In my last blog, I talked about recognizing your Achilles heel in your business. You need to know what it is and ways to overcome it. It can be tough to do, but if you don’t do it, then it is harder to meet your goals and your ambitions. This article moves into another sensitive area for consultants and businesses: Do you help people for free?
The Yin and Yang
The old saying that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” is very true. Even when you are not paying with your own money, you are paying with your time, attention, etc. So when people reach out to you professionally, or even personally, and ask questions about your work and your advice, you always have to gauge it under the microscope of “How much do I give away?”
This conversation will always bring out opposing sides. Some people will say that helping people is a gateway to a larger contract or relationship with another business. The flip side of the coin is that this is a way for people to get your advice and expertise without paying anything and you are hurting your brand and your future business.
The irony is that both sides are correct. I have spent time with someone before where they did not pay upfront for questions to be answered or some basic direction, but that I was able to have multiple contracts with them from that point forward. On the other hand, I have spent time with plenty of contacts to only have them forgo the project altogether or find someone else that fit their budget and timeline better after utilizing my advice.
My goal today is not to persuade anyone of the true or correct path. Each person has to weigh the merits of their time and attention on any one client versus their need to get paid for their advice and services. However, I think it is easier if each business asks themselves one vital question: What would make my goals easier to attain?
I think that can be a hard question to answer because we spend so much time trying to drum up business and show results that we forget that we have goals. If your goal is to attain substantial sums of money, then your time is more valuable and you will always charge for it. However, if you are doing it for fun or to stay sharp in a certain area, it might matter less if you get paid and be more about playing the long game.
Personally, my goal is to be a better steward, a teacher to others. My grantwriting has always been one of my strong suits, but I have noticed that many of my clients don’t know much about it. They say, “Write me a grant,” and expect it to be done immediately. It never even crosses their mind that they might not be eligible for it, it could be past the deadline, etc. Not only is it unrealistic, but it forces me into the role of teacher as well as potential short-term employee during the contract period. This used to irritate me, but after a turn of serving on a grantmaking board and seeing how decisions are agonized over on funding, I decided that my career is enhanced by being a better teacher. By focusing on the fact that I have a knowledge base where I can share that expertise ahead of contract, even if I don’t profit, has made me better at assessing grants and opportunities for those potential clients better.
My Own North Star
When people reach out, I ask them about their goals, their mission, their funding needs, etc. If I do end up working for them, I need this information anyway, but I can get some of the client knowledge base immediately. After receiving it, I start asking questions, usually pulling from the one grant application they found and quizzing them on the end result. Most times they have looked to see if they are eligible and the amount and stop looking. But grants are more tedious than that overall, so a deeper look is necessary.
I figure I spend about 30-45 minutes with each new potential client before an offer is ever submitted or accepted. I review the information, ask questions, and usually give a little guidance to the inquirer, especially if I feel that them spending the money would be a waste of time in that instance. To me, it is better to spend an hour of my time helping someone not waste their time and money. I like what I do and want to get my name out there further, but my own north star guides me in a way that makes me want to guarantee that people don’t feel like they have been cheated, in money or results.
I focus on giving “free lunches” for a few reasons. One is so that I can spend more time on the work I am doing for paying clients without getting bogged down with too much work by accepting everything that comes my way. Two is that when some of the eventually do come back to me, they have a better understanding of what they want and the time and resources necessary to pull it off. Finally, I do it to show them the way we think. By pulling back the curtain, they can get an idea that we are professionals and our work has value. This has enlightened many people over my time and I hope to continue being a good steward of the work I do.
There will always be a give and take among the free lunch and non-free lunch crowd. Every situation will be different, but if you are focused on your goals and what YOU want to get out of helping someone, the answer will be much clearer for you. For me, my goal is to better educate people about the process so I can be more effective for them. If that means I give up an hour of my time to them in the beginning, whether or not they become a client, it’s worth it if they have learned something and can work with people better in the future.
Watch For My Next Blog!
Keep an eye out for my next blog! I’m not sure what I will be discussing yet because I like to try and live in the moment, so stay tuned!