Is a period of free consulting an effective way to acquire new businesswith a potential client?

by HSG on Apr 24, 2014 in Articles from Software Fans

The consulting industry is fiercely competitive and nets between $130B and $150B a year. In fact, professional consultants earn more money than many lawyers, doctors and other professionals. 

Offering free consultations is a common way for a software consultant to seize new accounts. But is there a red flag where a consultant may be giving away too many services for free? The worst scenario for a professional software consultant is to offer free services to the client and then never hear from them again once they no longer need their help. 

Although having the best intentions, many people will waste a consultant's time (i.e., client ignores or rejects any suggested approaches or solutions given by the consultant and seek the services of someone who will do it cheaper or will attempt to do it themselves). Small business owners especially can be challenging to work with. Some clients have a tendency to jump into projects before having adequate resources to finish what they have started, decide to go in a different direction midstream, while others simply don't want to spend any money when getting professional services. It's hard to believe, but some clients actually expect to receive free services for life. To counteract this notion, a software consultant can draw the line by offering free services within a promotional time frame and then begin charging a fee for services rendered after that time.

A good indicator of what a client's true intentions are is to monitor their activity within a specified period to see if their consultation activity bears fruit in the form of a contract. One big red flag is non-commitment on the part of the client. If they seem indecisive or vague about what they want it may be time to move on. Although there are times when a free consultation results in a paying client years later, who can wait that long? 

Less of Your Time is Wasted When You're Upfront


After being burned, some professional software consultants no longer give free consulting. They find that clients are much more willing to follow their advice when they have paid something. In order to close an account, a happy medium can be agreed upon by both parties involved as a way to build a long term relationship with highly qualified prospects. 

A software consultant's work, knowledge, skills and time are valuable. They can offer a potential client general solutions instead of addressing specific challenges. If a specific topic of discussion, troubleshooting session or other issue needs to be addressed, the consultant can inform the client of any upfront costs to receive a particular service if they need further assistance. Really, a free software consultation (if one is given) should be presented in a very similar way someone would hand out samples of a product at a grocery store. A professional consultant ideally wants clients to see how they can benefit using their services on a trial basis with a pitch leading to more extensive services which would only be available if they sign a contract with their firm. 

 

 Red Flags

 

When an initial conversation with your potential client takes a turn from a general concern to “What would you do if you were me?” you’re being invited to provide free services and if you decide to answer these questions, you are essentially giving away your consulting services.  If the potential client persists, you can respond something like, “I want to work with you on this issue and I have ideas on how we can proceed. But I don’t know enough yet to give you answers that either of us would be comfortable are the right ones.”

Drawing the line in possibly giving your services away for free doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable position if you are open with all of your clients. Let them know that you are available to speak with them and will return calls and answer e-mails to any of their concerns or questions but resist the temptation to dole out free solutions or ideas until the potential client is a signed client.

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