Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stop giving away your time and expertise

At a recent networking event for accountants, two women business owners were lamenting about potential clients looking for free tax and accounting advice. One was telling the other:

I had another potential client waste my time last week. After spending 2 1/5 hours answering questions and providing free tax and accounting advice for his five newly created LLC’s, he left saying he’d have to think it over. I am sure I will never hear from him again. Why does this keep happening to me? What can I do to distinguish deadbeat clients looking for free advice from actual paying customers?
Mary, who has been providing tax and accounting services to clients for 20 years, offered the following advice:

Stop giving free advice:
I started charging a $25 consultation fee to new clients several years ago. Charging a nominal fee adds a legitimacy factor to the first meeting.

Limit consultations to one hour:
Real clients understand accountants charge by the hour. A potential client that stays longer than one hour is seeking free advice and won’t be back. After one hour state, “That is all the time I have for you today. Let me share the services I offer.” Detail your services; provide your fee structure and a contract. If they request a second meeting schedule one at your normal billing rate.

Stop talking:
I learned this tip years ago. Once you have outlined your services and provided your contract hand them a pen stop talking. In the early days of my business, my nerves would keep talking long after I had asked for the deal and I’d end up talking my new client out of my services.

What if they forgot their checkbook?
If they are not interested in future services I ask for the $25 fee. If they’ve forgotten their checkbook, I inform them I am set up to accept ACH payments and provide them with an ACH authorization form to fill out.

Five LLC’s?
This is a bad sign. Anyone who has created five LLC’s in one year doesn’t know what he wants to do and isn’t going to be a good client. (An LLC is a Limited Liability Corporation)

What practices have you implemented to stop giving away your time and expertise?

"When you undervalue who you are, the world will undervalue what you do and vice versa" Suze Orman


  1. It seems like such basic advice, doesn't it? Unfortunately, woman have been indoctrinated to help, which means that we will sit with someone for two hours without even considering asking for compensation. I know I struggle with this but have gotten better about making sure that I stick to the scheduled meeting times. If I am supposed to be with a person for an hour, I only take that hour. If we are unfinished, I make him or her schedule another meeting. It isn't perfect, but it does show that I am serious about my time management and value it accordingly.

    I suspect that men do not have this issue, as I believe that men find it easier to close the deal and not give away free advice.

  2. GREAT advice. Thanks for sharing and stopping by today!

  3. Michelle,
    Yes, and you are right and it is a shame - women are more inclined than men to sit with someone for two hours without considering compensation. One of the main points of Suze Orman's book Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny was that women don't expect or ask to get paid what they are worth.

    I work with a male employee who likes to plop himself down in my office to discuss his personal problems. I have learned to give him a couple of minutes then stand up and say I'm sorry, but I really have to work on xyz right now. It works. He says okay and leaves.

  4. LadyD -
    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Great advice, I am just doing the direct marketing and need keep giving just that away. Thank you so much for stopping by and being so supportive of Rebekah. It's the first time she has publicly shared Zach's story... I really appreciate it. Stacie

  6. i agree with this post!!!!
    Charge em!

  7. Hey that male coworker of yours sounds like all of mine. Some times after I have allowed them numerous whine sessions in a row for several weeks and then tell them I can't talk to them that day because I'm busy on something else they get really upset and say i'm in a bad mood or mean or a b@#$. It's freaking crazy.

    I've learned to employ your strategy. Chat for a few minutes, and then get immediately back to work and get them out of there. It's tough when sometimes the conversation is interesting for me, but worth it that I am briefly friendly but otherwise not their therapist.

  8. YES! Never say ANYTHING!


    Well, at least NEVER tell your best frient ANYTHING you don't want your worst enemy to KNOW!

  9. This is such great advice- I agree with the free advice. It's really tempting to do, but your really just devaluing yourself in the end. Great article!

  10. There's a lot of this in my two industries as well: Writing and photography.

    With writing, potential clients want you to churn out high quality content and expect you to do it for a lousy $10. For me to write a quality 300-500 word article I need at least an hour to write, another hour to research if need be, and another hour to edit and revise accordingly. At a minimum of three hours I'm only earning $3.33 an hour for my time. Ridiculous.

    In photography, people expect photographers to hand over all images, edited or otherwise. There is no concept or knowledge of the time and financial commitment made. Just, "Hey, it's my face so it's my pictures. Here's 50 bucks. Give it all to me or I'll report you to BBB". Again, ridiculous.

    Thanks for sharing some great tips on how to combat this. Whether we're on the service provider side or the client side we could all learn a few things from this.

  11. Stacie,
    Rebekah'story was heartbreaking. If anyone would like to read it click on this link:

    Also, good luck with your direct marketing.

  12. Frau Tech,
    Standing up really makes a difference. Grab a couple sheets of paper like you have to go to the copy machine. They almost always get the hint. I know what you mean about sometimes the conversation is interesting. I've gotten ideas for some of my best blog posts from these conversations. I stop at their desk on my way out and say "know what were you saying." If the conversation gets too long or boring look at your watch and say you have to go.

  13. Tor,
    Good advice to remember especially in the workplace.

  14. Lady D and Heather,
    Thanks for stopping in. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Heather- you are right. Giving away free advice does devalue you in the end.

  15. Kim,
    Wow that is crazy. So sad but true. People are so inconsiderate.

    Even at my BIL's repair shop people come in trying to get free advice. Once they know what is wrong they try to repair their vehicle themselves or take it somewhere else. Or try to bully him into getting the work done for free.

  16. As new business owners, I think there is almost this insecurity that makes you feel like you need to sale the service you offer to the point that you have given it away before you realize that you have said to much! I know that I have done this several times but as my confidence builds I am more inclined to ask for the sale or zip my lips!

  17. This is really great advice - thanks for sharing! It seems I can apply these tips to general consulting :-)

  18. Tiffany,
    Good for you and yes you are correct when starting a business we are so happy to have someone show interest we give away too much.

  19. Cherise,
    I hope it helps.

  20. I agree with Cherise. These tips can apply to any kind of consultation or interest meeting.

    Thanks for linking up for #FlashbackFriday