The Secrets to Consulting Success

I’m a social media marketing consultant and I give away a lot of free stuff, from content to advice on blogs, forums, groups, social networks, in-person networking events, and so on. Recently I was asked by a new colleague of mine, “How do you make any money when you give away everything for free?” I said, “Do you mean like talking to you right now?” And she said, “Yes.”

The conversation made me smile. It made me smile because I knew she was getting value out of our conversation and that she had found my content and services to be valuable. But she was not a client, nor a potential client. She was a colleague on an email list that had a question in which  I had answered. Sometimes, I think if other consultants helped each other out rather than worry about the competition and stealing business, then it would be a better more productive place to live and work. As it turns out, she’s in PR. I know a little bit about PR, but not nearly as much as I know about social media marketing so when she offered to pay me something, I declined and told her I hope she’ll be available when I have  PR question.

How does it benefit me to to give free advice?

In a nutshell, it gets me clients because I establish my expertise every time. In the above example, she may not be a potential client, but she works with companies who may need my help in the future.  And even if I never call on her for PR help, I made a new friendly connection who will hopefully refer my name when someone asks her if she knows a social media consultant.

How do I decide what to give away for free and what to charge for?

I have a basic rule of thumb which is, if it takes me less than 15 minutes, I’m going to give it to you for free.  If it takes me longer, I make sure up front that I am going to get paid for my time.

Do I break the 15 minute rule? And if so how does it benefit me?

Yes, on occasion I do break the rule. Sometimes my phone conversations turn into 30 minute phone conversations, but in the end, I just gained a new contact/referral/potential client/brand amplifier. So it’s totally worth it.

How do I get my clients if I give so much content away for free?

It’s true, I do give a lot of content away for free through blogging and social networks. However, in the end, I demonstrate my expertise, and by doing so I gain new clients through referrals or directly through a social network. For example, last quarter I gained a social media teaching job at a college in my home city. They reached out to me because someone saw my LinkedIn status updates on social media every time they logged into LinkedIn (which wasn’t often for them, but each time they did they saw my updates because I do them almost daily). This turned out to be a great experience for me, the students and for the school.

In the end, giving something away for free can go a long way. Have you tried it and has it worked for you? Will you try it now?

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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.