What To Say When A Client Wants Free Consulting

debtI was recently called in to one of my partners’ offices that needed advice on a client issue. He received an email from one of his clients saying they wanted advice on something…but they didn’t want to be billed for it.

When I asked him what type of client this person was, he then told me that they were a D-level client.

My opinion? It’s time to fire the client.

Free Advice Isn’t Worth Paying For

It’s different when someone is a friend or family but if not, you should know that you’re getting your advice from someone that is worth paying. Would I expect somebody to do something for me for free if it’s their business? Of course not.

Don’t try to cheat out on business advice – you wouldn’t want people to cheat out on you.

Avoid Crossing Boundaries

This sort of thing happens to lawyers and accountants all the time. You attend a social event and somebody comes up and says, “Hey, you know I’m just wondering. I’m doing this deal and…” They’re looking for free advice.

The main issue with these casual situations is how little information the advisor has available to them to provide actual good advice. More importantly, a social environment is the wrong setting to have this type of discussion.

The right answer here is, “Sure I can help you with that. My office hours are X, just phone up the office and setup a meeting.” The ones that don’t follow through by calling to set up a meeting just wanted free advice.

Giving Free Advice Is Not Bad

Don’t get me wrong, whether it’s through my blog, via social media or directly face-to-face, there is one thing that is for sure: I give away tons of free advice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving free advice but to expect free advice from somebody where their business is to provide that service is a problem.

The only thing service providers have to make an income is their knowledge and their time. If you take that away from a professional then what level of respect are you getting from that client? You have to ask yourself if that is the right type of client you want to continue working with.

Why I Avoid Hourly Billing

bc hst repealI understand that you don’t want to be sending a bill out for everything. I personally don’t like how most accountants, lawyers and other professionals tend to bill on an hourly basis. I try to stay away from hourly billing because I would rather bill based on value.

If I’m giving somebody advice and that advice saves them a lot of money or makes them a lot of money, is that amount of time or information more valuable than me doing a calculation for them that they could have done themselves on a calculator? Even though it takes the same amount of time, which one has more value?

At the end of the day, what we all pay for is value.

Make sure that your client values your service. If the client is asking for free advice on something that is going to give them value then the odds are pretty good that they are not a good client and you should be thinking about firing them and moving on.

An Exception To Every Rule

Now when you have a great client, it’s a different story. Sometimes you’re dealing with a client and maybe you give them great value and service but choose not to bill them. This sort of thing happens all the time.

Here’s the catch: if you don’t tell the client that you aren’t charging them then they believe that you did.

To get brownie points at some point in your client relationship, you do have to let clients know when you do work for them and you don’t charge them because we all do it. It’s regular in a professional service business that we provide service to our A and B clients that doesn’t get charged simply because we enjoy doing it for them.

Always Give To Those In Need

outside accounting servicesI have to back off for a moment because there are always times where you have to give free advice to people, such as when somebody’s in need. When I say “in need”, I mean truly in need and struggling.

If somebody has a hardship and they need my help, as an advisor I’m going to help them out. I do it all the time and the expectation is always that I’m going to get nothing out of it but I remember that I’ve been blessed with some positive things in my life and there are people that genuinely need advice.

A couple was recently in my office because they are being sued by somebody and truly do not deserve it. We met for a phone call, talked it out and at the end of the phone call they asked how much they owed me and I said nothing.

Are they ever going to become an A or B client? Not likely but they need the help and I have the expertise to help them along the way.

That’s quite different than a business owner that is operating a profitable business saying they don’t want to be charged for professional advice.

The Difference Between Giving & Asking

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite common to not charge a client for advice but to be asked not to be charged for professional services is really where I think it is a whole different situation. The decision not to charge is the advisor’s choice, not the client’s choice.

Most of your A and B clients would never ask you to not bill for valuable advice they receive, whereas your C, D or F-level clients might ask and that’s part of what distinguishes those client levels.

At the end of the day, asking someone for free service is essentially telling the professional that their time and information is worthless. You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?



One Response to What To Say When A Client Wants Free Consulting

  • Tara Roden says:

    Enjoyed your Article! Have to chuckle, as a golf professional going into a social environment the is always someone in the crowd who will ask me, “how can I fix my slice” …. yes, a little difficult to get into it when you are in a party dress :-) Giving Value to clients and free advise definitely has a time and a place! Thanks for the good advise!

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