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Summary:

Once just the purview of cheesy late-night infomercials (“buy now and get this beautiful set of six steak knives at no extra charge”), free has taken on a life of its own in the new economy. Even the prestigious and pricey New York Times offers its […]

Once just the purview of cheesy late-night infomercials (“buy now and get this beautiful set of six steak knives at no extra charge”), free has taken on a life of its own in the new economy. Even the prestigious and pricey New York Times offers its stories online — yes, for free.

One area that seems to be a “free-for-all zone” is advice. I’ve listened in on a dozen complimentary teleclasses over the past year — all free — and most have been worth exactly what I paid for them. The vast majority were a thinly veiled promotion of the speaker’s services, with less than 10 percent content. A few savvy souls actually provided 90 percent content as a way to show their stuff and entice people to sign up.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against giving people an appropriate taste of what you can do for them. I personally place a high priority on showing some sample value to my potential PR clients before asking them to become full-fledged patrons. I find that doing so helps my productivity by increasing my closure rate. But as with most things, if you’re a freelancer, or even if you work for a company, giving away too much for free — be it a product, service or advice — can backfire, and eat into your productivity and profit.

“In the name of ‘marketing,’ many businesspeople are providing way too much information for free,” says business coach Maria Marsala. “If you don’t value your services, no one else will,” says Marsala. If you find yourself walking that fine line between holding back on information and services that you rightfully should be paid for, yet fearing that you’re missing the marketing boat, consider this: If you contacted your doctor, lawyer or accountant for a professional consultation, would you expect to be charged? Would you be shocked if you went into Best Buy to pick up Season 6 of ’24’ and they asked if you wanted to pay by credit card or cash? The bottom line is that, in general, we believe it’s fair to pay for the expertise and time of the vendors we value and the products we want to possess.

Marsala says setting boundaries on just how much “free” you are going to give away is not always easy, especially when you are asked outright for free advice on how to design a web site, solve a software snafu or cope with a computer crash. To get around the dilemma, here are Marsala’s top ten phrases for turning “at no charge” into cash:

1. My charge for an initial consultation is “x.” If we turn out to be a good match, and you hire me, I’ll apply 1/2 of “x” toward your commitment.

2. Yes, I do work with clients on “name the issue.” Would you like to set up a consultation?

3. That will cost “x” per hour.

4. There’s a lot I can do for you that’s similar to the work I did for “xyz” client. Would you like to get together and build a marketing plan? I charge “x” for that service.

5. Are you looking to hire _____? Well, I’d love to talk to you about that; my fees are “x” per hour.

6. “Well, the answer to that question depends…” and then spend a few minutes explaining some of the options and considerations. “If I were to work with you on this project, here’s how we would do it and what it would cost…”

7. A complete answer to your question is going to take more than 15 minutes over the phone. Would you like me to send you a proposal on this?

8. I have really enjoyed talking with you and would like to help more. May I send you one of my brochures and a rate card?

9. Do you have a time line and/or budget in mind for solving this problem?

10. It’s not a good time for me to discuss this right this minute. Would you like to briefly discuss project guidelines and fees?

Remember, part of what you contribute to your clients, and what they value from you, is the knowledge and expertise you’ve built up over the years. Being paid properly is about honoring those skills. But hey, that’s just my free advice.

How much work do you do for free? Is it too much?

  1. Great topic and suggestions. This is a constant struggle for small business owners in the service business. I battled this for the first few years as a web developer. Setting boundaries really helps. You can get a reputation for being cheap if you are always giving deals. Once you get that rep, it’s extremely hard to be profitable. I have seen the amount of people looking for freebies spike over the last 18 months or so (not a surprise). A couple of these lines are going to be added to my repertoire. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks for your practical suggestions! The ‘free’ line has been moved so much in recent years, not only by the late night infomercials but also by internet marketers who give away more and more free info in order to upsell a product, and also in the music industry we see artists giving away whole albums online in the name of promotion. Now we also have Chris Anderson’s book “Free.”
    You make great suggestions to avoid people taking advantage in real-life conversations. What’s your take on how much info your website should give away for free? Thanks!

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  3. [...] Don’t shortchange yourself. WWD presents some smart advice on ten ways to present the topic of fees to your clients. (”10 Ways to Get Paid What You [...]

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