Setting Limits

How do you set limits on “Free”?

I teach communication skills.  I help entrepreneurs deal with leadership challenges.  I find it hard to effectively manage the gap between free advice and paid consulting.

“Would you listen to my speech?”

or “Can we meet for a coffee, I have an important meeting coming up?”

I find it hard to do the “American Lawyer” mode – bring a clock and start timing the conversation as soon as I talk about communications.

I like the little conversations, but I am conflicted about how to set some limits.

How do you set limits on your service?

Are you a coach – how do you distinguish between “free advice to friends” and “professional services”?  How do you have the conversation when someone assumes that they should get your help for free (and you’re not so sure)?

…And The Overly Complicated Sales Cycle

The other area that I have challenges is keeping the sales process under control.

I have a Swiss client that calls me, says they need a specific date, signs the contract and pays.  Minimal admin.  Zero hassle.

I had a Spanish client that asked me to come back and explain my services 11 times before signing the contract.  I would not have done the 2nd meeting if I had known that there were 9 more to come.

4 responses to “Setting Limits”

  1. Unfortunately, the notion that information should be free seems to become stronger every year. But for many of us, information/expertise IS our livelihood. I wouldn’t ask my doctor or lawyer for free consultations, but it seems that EVERYONE wants White Bull services… for free. Quite a challenge!

    1. Yep. FC Barca can charge €99 for a polyester shirt, but you get pushback on a €99 access to people who could make your entrepreneurial dream a reality…

      I think one challenge is that there is so much free information, free conferences, free “advice” that the perceived price point is zero… the question is how to brand a higher quality level of access or customization…

  2. I wrestle with these same issues.

    I think you can ask folks who want a “free consultation” to demonstrate that they have given the conversation some thought by asking for a short write-up (e.g. one to two page briefing on situation and courses of action they are considering. I have found it’s still helpful to hear the in their own words but the act of writing it down normally helps them to focus.

    Another strategy is to schedule two or three “standing meetings” that are either meals or coffee breaks a month. Allow between 6 and 12 to attend. This was one of the reasons I started the Bootstrapper Breakfasts, it was valuable to take part in a larger conversation about a bootstrapping with 8-16 entrepreneurs. They could offer each other perspective that often taught me something new.

    The free advice for friends is another tricky boundary to manage in both directions. When I am asking for a favor I try and distinguish between something that I think is small and one off and something where I want a more considered opinion. In the latter case I will offer to pay for one or two or four hours of their time so that it’s clear that I understand I am asking not just for perspective but advice. Perhaps going the other way you can set some limits and say for example: “happy to spend 20 minutes on the phone and walk around the issues with you.”

    On the sales cycle side I think it helps to have a written process and set a “marketing budget” so that after three or four conversations if you feel you have taken the time to explore their situation and demonstrated a clear understanding of the challenges they are facing you put a proposal in front of them. It can contain options for scoping or additional discovery sessions or working sessions but if you make your living by sell your expertise–as you and I do–you can’t give away more than about 40% of your time (assuming you take 20% of your time to improve and have about 40% billable). Your model may have a different percentage breakdown (mine is inspired by Gerald Weinberg’s “Secrets of Consulting”) but you should have a model that you measure yourself against.

    My $.02 your mileage may vary. I really enjoy your blog and would be happy to compare notes.

    1. Great thoughts.

      The sales cycle thing is an important one. I understand the need to help an organisation get the facts and build trust. In the case I mention, I was assuming that each meeting would be the last. I was wrong. I would never have said yes to the 11 separate meetings for a small proposal, but they came in drip by drip… and the marginal decision in each case was yes. I have gotten better at expectations management, but still have situations where I know that I have failed to be clear.

      I like the idea of group consultations… one to one people can ask some very basic but specific questions, the group pushes people to ask more interesting questions. I push people to use open forums on my courses rather than email me – I know that the fact that the dialogue is semi-public makes it more useful for me and for others.

      Your 2 cents gladly appreciated.

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: