Should you do free consulting? (part 1)

Should you do free consulting?

Today, I’m going to answer another question I get asked a lot from readers: Should you do free consulting? There are a ton of opinions on this question, and I want to dig into this question, since how you answer it can powerfully affect your entire consulting business.

Here’s just one example of how one reader asked “should you do free consulting?” (this is a condensed version of his actual email):

Should you do free consulting? (reader question)

Should you do free consulting?

First, I’ll tell you how I answered this question when I first started consulting, since it shows how most consultants and freelancers think about this issue.

When I first started consulting, I felt that since my knowledge and time were valuable, that I should bill for any consulting-related time I spent with a prospect or client. After all, if I was giving the prospect or client information or technical assistance that was valuable to them, I should be compensated for it.

Would I have been giving that kind of help if I was an employee? Yes, and I would’ve been getting paid for it.

Was the prospect/client getting value for my involvement? If so, I should be getting paid for it.

Would I spend time with the prospect/client on my own, as a hobby? If not, I should be getting paid for my assistance.

My rationale

Here’s a smattering of my thoughts on this question when I first started consulting:

  • If I did stuff for free, prospects and clients would take advantage of me.
  • If I didn’t bill for my time, prospects & clients wouldn’t value my contribution as much.
  • I needed to bill for as much of my time as possible.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, your beliefs are powerful drivers of how you act, how you interpret situations, and how you respond.

And virtually all of us have blind spots that prevent us from seeing the beliefs that limit our progress.

I’m going to answer this question in much more detail in my next post, but for now…

Where do you stand?

Take a quick sec, and let me know where you stand on the question of “should you do free consulting” in the comments below.

Should you do free consulting? Why or why not? 

Have you done free consulting before? How did that turn out?

What about if you’ve declined to do free consulting? How did clients respond?

In my next post, I’ll reveal:

  • my stand on this question, 
  • my rationale, 
  • the results I’ve gotten, 
  • and a framework for putting it into practice.

For now, let me know: Should you do free consulting? Tell me right now in the comments below.

If you’d prefer to tell me in person, click on the orange “Ask me a question!” button on the right of this page to send me a voice mail right now. I’ll post the best responses in the next post.

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Thack - March 17, 2014 Reply

I have done this in the past (though I kept my consulting as a part-time hobby). I figured if I still have my day job – then I am only out time. I had everything to gain. I started by doing IT work for local non-profits and groups. The local senior citizen center and The United Way come to mind. It gave me a good idea of what the market in the area was – they let me know how thankful they were because I had saved them $X. It also let me know what people / organizations expected from a contractor. It was great experience, helped people who couldn’t afford it, and relieved a lot of fears about consulting.

Oh, and the word of mouth (the elderly and non-profits will talk to more people on a weekly basis than you can in a year) was the best advertising I ever had.

    Angela - March 17, 2014 Reply

    I think the key here is that you did your volunteer work for non-profits – places where it is normal for people to donate their time. I

Roger - March 17, 2014 Reply

I’m still in the “launching” phase of my business development/management consulting. I have helped several close friends with their businesses free of charge. They also had some things from their business that they helped me out for free also (logo design, copywriting, etc.). This has helped me validate that I do have knowledge, experience, and ideas that can help people’s businesses. Now for the “hard” part – landing clients that will actually pay based on value rather than cheaper online freelance work.

thack faugstad - March 17, 2014 Reply

Ok, this is driving me nuts. I want to read the rest of Angela’s comment. It cuts off with no next page option. Am I just this out of it that I can’t figure out how to computer? (In my defense my sick kids have kept me up every hour all night for the past week) HELP!!!!

    Greg Miliates - March 17, 2014 Reply

    Nothing wrong with you–it looks like Angela’s comment got cut off. 🙁

Teagen - March 17, 2014 Reply

A few months ago a county representative approached me to join an advisory board made up of local business owners, government representatives, industry experts, consultants, etc. As a member of this board my experience and expertise are vital to my successful participation, however I do not charge for this service.

In correlation with the advisory committee, my consulting services assist local business owners in voicing their opinions on the advisory committee goals. These services are charged for. I think there is something to be said for a calculated amount of give-a-way as long as you can ascertain tangible or intangible benefits.

Such as Greg providing this free Start My Consulting Business blog!

Nicole Clark - March 17, 2014 Reply

My answer falls in alignment with Greg’s comment: “Would I spend time with the prospect/client on my own, as a hobby? If not, I should be getting paid for my assistance.” I’m working full-time, and as I put my systems in place, I’ve been providing consulting services in program evaluation free of charge to several organizations I’m intimately involved with. I’m a member of a few organizations in which I serve in some capacity, be it as a member of the board of directors, a member of an advisory council, or a member of the leadership team. I see my free consulting as a continuation of my volunteering service, and for that I wouldn’t feel right asking for compensation unless it was given to me. In turn, these organization have referred me to their colleagues at other organizations. So, I’ve been using my free consulting to build up my portfolio until it’s time to venture out on my own full-time.

Roger Williams - March 18, 2014 Reply

This a great topic! Read Charlie Hoehn’s Recession Proof Grad. This all about Free Work. When I had a service before, I felt I had to charge for everything. I don’t think that way anymore. But how do you ASK to do free work without coming across as “needy”?

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