Year after year, more business goes online — from shopping, to marketing, and yes, consulting.
In certain ways, competition has increased, because there are more freelancers offering similar services. But in other ways, there is more opportunity than ever before for freelancers with quality services. One issue that I’ve noticed getting “worse”, however, is the number of clients who expect a “free” consultation from potential service providers; while sometimes this can be a fair request, in most cases it is not.
“There is a correlation between how foolish a man is and how tolerant he is of people who waste his time.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
In American vernacular, doing this is what I’d refer to as a dick move. Allow me to explain:
Unlike salaried full-time employees, every minute you request (or demand) from a consultant without paying him is money lost — especially when you’re only looking for short-term work. Several times, I’ve literally been 30 minutes into a “free consultation” only to discover that a client only has a budget to hire me for a few hours! To restate the obvious… consulting is how he makes his living. You are therefore stealing from him.
Consider the example of lawyers: for centuries, they’ve probably been some of the most highly paid freelancers. They have a niche skill — or law license — meaning that many times, clients have no choice but to hire them. And, lawyers only need to land around maybe a single client each month to make pretty good money all year long. Why? Because every client a lawyer gains turns into a “retainer” of thousands of dollars. And its up to the lawyer when to pull funds from that balance, anytime he clocks time. It doesn’t get much better than this!
So naturally, offering a 15-30 minute “free” consultation sometimes makes sense to lawyers. After all, the ROI on landing a new client is thousands of dollars, so even if they waste several hours each month on free consultations, it is financially more than worth it most of the time. (In fact, many successful lawyers do not even offer free consultations and actually charge for an initial consultation to avoid wasting their time.)
Now, let’s head back over to online consultants. In most cases, we are talking about service providers like web designers, digital marketers, SEO consultants, copywriters, business planners, and other related fields.
What do most online consultants have in common? Their clients need ANALYSIS along with (or many times seperate from) actual deliverables, like an improved website or strategic plan for the future. Such research and discovery usually requires HOURS of time to do properly, when talking about things like performance, security, conversions, usability, and beyond…
When you ask these freelancers for a “free” consultation, what you’re really asking for is free work. And what this immediately signals to experienced consultants is that:
1. You’re cheap.
2. You’re window shopping.
3. You’re not respectful of their time.
Over the years, I’ve received hundreds of requests that go something like this:
“Hey Jesse. Here is my website URL. Take a look and let me know why it’s loading slowly and if you’d be able to fix it. Also, please tell me exactly how much time and money it will cost to achieve a 95% score on Google PageSpeed.”
There are so many problems here, it’s hard to extract them all.
What clients are asking for here is not only free analysis (auditing), but specifics in terms of time and budget… all while totally wasting and disrespecting the time of the consultant in the first place.
Part of this depends on your niche, of course. If you’re a freelance programmer that specializes in a niche language like Python, for example, and a client is asking for a free consultation that could lead to several years of ongoing work, it’s much more justifiable in that case — plus, you know that in such a case, clients must be “serious” because they already know what Python is and that they need a Python programmer (…another good reason to niche down into specialties as much as possible — but then again, you’re not a consultant in that case).
But if your real goal in asking for a free consultation is to test a consultant’s reputation and expertise, there are other ways to do this that do not take advantage of them — and set the relationship off on the right foot. For example, if you’re hiring freelancers on marketplaces like Upwork, simply check their past reviews and projects. You can also Google their name and associated companies and see if you like their style and offerings. You can even ask them for a link to their design portfolio or successful case studies. Or, if you really want to know a few specific things to see if the consultant is aware of them, then say something like below:
“Thanks for your time. I’m serious about this project and have XYZ budget over the next few months. If you don’t mind I’d like to briefly ask you a few questions, so we can both determine if this is a good match. I’d be happy to pay your hourly fee for an initial phone call or brief analysis if you offer these. Is that okay?”
Now doesn’t that sound infinitely better? You’re now showing consultants that you respect their time, that you’re not window shopping, but that you have an idea of what you need and want to make sure both parties are a good match for each other — all things that reputable consultants would be more than happy to see.
The problem, of course, is that so many clients truly are:
2. Window shopping.
3. Not respectful of time.
…which is why they are acting like that to begin with.
The more generic the skill (and project), the worse this tends to be — often because it signals inexperienced and unprofessional clientele. But if you want to impress high quality consultants and improve the long-term relationships and reputation of your business, kindly consider these sentiments!
Tags: FreelancingLast modified: 10 Oct, 2019
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