Free Consultation: Pros and Cons

free-consultationIn my search for effective marketing strategies for freelancers, I keep running into this idea. Get prospects on the phone for a free consultation with you.

You may have seen it yourself on some freelancers’ websites: an offer of a free 20- or 30-minute consultation to anybody who is interested in hiring them.

Should every freelancer offer free consultation to get more clients? The answer isn’t simple, and there is no one right answer for everyone. To see what the answer is for you, let’s go over the pros and cons of providing free consultation to prospects.

Pros

Some experts claim that getting a prospect on the phone before submitting a proposal doubles your chances of landing the project.

This makes sense. The free consult gives your prospect a sample of your expertise. It makes them feel better about entrusting their needs to you.

We all know that sampling is a highly effective marketing strategy in the retail world. It’s difficult to get people to buy something they haven’t tried before. However, if you give them the chance to try it out (and assuming you have a top-notch product), then your target market is more likely to buy it. Observe your own behavior when you’re in Costco. How often do you end up buying something after getting a free taste?

Getting on the phone with a prospect is also a faster way of addressing his questions and objections than through back-and-forth emails. The communication is also more likely to be effective. You and your prospect have the added input of your voice inflections — something absent in emails — so you should be able to understand each other better.

Another advantage of offering free consultations is that, even if the prospect doesn’t hire you, you’ll learn a lot about them. After talking to a number of prospects, you’ll have a much clearer idea of their problems and questions. This knowledge will help you improve your services and even develop products for your prospects (more on that later).

Cons

On the other hand, free consultations can be a real drag. When you offer them prominently on your site, you attract  freebie seekers — you know, people who want your expertise, but have no intentions of hiring you whatsoever.

The biggest disadvantage of offering free consultations is that they take up your precious time and energy. Twenty minutes here and there sure can add up, taking you away from other marketing activities, paid client work, family and personal growth.

So, You Want to Give Free Consultations…

At this point, you may be thinking that you’d like the advantages of giving free consultations, but without any of the disadvantages. Is there a way for you to enjoy the pros while minimizing the cons?

I think so. Consider these suggestions:

  • Be selective. Instead of offering a free consultation call to everybody who lands on your site, make it available only to those who contact you with projects you’re interested in. Let’s say somebody emails you requesting a quotation and gives a few details about their project. Check out their website and look at their profiles in Twitter and Facebook. If the project interests you, and the prospects look like someone you may like to work with and who can afford you, then you can reply with an offer to discuss their requirements over the phone.
  • Limit the time to a maximum of 20 minutes. Let the prospect know that the call will only be for 20 minutes. Of course, if the conversation is going extremely well and you think talking longer will improve your chances of landing the project, then you have the flexibility to extend the call. Do ask beforehand if your prospect can stay longer on the call. She’s busy, too.
  • Make it easy for you. Create a set of guide questions, an outline or checklist of things to go over with your prospect. You can also prepare a corresponding set of recommendations for each issue that might come up. This helps you cover plenty of ground in a short amount of time.
  • Stay in control of the call. Let’s face it, some people enjoy talking and your 20-minute call can easily stretch to one hour. The checklist or guide you prepared will help you keep on-topic. Do give your prospect about five minutes towards the end of the call to ask questions, and use the last two minutes of the call to summarize the action-points you’ve covered.
  • Leverage the call. As I mentioned above, you can benefit from each consultation call, even if the prospect doesn’t end up hiring you. One way to do this is by using the consultation calls as the basis for creating a paid infoproduct. Record each call (let your prospect know this beforehand, but reassure him that it’s for your personal use only). Make a list of frequently asked questions or issues that keep coming up with your prospects. And then, create an infoproduct (or several) around these issues. Your infoproduct could be a workbook, a set of video tutorials, special reports or even full-blown eBooks. This infoproduct will let you help prospects who can’t afford you, and can become a nice side income for you.

So am I going to be offering free phone consultations now? To tell the truth, I’m still undecided. I may do it when a really attractive prospect shows interest in working with me. I will certainly oblige when somebody who fits the profile of my Ideal Client requests a phone call.

As long as my youngest child isn’t in school yet, it’s a major production for me to arrange for distraction-free phone calls. So, until then, my phone call policy isn’t going to change.

How About You?

Does the idea of giving prospects a taste of your expertise excite you? Have you already been offering free consultation to prospects?

Do let us know your thoughts below.

Image by invisiblehour