How much should you give away for free, and when should you charge? This question comes up for service providers when deciding what content to put on a Web site, presenting to a potential client, or even answering the phone.
The justification for giving away free information and services is that by demonstrating your expertise, clients will see how you can help them and will then be willing to pay you. However, every service provider has horror stories of potential clients who strung them along, getting all of the freebies they could, and never becoming paying customers.
It is up to each business to decide how much they want to give away, and when they will start to charge. Providing free information can certainly be an effective marketing method, but when is enough enough?
Putting free content, such as articles, on your Web site will attract customers and help your standing in the search engines. Articles can also be submitted to print publications, such as professional association newsletters and trade journals.
Publishing articles, online or offline, is a low-risk strategy. You write them once, and your articles remain in circulation indefinitely. They will be viewed by hundreds, thousands or even millions or potential customers. You may even be paid for your articles.
Clients often want to see a demonstration of your capabilities before they hire you. That might mean putting extensive effort into a proposal, or providing them with a sample of your work. Some clients may ask you to describe how you would solve a particular problem they face, or ask for sample copy or design ideas.
How much time do you want to invest in gathering information and preparing custom work in the hope that it will generate business? When deciding how much you will do during the proposal process, consider the value of the client and the likelihood that you will be able to get the contract.
Phone calls from information-seekers can be a problem when what you have to sell is your time and expertise. When does answering a question or two cross the line and become an unpaid consultation?
Some consultants decide that they will answer two questions without charge. Others place a time limit, such as ten minutes, on free telephone calls. For example, you may transition a freebie-seeker into a paying client by saying, “I can spend ten minutes with you, and if you require more assistance I will be glad to schedule a consultation at my regular rates.”
As an expert in your industry, you may be asked to speak to professional and community organizations. Some pay, but many do not. When evaluating a speaking opportunity, consider if the audience includes people who may become customers or who may refer customers to you.
Of course, in addition to attracting new customers, some free work may even open new profit opportunities for you. For example, free articles and speeches may lead to a profitable new career as an author and speaker.