How to avoid providing your services and advice for free to a prospect

One of the problems that many executive coaches face is how to avoid giving free but valuable advice to a prospect.

Because most people don’t want to hire a professional, many prospects are pretty savvy at asking questions to get “free consulting” before making a hiring decision. At the same time, because we like to show our expertise, some of us have a tendency to provide valuable advice for free — even enough so that a prospect doesn’t have to hire us at all!

Here is what I do when I sense that a prospect values my advice, keeps asking me questions to help his or her business, and yet won’t move forward to work with me on a fee basis:

“I really appreciate these questions, but I’m sensing that we are moving into an actual engagement, and that right now I’m giving away my services for free. Could I suggest that we set up a formal coaching engagement? That way, I can give you all the advice you need without worrying about whether you are going to hire me or not.”

Most serious prospects will agree at this point. However, the above approach also separates out those prospects who really only want free advice. If the prospect says something to the effect of, “Well, of course I intend to hire you, but I just have a few more questions…” then you know that you might not have a serious prospect — especially if his questions are about what you know or problem solving in nature and not about the scope of an engagement.

At that point, I say, “Well, those are exactly the issues we will cover during a coaching relationship. I’ve given you a good sense of how I work, and answered many of your questions so far. At this point, I really feel like you are getting my services for free. I can’t answer any more questions like this without an agreement in place.”

Of course, I happily answer questions about scope, my general approach, and the results I can achieve. But I don’t do free work.

Last week I utilized the above approach with a prospect who had called me again and again with marketing questions. Now the calls have stopped and I know he wasn’t serious about hiring me. So I can move onto other things and not remain under the illusion that if I just answer another question I’ll get the assignment. This person had no intention of engaging my services.

Because most executive coaches are smart and highly skilled, we tend to enjoy showing what we know. Unfortunately, this tendency can cost us time and money, and cause us to focus on prospects who will never hire us.

Don’t give your services away for free!

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