Communicating what you do and how much you charge is imperative, especially if you’re just starting out as a freelancer. Here’s a word of warning post that I might also have entitled: How Not to Give Away Your Skills for Free.
If youâ€™re starting out as a freelance consultant be wary of people looking to hire you. Seriously.
Many successful business people are adept at getting things for nothing and if youâ€™re new to pitching for consulting work you could find yourself dishing out valuable skills and information â€“ for free!
Be Wary of â€œCome and have coffeeâ€
Letâ€™s say you meet an prospective client at a social gathering. You tell them what you do and you feel that buzz of excitement when they mention â€œMy company is actually just looking for some of that as a matter of fact!â€ You hit them with your elevator pitch, a stylish business card and a smile and low and behold a few days later they get back to you.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you come into the office for coffee? Letâ€™s have a chat about what you can do?â€ they might say.
To the eager novice consultant this might sound like potential business.
â€œWhat a fabulous opportunity to pitch my skills and services, and grow my business. Right?â€
Well, only possibly.
Don’t Be Too Eager
The risk is that when you get there, all dressed up in your glad rags, seated in a leather chair and supping a frothy cappuccino, youâ€™ll fall for one of the oldest tricks in the book. Giving away your skills for free.
â€œSo weâ€™re thinking about improving our SEO?â€ the charming, friendly CEO says. â€œWhat are the problems with our site? Do you think you could help?â€
Having researched Potential Significant Customerâ€™s site dot com before your get-together because you want to know something about them, want to impress them a little, you spill a few of the beans.
â€œI can see thereâ€™s stuff you need to improve: the title tags across the site donâ€™t work and youâ€™re not making the most of title tags. You should definitely reduce your duplicate content. Google treats www.yourdomain.com and yourdomain.com as separate sites.â€
â€œReally?â€ wonders the CEO, encouraging you to take a couple of M&Ms from the candy jar on the table, still smiling, still friendly. â€œIs that easy to fix?â€
â€œOh, sure you just need to tweak your htaccess file.â€
Before you know it the CEO is enthusing about your skills, the easy way you communicate your ideas and how youâ€™re just what theyâ€™re looking for. Add a touch of mild sexual tension to the mix, maybe the CEO is flirting with you, and your egoâ€™s glowing. Youâ€™d be only too happy to help.
â€œI think we really need to use you,â€ the CEO says, before hitting you with the sucker punch. â€œCould you just put together a brief outline on paper about what weâ€™ve talked about and give me a quote for the work?â€
So then off you go, type it all up and wait eagerly for their response, dreaming of that big fat deal youâ€™re about to sign.
The Brush Off
And hereâ€™s when the brush off will come. Only trouble is you wonâ€™t see it as such at first.
Dear (Naive Consultant, theyâ€™re thinking),
We really like your ideas and skills. Youâ€™re obviously just what weâ€™re looking for.
Unfortunately, right now we have to budget carefully as weâ€™re hiring new staff/purchasing new equipment/behing hit with the recession, etc, etc.
I would still like to use your services but what weâ€™d like to do is carry out some of the work in-house and then call you in to give us an outside view.
Successful Business CEO
Maybe if youâ€™re super naive youâ€™ll write back gushing that: â€œYou look forward to working with themâ€ but later, on reflection, when your Inbox remains empty and full of crushing silence, and you take a cursory glance at their site and see theyâ€™ve actually changed the things you mentioned, youâ€™ll realise that youâ€™ve been had. You gave away an hourâ€™s free consultation in person, plus the time it took to prepare, get there and put together a written proposal that by the way took you a couple of hours to really get right because you wanted to really earn this job and impress the client with your skills â€“ and especially because they seemed so nice !
Donâ€™t get burnt. Think through this kind of scenario before it happens. Essentially, if youâ€™re just starting out as a freelance consultant (whatever your field) plan how to handle Mr Tricky CEO, Ms Flirtatious Can-You-Just-Explain-To-Me, et al.
Maybe try something like this:
â€œThanks for the coffee,â€ youâ€™ll say. â€œItâ€™s delicious.â€
But when the CEO asks you what you think of their site / communications strategy / marketing / logo (or whatever it is you consult on!), you hit them with a very polite:
â€œI think there are a number of key issues we need to look at. But Iâ€™m more than happy to discuss the previous work Iâ€™ve done and give you an insight into my portfolio of skills. But if youâ€™d like me to discuss your whatever in detail, I charge a XXX fee.â€
As they shift uncomfortably in their leather seat, maybe looking a little hurt that youâ€™re playing hardball, you can soften them up a little.
â€œOf course,â€ you say, giving them your best smile, â€œif this meeting leads to a confirmed project I wave that initial consultation fee.â€
Similarly, if youâ€™re asked to write up â€œthose valuable commentsâ€ you dished out as part of a potential bid for a job, remind the CEO that you bill a cursory flat fee for this service that you wave if it leads to a major job.
A Few Take Aways for Newbie Freelance Consultants:
Be careful. Some business folks are supremely skilled at getting something for nothing.
â€¨Donâ€™t give away your skills or valuable insights for free â€“ even if youâ€™re starting out. Have a strategy to avoid this.
Politely inform prospective clients that you charge for your time and skills above and beyond any pleasant chit-chat.
Be clear upfront about waving your initial fee should prospective clients agree to hire you â€“ it softens the â€œblowâ€ of having to pay for an initial consultation