How often do you have someone who sends you an email with, “I have a couple of quick questions.”
As you read their questions you quickly realize it will require a fair amount of time to respond to all of them.
Wanting to be polite, the temptation is for you to respond. It’s not that you shouldn’t respond, but you need to know where to draw the line.
One or two questions is fine, but beyond that, you are giving away your services.
If you’re serious about building your business and having people value your time, you have to be able to say no to many of the inquiries that come your way.
This morning a client of mine asked me what she should do with an email someone sent with over ten questions they wanted her to respond to. I suggested she let this person know what her consulting fees are and offer to set up an appointment.
The more of an expert you are viewed as the more likely you will receive these types of emails.
Years ago I received an email from a gentleman with one simple question. I was happy to respond to his question as it took less than a minute to do so.
Then came another question. I responded to that. By the third question I wrote, “We are now moving into consulting. I would be happy to set up an appointment for you.”
He wrote a scathing message that went something like this, “I can’t believe you won’t take time to respond to my questions. You said you help people, but you’re not much help to me. You’re full of crap and you say one thing and do another.”
I had to laugh at this. For him to assume that I would continue to answer his stream of questions with no compensation is not at all realistic.
He obviously had no intention of ever paying me for my services. Based on his angry response I took him off my list. I didn’t need his anger, energy or unwillingness to respect my time.
Have you ever received these type of emails or phone calls? How have you responded? Did you give free consulting so as not to appear unfriendly?
Fact is, you will upset some people when you tell them no. Fact also is, if you want to grow your business you must set boundaries. Sure, it’s okay to answer one or two questions, but then you also have to be willing to say no.
If this happens to you, here’s a very simple response you can send:
Thank you for your inquiry. You have outstanding questions. These are the types of questions I work on with my private clients. I would be happy to set up a consulting call with you.
My fee is $____ for this. Here are my available times for a session.
Here’s what will likely happen. The person will never respond to you. They will respond with a message saying they were not trying to get free consulting, but then you will not hear back. They will set an appointment.
A couple weeks ago I got a message from someone wanting to know about marketing his book. The way his message was worded indicated he wanted free consulting.
I told him that I charged for this kind of service. He responded by saying he wasn’t asking for free consulting.
We set a time to talk and one of the first things he said was, “I don’t have much money and would like you to work with me for a percentage of what I will sell.”
Folks, in most cases, this IS free consulting. For someone to have not made any money up to this point and want you to give your time, efforts and energy to their project with no financial investment on their part is not realistic.
When you get these types of requests you have to set boundaries. You have to be willing to say no. You have to state your fees.
The reason many emerging entrepreneurs fear doing this is they don’t want to appear not being nice.
Let me ask you this, “Would you rather be nice or broke?”
I’m not saying to be mean to people, but as with the man who got upset when I said we were moving into consulting, he certainly didn’t think I was nice. Personally, I don’t care.
What I care about is helping my clients get results. When they do, I go from them liking me to them loving what I was able to help them accomplish.
What has your experience with this kind of situation been? How have you responded? Comments welcome.
I get these types of emails all the time! Thanks for posting this. Because I’m in the health/wellness arena, I’ve even had emails to my website that say – essentially – that I OWE the person my free information because they’re in pain or on disability, or whatever…. It’s a very unhealthy energy (not to mention an unhealthy financial bottom line).
Interesting how anyone feels something is “owed” to them. Thanks for your comments Sue.
This happens to me a lot!!! The questions are mixed in with friendly chat about the weather… I have had to say no to a couple of clients in the past because they haven’t paid me for my time, it didn’t really go down well, but it lowered my stress levels.
As my services are not really on a consulting basis, many of the questions I receive are about my services, what I can/can’t do for someone. I do spend a lot of time responding to emails, but to get that all important new client, more than anything. I find my friendliness does get me more clients though, but it still takes up a lot of time.
A solution to this that would save a ton of time is an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on your website that you can refer folks to. You will see your time open up and the requests go down.
Thanks Kathleen, I have this on my to-do list, and I’ve provided quite a bit of info on my website… Today I’ve had a enquiry who wants to know all my background since I left school 20 years ago, luckily those people are few and far between. 🙂
🙂 Good on you!
Yes I’ve done this before as I helped a friend with her horse because it was hurt. I finally had to set boundaries with her and tell her this was my business and what my fee was. It is interesting as she quit asking for me to come in person, but then she started calling and asking questions. Even though I’ve told her what I charge she still tries to take advantage.
There are various levels of setting boundaries and it sounds like your friend needs some reminders.
I think your response is a good one. I have bent a few noses when people as me to spend time with them on a “one and one” to find out more about what I do. I tell them I’m happy to speak with them at events, speak for thier group, and answer a few questions by phone or email. Unless someone is ready to write a check for $1500, I’m not available for one on one’s. Although unhappy with my response, people look at me a bit differently knowing how much I value my time.
So true Brenda. And then there are those who whip out the checkbook and write the check. 🙂
On the flip side, just because someone is willing to pay for our services does not mean they are a good fit for us. This is a topic for another conversation though. Hmmmm. I feel a blog post coming on.
I look forward to that blog post!!!
Your points are important for those, who like your client this morning, become self-victimized by trying to be “nice.”
I’m in full agreement with your policies. I’ve had to do the same thing over the years with my personal and business coaching practice. Like you, and most of us in this business, we have a tendency to give a lot. Of course, some is for promotional purposes, and sometimes it’s just good to give for the sake of giving.
Unfortunately, some people confuse kindness with weakness, and then expect us to give in to their demands.
Years ago, a friend of mine wrote a book, which I thought only needed one phrase, the title itself; “What You Think Of Me Is None Of My Business.” : )
Thanks for your input Tom. Actually, my client did exactly what needed to be done. She sought council from her mentor. I do the same with my business coach. When I hit a place where I am not sure what to do (yes, we all hit that place) I will email her a question and being so smart, I take her recommendations. After all, if she is running the kind of business she is and I pay her for her insights, why would I not listen.
My client absolutely did the right thing. And for her, I will take as much time as I need to do so.
First of all, those of us who have the privilege of knowing Kathleen over a long time, can say with authority, she HAS (and still does) give away a LOT. This very article came into my email today and it was free.
Next; it was just the reminder that these ideas apply in my personal life, as well as business. I had a “sort of friend” who was having trouble with a rebellious teenage son. The friend called a couple of times to ask a quick question, I replied, My business is coaching families through “high risk” situations, so when this friend called at 2 am to ask about bailing the teen out of jail. I gave the quick-fix answer and suggested a follow-up appointment the next day, using the phrase “during my office hours”. That lets the other person know that we are moving into a conversation about fees and futures.
I didn’t hear from the friend.
My wise mother said, “You can either cut off a relationship, or let it unravel.”
This friendship sort of unraveled as we moved from a give and take relationship to being out of balance with no giving from my friend.
For three years, I had the privilege of leading a seminar for Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled”, who said, “Any relationship where one person does all the taking and the other person does all the giving, is out of balance and will self-destruct.”
When I am faced with these kinds of situations, I use this quick assessment: “I can see how this is a big win for the other person, but it’s not a big win for me. How can I restore balance?”
Once more, we get to see that this applies to more than just business. It’s about valuing who we are in all areas of our life. Thanks for the insights Lauree.
This is the best advice I’ve “needed” in a long time. Thank you for permission to not give away my services for free!
And Thank You! for giving yourself permission.
It took me ages to learn this Kathleen. Now I’m a best selling author and a busy mom. I value my time very highly so moving away from personal one to ones and been focusing on group mentoring. I put my fees up and get to work with clients who value what I suggest and implement it! I previously did a lot of free initial consultations but rarely do these seem to turn Into well paying clients. Once they read the book they don’t appear to need to be convinced! Working on the home study course now based on the faqs in emails like this. Great remInder on valuing what we do give and have – thanks Kathleen.
Amazing what happens when we value our time! Thanks for your comments Amanda.
Great article, good points and great advice.
One thing I caught myself doing in the past, when I use to design and code webpages for small businesses and always kicked myself in the you know what afterwards ;
Catching myself in a “conversation” with a potential customer only to find that I was duped by a DIY’er into giving to much information and giving away my own resources. To the point where they didn’t need me anymore. I think one thing that left that window open at the time was selling myself as a person and not as business / service. It was a selling point that landed me quite a few awesome customers that i still do business with from time to time when they need something but, at the same time it made me a target for those that just wanted to know, “how’d you do that?”.
Eventually I figured out, Microsoft isn’t going to give me the core code for Windows. So why in the world would I share information with a client, for free, that I spent years and money learning.
Great point about the amount of time it took you to learn something. When I consult with clients, they are not paying for an hour of my time. They are paying for the decades of knowledge and the constant updating of my own knowledge base.
For those who have a difficult time pricing your services high enough why not spend time digging deep into what you did to get where you’re at and learn what you know. You may be shocked at how much you have truly invested.
Over the years, I know I have invested hundreds of thousands into my personal and professional development. If you look at those who are truly where they want to be and on their way to even more success, I would say it’s a safe bet to say 100% of them have invested heavily into their expertise development.
Sometimes I forget that aspect – they are paying for the decades of knowledge, not just an hour of your time. Thanks for bringing that up. BTW – You do give tons of FREE value! Love your stuff. 🙂
What I love about giving information away on my terms is this; after decades of experience you just don’t run out of information. 🙂
Great advice. I can see where you’re coming from. I have been ambivalent about saying “no” to clients, and this shows my exact feelings. I’ve also asked for things beyond what was offered as free. We wouldn’t be honest without admitting that.
You do give away a lot, Kathleen, in your posts and free calls. You also have meaty and winning products you sell. We have to set boundaries and stick to them so we will have more time and energy to accomplish our own work — and play, too, which is important to being able to work well.
I’d like to add that I feel the pain when they don’t get what they want. But I’m glad I do — that pain is my own when the same has happened with me – when I’ve not stepped up to the plate fully. We’ve all wanted more at some time in our lives. I’ve also felt the pain of not getting what I want, and I’ve looked at that and have seen I wasn’t giving 100% to myself by not offering to pay for what I’m asking for.
But feeling the pain doesn’t mean caving in. We can only do our best when we give kindness and compassion to ourselves first. And kindness and compassion here is feeling our stuff related to theirs and not getting stuck in their crap. Ambivalence is a big STOP to our own advancement.
Love this line “I’ve also felt the pain of not getting what I want, and I’ve looked at that and have seen I wasn’t giving 100% to myself by not offering to pay for what I’m asking for.” This is so true.
We do have to get really honest about where we may be cutting ourselves short by not being willing to invest in ourselves too.
Your post hit home since I had a very similar discussion this morning – but relating to volunteering to help out a professional association.
I was a hero until I informed the association leadership that the level of effort they wanted from me was no longer an appropriate volunteer activity (it had grown into over 30% of my time). Even though I have been a member of this association for over 30 years and a very active volunteer leader on this project for over 5 years, once I told them I couldn’t continue without some level of compensation for the time involved, I was told I was “no longer one of them.”
Moral for me. Be very careful about volunteering. You will be asked for more and more yet you will quickly turn from being hero to exile once you attempt to stop giving.
Excellent comments TDD. Thank you. And this goes to show that boundaries can work in virtually any environment.
You are not alone TDD. I have had to have that experience a few times in my life before I learned the lesson! Giving back and contributing to my community are very large personal values for me. I had to learn to not only set boundaries with others, but with myself too! I’d set boundaries about what I would and would not do and then get excited about the organization and break my own boundaries. Once I realized that, I had the magic formula for my own situation. Now, I am very strategic about where I get involved.
We have been known to donate our company services to some nonprofits, but those we choose to do so for. Not the ones who come to us and say they don’t have a budget. What I have done in the past is help them to find a budget. Some are open to this, others are not.
I have been there, too! Volunteered, felt good about giving my time, but they kept asking for more and more and then got upset when I couldn’t do it without compensation. Turned me off from volunteering for a while, until I saw that for me it’s feeling out organization that they will be happy and satisfied with what I’ve given. It’s a bad feeling walking away from a volunteer job feeling guilty or at least not getting a genuine thank you.
This is excellent insight and advice Kathleen and I would like to expand on it by adding that most people don’t want to appear as “not being nice” out of a deeply ingrained need of needing the approval of other people, even from people who they might not know personally. Not only will their income benefit from heeding your advice, but also their self-esteem and confidence as they strengthen their ability to live beyond the need to seek approval from other people in all aspects of their lives. By the way, love all the “free advice” that your blog posts do provide (there’s a hidden related marketing message in that sentence) Laughs.
Thanks for your comments Todd! And… great catch on the free advice. I’m not suggesting to people not to give some information away. Providing complimentary information does have a time and a place. It’s when someone crosses the line (and often they don’t know they are until we tell them) that we must set boundaries.
Appreciate your input.
Thanks for this, Kathleen, it really hit the spot for me. I also get a lot of questions, via email or phone, about what I do and how The Healing Code works. I have lots of information on my site about how it works, and refer people to that for information. I like your phrase, “Now we’re moving into consulting” (I use “coaching”) and then tell them they may order sessions from my site, or we can do it over the phone now. I also get the “hard luck” stories. I use my gut as to whether to respond or not at that point, because sometimes I honestly want to. But I needed to hear this just now, as I was feeling guilty about not returning the call of someone from the other day who was somewhat combative. I just don’t want to deal with that. And some emails I just have to ignore, due to time and higher priorities. My clients who pay me deserve higher priority.
Thanks so much for this message that came in my inbox today. I tend to do alot of giving away free advice/help, research and consulting to people and my husband and brother always say I should charge and get paid for it. And now thanks to what I just read-I know more than 2 questions is going into Consulting, it is okay to say No even if a person don’t want to hear it, and how to address the issue when time to charge a fee..This has really helped me, appreciate you
I have been navigating boundary setting in all areas of my life and really appreciated you sharing how you handle this seamlessly. Thank you!
Wow, that situation sounds familiar! 😉
I did as my wise coach suggested. And I also created a page on my website with all my free resources in one place (with the paid ones mixed in). This way when someone asks those questions, they can:
1. Take the time to sort through my free resources to track down the answers or
2. Pay me for the short cut. 🙂
I LOVE you Lain. This made me laugh and you are one smart cookie.
Love the tip on posting your paid resources among the free. Excellent tip.
I see coaches who bring the problem on themselves.
A well-known marketing coach once complained in her newsletter about how people took advantage of her by scheduling introductory phone calls when they didn’t intend to buy her services.
The problem may have been that she asked people to call her but she didn’t say it was a sales conversation. When coaches and consultants offer consultations because they “want to help” but they in no way clarify that they are looking for paying clients, readers are misled.
While experienced coaches assume that they are being offered a get-acquainted session to sell paid services, naïve readers don’t know that. They read “I want to help” and take the coach at their word that they simply enjoy helping people.
I myself have had this experience as a consumer and felt very much as though I had been tricked. I asked a question, expecting this to be answered in a future article or a one sentence email or blog comment. However, I was offered a phone call to answer my question, which I accepted.
It was transformed into a sales conversation offering a one-day intensive session for $7,000 plus airfare. The coach used many of the persuasive techniques the professionals teach for selling coaching services, encouraging me to believe that if I did not accept the offer I was refusing to “invest” in myself and therefore dooming my future.
I cried a bucket that evening but I didn’t buy the training. I unsigned from the coach’s list.
Now for instances when friends ask for advice, that’s a different story. . .
I am a young 70 year old who has been giving too much of my expertise away for many years. I get people out of pain without therapy. No wonder I’m getting tired. The more I do the less I am appreciated.
I just realized from your post that it is not others who do not appreciate me; they are only following my lead in not valuing myself and my contribution. I am not being generous in my service, but rather subservient. Generosity is an attitude which has one honoring the dignity of the human Spirit even while charging a (high) fee. If I feel like I owe it to them, they will feel the same. I am honored (paid) by whom I honor.
Great work. Thank you.
I love it! 70 years young. I have a client who is 71 years young and just had her first book published. I will be 59 years young in a couple of weeks. 🙂
I recently started a new blog brainstorm service and I totally agree. If I receive questions in regards to that type of thing, I do let them know that I would be happy to help them and I send the link to the page where they can purchase the consultation.
For my weight loss/fitness and travel blogs, if I get questions on those topics, I ask them for permission to blog about it so it can help others since I don’t do one on one emails. It’s not that I haven’t in the past but there are people out there that expect it and that is not right. We already give a lot of good stuff away through our blogs, etc.
Most people are definitely willing to pay for your expertise so for those that might be hesitant, just try responding to them with Kathleen’s reply up there in this post. You might be pleasantly surprised!
I have to say this is one of my biggest weaknesses. But primarily with existing clients with not only questions but also of course the dreaded scope creep. I have trouble drawing the line between nickel and diming people and giving away too much of my time for free.
With prospective clients I have learned that when I hear “I need a simple _____” that really means I have no budget. I actually had a person call and ask to watch over my shoulder as I worked. I commented that even if I would allow that they wouldn’t get anything from it because I don’t narrate my work and that they were really asking for free consulting. They went away quickly.
Love the line “With prospective clients I have learned that when I hear “I need a simple _____” that really means I have no budget.” 🙂
This is why it is helpful to have various levels of offerings. Here is what I offer which makes it very easy for me to recommend a good fit for those who need something but may not be a good fit for high level services.
Low priced info products ($7 – $97)
Low – mid ($100 – $297)
Mid – $300 – $997
High – ($1,000 above)
Exclusive – Platinum program where my clients get one on one time with me
I suggest everyone have a tiered process for your products and services.
As usual, your comments hit home. I sometimes “give away” advertising for my online news source. But it’s rarely now and nearly always in a trade where I get benefit, too. 🙂 I AM too nice, to the detriment of my bottom line. I’ve been giving away all the news away for free to readers, but am planning an enhanced subscription for videos of news happenings. We’ll see how that works out!
Thanks as always, Katheen!
Thanks so much for this excellent posting, Kathleen. It is in itself an act of great generosity and very helpful.
Absolutely true Kathleen. I found myself in all the circumstances you mentioned and have taken the stand to put a stop to it. Once I get the feeling of being taken advantaged of, I get in the business mode and send them that email or respond accordingly via phone
Your blog post was perfectly timed! As an interior designer, I occasionally get questions from friends and neighbors, which I answer briefly. Now that I’m in a new community, I’ve had one neighbor call me on a Saturday afternoon to get a “girl’s” opinion on which rug to choose out of four. I was shocked since we’ve never socialized since I moved there. Needless to say, I made up some excuse.
This morning, a client and friend Facetimed me from her mother’s house in Florida to get advice on her mother’s kitchen before the contractor arrived! O course I gave it (15 minutes of my time), but feel slightly abused. I is definitely time to set boundaries with clients and friends!
Thanks for the reminder.
With both of these a great answer would have been, “Gosh, this is exactly what I do in my business.” If that doesn’t solve it say, “I would love to get you set up for a consulting call. What time is best ____ a.m. or ____ p.m.?”
When they answer then ask, “Let’s go ahead and get the payment taken care of. How would you like to pay?”
For people to ask for free consulting is like going to a party and a doctor gets asked to look at the bump on someone’s back as they pull up their shirt. No!!!!!
Thanks, Kathleen! Advice taken, and new boundaries are set. I’ll be adding them to my design agreements as well.
Perfect for me to hear today! I’ve been doing a LOT of boundary setting work, not only for myself, but also for my team. We pride ourselves on our customer service, under-promising and over-delivering, but we were WAY over-delivering, and to be honest it was cutting into my bottom line. We’ve trained our customers to expect a lot – not just what we post for them, but also reminding them several times that we need info from them. No more. We will ask once, give a deadline (super important, something I’m still working on when assigning a task to a team member), and if they don’t meet the deadline, then we can’t provide the service. Figuring out now how to “wean” them – it’s partly our fault, so we need to gently change their expectations. Plus, if we are doing all the work and they aren’t even responding to simple emails, the provider/client relationship is way out of whack…and doesn’t do them any favors either.
I’ve also been tested a bit recently on people not paying on time, being weeks overdue (on a monthly payment). It’s not been a serious issue before, not sure why it is popping up now, I guess I’m supposed to be learning something from it! Interesting that it was a lot easier to set a firm boundary with a client that, after a few months, we discovered wasn’t really a good fit after all. Far harder to do with someone I consider a successful client with great material. I keep making excuses for them – maybe they are out of town, or busy with a launch. This morning I said to myself, I would never be that late with paying my vendors (she’s >1 mo. late on a monthly payment, and now owes 2 months) – so why am I letting others take advantage. They need to have the same professional attitude I have over paying bills on time.
Obviously, I have a lot to learn about setting boundaries…thanks Kathleen for letting me ramble. Hopefully my comments will help someone else struggling with similar issues!
A simple solution to the monthly payments that are not on time…auto pay. This way you don’t have to chase people down. If their card does not process you can set the auto charge to a specific number of times it will attempt to process. We set it at three. After that, no soup for you!
I have all of that set up, along with terms that say if we don’t get payment within 5 days, we reserve the right to take down their material. We’ve been lenient on that because we’ve had a number of Experts of the years who had their card hacked, etc. (surprisingly often). But until now we’ve never had anyone go beyond a week or so (and truthfully, for my particular biz, it’s more work for us to take their stuff down, so we’d rather wait and see.)
What we can definitely do (and will) is stop posting or accepting new material. And set firm deadlines for when we WILL take their material down.
Thanks for your supportive comments 🙂 Maybe the shift in energy will get some people moving!
Great advise on that email idea. I will adapt it as my own, thanks! The Q&A also good, but not in my case (computer repair) it would be endeless.
Kathleen your advice is as sharp as a razor and as generous as the rising sun. Thank you!
Thanks so much.
Guilty! Because my information is health related I have trouble saying no to someone who calls/emails says “I have cancer and no money I need to know what to eat…or what resources are available” And yes I’ve many times had emails saying I have no right to charge for my services. Pretty much I have someone else take care of that email address now so I never see them. I am working on my own frugality and money issues as that has a lot to do with it. I have printed Kathleens two comments:
1. About how much time and money I’ve invested into my knowledge base which is what people are paying for…not for the actual hour
2. The Thank you for your Inquiry…this one is hanging from my desk lampshade for constant use.
Thank you Kathleen…you always deliver…BTW I will be 70 in 31 days and looking forward to it.
You bring up a very big challenge. The simplest solution can be addressed with complimentary information.
For example, you mention about the people who have cancer and need to know what to eat.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
10 Food to Eat When You Have Cancer
7 Foods that Keep You Healthy
It’s not about saying no all the time. It’s about finding a way to serve in the most appropriate way. Free products can be part of the solution.
This is a great topic. I encounter this all the time. I will give general answers to people on occasion, but I have definitely drawn my line in the sand. I know when to refer them to someone else. I don’t work for free, and I love it when people think I will work for free. I feel like this: If you want me to give you free coaching, go work at your job for 40 hours for free. I will match you with that amount of free services to you. Didn’t think so. People like that likt to take advantage, and they clearly don’t respect you. My thoughts are, why would anybody want to work with someone that doesn’t respect them as an expert anyway? 80% of the money comes from the top 20% of the clients anyway in most cases. Best to focus on the 20%, who are willing to pay!
Let’s go higher,
Great points. And as was mentioned by another person, sometimes people just don’t know they are crossing the line.
Sometimes people don’t know they’re crossing the line. And there are some people who, come hell or high water, will never pay for anything they could possible dig up on the internet for free, no matter how long it might take them to do it. Seems to be against their religion or something.
(They’ll never experience the difference between paid products/services and free stuff. Never know what they are truly missing. Not that paid stuff is always better. Generally, however, it is the cream as opposed to the free skim.)
To get back on track here, setting a limit and sticking to it does a favor for both you and the questioner. The person knows you value your time and have business acumen. Therefore, the person is more likely to become a client. When that happens, you both benefit.
If, however, the person is a “free or I’m not your friend” type of individual, they also benefit. They know not to waste any more of their time with you. When that happens, you benefit, too. No longer is the person a drag on your forward momentum or stride.
I’ve been making a living on the internet since 1998 and, although it may be hard to visualize without having experienced it, getting the “free or I’m not your friend” individuals off you wagon can make the journey a whole lot easier.
Thanks for sharing this topic Kathleen. I also will generally answer quick questions, and for questions that need longer answers, I will either:
1. Send them to a YahooGroup or other group that has people on it who try to help others (I might also answer their question there since there are benefits to sharing knowledge with large groups of people); and/or
2. I will let people know that I can definitely help them (and I guarantee that I will be able to help them), and they can choose a date and time from my timetrade.com schedule for $x for x amount of minutes or hours; and/or
3. I will link to an article I wrote or someone else wrote who I know offers good advice on the topic.
I will almost always also let people know that I have a free newsletters and a free one hour video that contains Q&A’s on photo topics (especially if their question was similar).
All the best!
Editor, The Imaging Buffet
Great tips. Thanks so much Andrew.
This is a great article Kathleen, succinct and sensible! I write a weekly blog as well as writing, editing and proofreading for clients. Recently, I’ve received a few emails from social media contacts asking me to read their blogs as they ‘value my opinion.’ Nice, flattering but… as you say, costly in terms of time and effort. I don’t think it’s fair if I read something without commenting on grammatical or spelling mistakes, so I end up providing advice that my regular clients pay for, Not only is that unfair to them, I end up angry with myself. It all stops now! Thanks for this very welcome advice.
What you conveyed in your comments is how easy it can be for any of us to fall into the trap of a bit of feedback that turns into free consulting. Thank you so much for sharing this.
If it’s a simple, specific question I will usually respond and assume the person is not trying to get free consulting. If someone wants to know something as open-ended or complex as “all about being a copywriter”, I will recommend a couple of good books on the subject and a course or two.
That usually does it.
This is also a great opportunity to let the other person know about our services. Sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know. 🙂
Good point, Kathleen!
This is a situation I also have had to learn to deal with the hard way. My situation was slightly different to the situation you have used as the focus problem. My business focus is helping companies to become investment ready, investor friendly and then help them to raise equity capital for business expansion purposes. This is a course of action that can take anywhere from three to six months from go to whoa. I charge a substantial fee to be paid upfront to cover my physical work and I then receive a success fee as a percentage of the capital raised.
In earlier times, I received proposals from entrepreneurs to waive my initial cash fee in favour of a much higher success fee and/or a percentage of shares in the venture. In the early stages of my consultancy, I tried to accede to these requests in a spirit of establishing a good consultant/client relationship. Unfortunately for me, these clients took advantage of my generosity to my detriment. Here’s three case studies from the Graham Book of Experience:
Case Study 1: I accepted an arrangement for a high premium on the success fee and options to purchase shares at an attractive price in lieu of a cash fee. When the business plan and Offer Information Statement were completed and delivered to the client, the client simply disappeared. There is no doubt in my mind that the business plan and Offer Information Statement would have been used for some ulterior purpose. Whether that purpose was legal or not is a moot point. To this day I have wondered if some unsuspecting investors were swindled through the use of the documents I prepared. The reality is however, that I put a lot of effort into the venture for a nil return.
Case Study 2: I accepted a similar arrangement as in Case Study 1. When the business plan and Offer Information Statement were completed and delivered to the client, the client (without my knowledge) used the documents to enter into a joint venture arrangement to have the product manufactured and distributed by a foreign company for royalty payments based on future sales. As no equity capital changed hands, there was no basis for a success fee. Here again, the reality is that I put a lot of effort into the venture for a nil return.
Case Study 3. I accepted a similar arrangement as in Case Study 1. Unfortunately, just as my work preparing the business plan and Offer Information Statement was being finalised, the venture Principal became seriously ill and could not continue with the venture. This is another case where I put a lot of effort into the venture for a nil return.
The result? The consequence of my experiences is that I now insist that clients must pay a cash fee at the commencement of a venture to cover my costs in complying with the assignment activities. To endorse this point, I now put my experiences right up front on my website to make it quite clear why I will not be distracted from my payment standards.
Sometimes lessons are hard learned.
Kathleen, just as an aside, if you wish to look at my site, at the moment it’s in a state of disrepair as I am doing a major character change on it. It should be back to normal in a couple of days.
Excellent examples Graham. Thanks so much for posting the case studies in such detail.
Thank you Kathleen for this ‘reminder’ article.
My sister and I have a business where we teach viewers how to use 2 types of Free Open Source software – Inkscape and Gimp. Our market is small business owners who want to learn how to create their own graphics. To help them to get started, we have created a number of free tutorials and we also offer support becasue we know what it is like to get stuck and not know where to turn to for help.
As we have become known we have recieved a lot of requests for help and as you quite rightly point out we have had to take a serious look at how we use our time when responding.
I would like to pass on a tip we have found useful. Our business is a visual business and it can be difficult to diagnose a problem from the written word. We believe in matched effort, so if we require further explanation, we ask the viewer to make a short video showing us what they are doing. We give them a link to a tutorial on how to make such a video. This is a win-win situation, because if people can’t take the time to show us what they are doing then we have saved a lot of time trying to guess the problem. If they send us a video the answer is usually obvious and we can tell or show them, if not, we go back and explain that further work constitutes as consultation and our fees are …
It is a great filter as we get to meet and work with people who are serious about their businesses. Hope this idea can help some of your readers.
Nice! Love the tip about video. Thanks for sharing this Davina.
Excellent advice. Because I am also a Pastor as well as an author, people tend to EXPECT free counseling and advice in all areas. I can’t tell you how many times they have sat in my home and picked my brains about publishing their books. i have since added lots of info for authors to my website and refer them there. Today I launched my Book Mentoring Course and from now on, that’s where they get the detailed information they are looking for. One lives and learns…..
I can see where you would have some folks who just don’t realize there are distinctions in the paid and complimentary services. Sounds like you have come up with a very nice solution.
This is a brilliant article. Setting boundaries with clients (and sometimes family and friends) is so important, it keeps everybody that matters happy, and those that are unhappy are not the people you want around you anyway.
So true Kathy. So true.
Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. All of us who work with clients about passionate pursuits, share their excitement and want to offer good advice and try to save them from some of the hard knocks, but at the same time we MUST learn how to draw the line. Kathleen, I love how you suggest simply saying, they have excellent questions, but then call attention to the fact, it is what you do–consult, and suggest an appointment, and at the same time state your fee. I’ll be honest, I’m a wienie at times, and hate to not be able to help people. But I am learning where to draw the line. The whole “payable hours” thing is something to calculate next time I feel I am giving too much. Thanks for calling this to our attention. It is an important topic. By the way, I have a few questions for you… haha! I’ll wait for your conference, or make an appointment!
No wienie’s allowed. LOL Thanks for sharing Judy.
Kathleen, this article was so timely! While I was reading it, I kept nodding my head in agreement because this has happened to me before. As a writer, I get many e-mails and phone calls from people within my circle requesting help in setting up blogs, marketing tips for their books, etc.
There were a few occasions where someone sent me an e-mail with a list of questions and I graciously answered them. Shortly after, they came back again with another set of questions. When I finally decided to let them know that I’ll be charging for my services, the calls and the e-mails stopped. This was a clear indication that they enjoyed “picking” my brain on how to market their book but didn’t feel like compensating me for the time that I spent answering their numerous questions.
I fully understand that some people may not like me telling them no, but my time and expertise is valuable and in order to grow my business, boundaries must be set. Thanks, again for sharing this article especially how to handle situations like this!
There are likely more people who don’t like us telling them know that those who do. And yet, many of the “no” people are not going to use our services if they have to pay. In truth, they are not an ideal client. Ideal clients know we charge and respect this.
Thanks for sharing you experience Dee.
I would go as far as to say they not only aren’t ideal clients, they also aren’t going to be successful at whatever it is they want you to help them with. Because they’re not willing to invest in themselves…
Spot on Terri.
I came across this article on Google Plus and I rarely go on there, but I’m very glad I did this morning! I spend a large amount of time writing, be it on my blog or my books, and I have been getting a lot of enquiries wanting to ask me questions about my work. Most of them seem to be from students asking for advice and at first I viewed this as a compliment. I would thank them for reading my blog and showing an interest in my books and point out that I am not an expert writer but just someone who has a passion for writing, and in order to become successful, being passionate is paramount.
However, on one such occasion I received an email which asked me if I would complete “a very short and brief questionnaire.” I agreed, assuming I was helping a student with their course work. The questionnaire followed an hour later and consisted of around 50 questions (I kid you not), many of which warranted a long and detailed answer. I laughed at the audacity and silently praised the student for his will to try, but emailed back to say I wouldn’t be completing the questionnaire because it would take me nigh on two-three days! He wrote back, somewhat abruptly, and moaned that students weren’t being given a chance because people weren’t prepared to answer ‘a few’ questions, thus helping them with a dissertation. I have a feeling, should I have answered that questionnaire to the full, I’d have been writing his dissertation for him!! In the end, I put it down to laziness on his part and a damn cheek!
Amazing!!! What a great example you’ve shared CJ. Thanks a million for sharing and for bringing a smile to my face first thing in the morning. 🙂
Kathleen – you sure hit a nerve with this one – and I love it! People need to hear this message and ‘get real’! Business is business.
Love the work you do – keep it up, my friend!!
Thanks Pat. It’s all about gettin’ real!
Excellent post! I actually flipped my lid last week about this exact thing.
I think something that may confuse folks is that they see all of our videos, blog posts, articles, etc. filled with information and then they think “ok well I’m just gonna keep asking her stuff.” Ya know what I mean?
I finally started to say that these are awesome questions and you are the exact type of person I created my course for, blah blah.
I usually never hear from them again. And I find it sooo frustrating that these people can’t see how investing $1,000 can give them $50,000? $100,000? or whatever they want each year for the rest of their lives…it really annoys me.
It’s actually causing me to rethink my target market to be honest with you. We shall see. But great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Rethinking one’s market is often a great call. Thanks for your comments.
Carey – I did a major re-write of my target market at the beginning of the year, getting *really* specific – like 20-25 bullet points. I put things in there like “they believe that what I am offering is a long-term investment that will pay off”; “they have money and are ready to make the commitment to do the work”, “they believe in the principle of abundance and Law of Attraction”, etc. And those are the kinds of people that are showing up in my business now! So – I highly recommend going through that exercise also!
Thanks Terri. I will definitely go through that exercise. It’s sounds right up my alley now.
And I just had to share this with you all. Yesterday I decided to put up a strategy session page at $97 for 30 to 45 minutes…….no free strategy sessions you know to keep the ‘tire kickers’ and ‘free info suckers’ away……(thanks to my buddy Bill Walston who MADE me put it up yesterday.)
Today I had my first person sign up and buy my strategy session!!! they emailed me asking me tons of questions. I said I’d be happy to talk to you about your business, click here to sign up for my strategy session.
They clicked and they bought (I didn’t expect that so soon to be honest lol)
A rework of the target market is definitely coming.
That’s fantastic, Carey! Sometimes just shifting your own perspective/intention can bring the right people to you 🙂
Whooo hooo!!!! Way to go Carey. Way to go!