Born free, but life isn’t free

I get a lot of business through websites; both my own and others where I have a presence. The enquiries I receive as a consultant on somewhat technical matters fall into three categories:

  • Genuine requests for help from people who have evaluated my expertise or need confirmation that I can help them.
  • Requests from some who want answers, but do not appreciate what value those answers will have.
  • Requests for free information or queries that are designed to try to obtain free information in any proposal from me.

It is not always easy to tell the difference between the three, but I usually have some idea. I respond sometimes to ask more questions before quoting a fee, but if the requirements set out are pretty comprehensive then I quote straight away. I avoid giving free information for my own safety, but also for that of the foolish person who might act on it without having given me all relevant facts.

By the second email I will have proposed a fee based on the value of the information required, provided it is worth my while. Usually for those who understand that value in the context of their own circumstances, I will get a swift acceptance. These will prove to have been the genuine requests.

For the other two categories of requests, once having proposed a fee I will hear no more. Very occasionally, if a telephone number has been provided I will make a quick call to make sure that my “prospect” has understood what I have said. Mostly though and without a phone number, I know it is a waste of time following up.

Experience tells me when I am wasting my time. I may get business from around one-in-six to one-in-eight of the incoming emails seeking information. I am quick in dealing with them because it is not worth wasting time, and certainly not on follow-ups. One-in-six to one-in-eight is plenty enough too.

Not every business is the same. If I were selling goods I might follow up more.

Are you a consultant? Do you follow up when your enquirer goes quiet? How much?

Dealing with time-wasters and tyre-kickers

Question mark

Many of us who offer professional services get enquiries from people who do not really want to buy. The problem has been the subject of a debate among several of my colleagues and friends, and we have different ways of dealing with the email and telephone enquiries we get.

Some people may have a simple query which they may think they can answer in a couple of minutes and generously charge no fee for doing so. I do not think that is a very good approach because I like to be paid for my expertise even if I am asked what seems a simple question.

A second issue is that if we do not have an in-depth discussion we might not find out important information which the querist has incorrectly discounted as unimportant. That puts us at risk of a negligence claim even if we have not been paid, and at the very least means that we will be wrongly bad-mouthed to other people.

I will always respond by asking a few question, quoting a fee at the start, or in the second contact if I thought I needed to know more before quoting. This filters out those who are trying to get that free information, and establishes whether our prospects are really serious about solving their problem properly and understanding the value of our advice.

Recently I was asked a question which involved both capital gains and inheritance tax issues. I quoted a fee and asked a number of questions about finances involved and time-line etc. I had a reply by email back saying “Thanks, Jon, but we were only looking for general advice. If we need more detailed advice in due course we will be in touch.” In other words they were looking for free advice; otherwise why send a fairly detailed query in the first place?

You and I have worked and studied hard to gain the knowledge to run our businesses. We cannot afford to give it away for free except perhaps to the needy at the lower end of the income scale as otherwise we will also be at that lower end.

How do you deal with the free-loader types?


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