if I like the way they work? In the real world, this is not going the happen.
If one defines free consulting as the initial meeting to discuss the client’s problems then we are talking something completely different. A client has every right to feel comfortable with the choice they make and an initial meeting, whether it be in person, over the phone or via Skype is very acceptable.

There’s always an exception

Depending on the complexity of the consulting or coaching job it may be necessary to have more than one initial meeting.
In the late 90’s I was bidding on a consulting contract with a municipality in the Salt Lake Valley. Not only did I have several initial meetings, I actually had to go through a very intensive inquisition by the City Council of this municipality.
If I had not been willing to do this I would not have gotten the contract. Simple as that.

How do you decide to go free or fee?

So how does one know which is which? One way is to notice how many solution-oriented questions the potential client asks after a first meeting and/or a proposal has been delivered. Not only will the questions reveal a lot but how in-depth an answer they expect right there and then also reveals a lot.
Of course, in the initial meeting there is likely to be conversation around problems and solutions, but the fact is there is a line and boundaries we must draw.

Are they serious or just freebie seekers?

Another great example would be if the potential client emails you asking, “Just one more question” for a period of days or weeks without moving into the signing of an agreement.
You will know very quickly how serious they are when you say, “We are moving into what I offer with my consulting services.”
If they are serious they will sign the agreement. If they were seeking free consulting they will quit asking questions and disappear into the deep dark hole of freebie seekers.
Your job is to know when to draw the line. After all, if you don’t set your boundaries in the beginning stages of working with someone they may assume you are free for the taking.

There is a solution

The more we fill our pipeline with outstanding clients the less we have to even consider free consulting. This is all about building a successful business.
In answer to many other questions coaches and consultants have on how to build a successful business I have put together a 3 Part FREE Video program. Click here to access right away.
What has been your experience with the free vs fee situation?
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