There is a phase in the acquisition of a new client that usually requires a freelancer or even a business to spend a lot of time pitching. This pitch work often consists of creative spec work (for free – in the hope that when you win their business, you will talk about payment). Unfortunately you may give away a lot more than you intend to.
If you don’t want to push potential clients away, these are polite ways you can respond to them when they make the first contact. Or better still how to turn the inquiry into a sale.
These response were originally shared on Founder Dating by advisors and entrepreneurs in response to the question: What are some polite ways to let potential clients know you don’t work for free?
1. First, I would advise you to be very clear about what your value and tasks are.
Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Then, once they understand your value proposition tell them the truth about pricing without spin – straight-up truth.
If you decide to provide a sample of your work for free, then tell the prospect what you are doing. If they do not recognize your value and pay you, then walk away on great terms – burn no bridges. Every prospect you talk to will talk about you to others and statistically the communication chain will move to about 64 additional people.
Any prospect who wants free work is not worth having. Lastly, do not be delusional that a prospect will recognize your free work by giving you profitable work in the future. Over my 40 years of business, I (and my salespeople on their “backlog” report) wasted so much time and money trying to get new business by creating free work it’s unbelievably embarrassing. — David Still, Advisor
2. It’s all about setting proper expectations upfront.
It’s all about setting proper expectations upfront. In sales, we call it a pre-close. If your client doesn’t understand the boundaries before the conversation starts, they will have their own assumptions about what information should be free and what should be paid.
Otherwise, the conversation can get awkward when they ask a question that requires another step in the relationship. No one likes surprises. To them, it may even feel manipulative because they expected one thing and were blind sighted by another.
For instance, before you begin discussions, explain how the consultation works, the purpose of it, what the next steps are, and what advice they can expect from the consultation vs. what advice they should expect from a paid relationship.
Typically, a consultation should resemble an interview, where you’re asking them questions to see if you can help, and they’re asking you questions to see if you’re qualified.You may want to consider a paid consultation model if people are looking to get information but not ready for a full relationship.
Apply the cost of the consultation toward a future agreement if you want, and outline what kind of answers they can expect to get from a paid consultation and what they will get from the full program. Again, it’s all about expectations.
No one likes to get on a call expecting something for free and then told they have to pay for it half way through the conversation. It’s your job as the salesperson to communicate that upfront. — Jessica Magoch, Entrepreneur
3. You should add the fees covering these consultation services in the proposal.
When they ask a question you are not ready to answer you can simply say that will all be covered in our proposal but if you just have questions you want answered we can work something out on a fee basis.
You could say something like; “Those are all great questions which will be covered in our complete analysis of your current needs. If you’d like I can send over an agreement that outlines our services and we can get started right away.”
Or you could simply say if you ‘re not ready to retain our services or partner with us immediately we can simply answer your questions on a fee basis; we charge $100.00 an hour with a 4-hour minimum.
Would you like to schedule something now? Or you can flip it and say that’s our standard rate but since we’re still getting to know each other if you’d like to suggest what you think is fair we’re certainly willing to consider anything reasonable.
Just be prepared to politely say no. Like; that won’t fairly compensate us for our time and so we’ll have to pass, but we really appreciate your interest and the opportunity to see if there was a fit between our two companies.
You want them to know that you know what you’re worth and that you have thought through and put a value on your time. You do have to be reasonable of course unless, as others have said, your objective is to kill the relationship. — Steve Scott, Entrepreneur