Are Free Consultations really that effective?
Are you giving your best stuff away for free?
If you are a consultant or solopreneur and you're offering a free consultation to give potential clients a slice, a sense of your value and skill, how is it going? Is it working? Or are you letting people pick your brain for free and off they go?
I think we all understand the motivation. You want to be of service, and to be known and valued so that people hire you.
But if we're truthful, the deeper motivation for giving our best stuff away is that we feel squeamish about asking for our value up front. Instead, we do the job before we get the job. Not good for wallets, reputations and credibility.
Try a Strategy Session. Think about offering a 60- or 90-minute strategy session at a discounted rate. If your hourly rate is $200, you might offer a 90-minute session for the same rate.
What you can give freely is the 10 minutes it takes to get connected, find out what your potential client's challenge is, and give them the opportunity to hire you for one of your business services, or a strategy session.
If you aren't ready for that approach, here are a few ideas for making you free consultations more fruitful:
Ask diagnostic, open-ended questions:
Get inside your potential client's pain and frustration by asking questions that reveal the full range of their goals, challenges and needs.
Empathize and be authentic:
Tell people you understand their dilemma. Assure them that the territory they're in is familiar to you, and something you are well trained and experienced to solve.
Focus on the big deal benefits of solving those challenges:
People who want to land a job or get a raise or build a better website or write a better press release, are motivated by what they value most. Yes, they want to solve the issue at hand, but what's more important are the values they will honor by doing so - like freedom, security, joy, beauty, and possibility. So rather than focusing solely on the features or process of how you work, ask them questions that help them understand why they want what they want.
Share your strategy
Once you've built trust, you can then focus on the features or the process of how you work. Once your potential client is invested in the benefits of your solution, will they be more open to hearing how you work.
Give your potential clients some homework
This is where you give some of your best advice, and some direction for handling a particular piece of the work.
- If you're a website designer, you might ask them to complete some branding questions.
- If you're a productivity trainer, you might ask them to survey their employers about their email program issues.
- If you're a divorce mediator, you might give them a few pointers for having a conversation with their partner about a sticky issue.
- If you're a landscaper, you might ask them to take photos of gardens they love.
Ask for the business
Diagnostic questions are also helpful in closing. You might say, "I'd love to work with you. What's your timeline for getting this project handled?" Or, "When would you like to begin?" Or, "What else do you need to know to get started?"
Use NO as an opportunity for clarity
If your potential client is unsure and not ready to commit, ask more diagnostic questions, like:
- What seems to be in the way of making a decision?
- What do you need to know to be comfortable saying yes?
- Who are the decision makers?
- What have you budgeted for this?
- Would a payment plan be helpful?
By the way, NO is also an opportunity to offer the Strategy Session as a way of dipping their toes in before committing to your program or service.