samples of juice

The Folly of a Free Consultation

In the past few days I’ve had occasion to check out more than one dozen websites created by advocates and care managers.

Of those sites, all but two offered a “Free Consultation.”

Say it ain’t so! Why? Because the great majority of these free consultation offers simply pave the road to failure.

I know… most advocates and care managers who are new to business think that a “free sample” will convince people to work with them, sign a contract, send them some money – all those things they know will be required for success. I understand why they think so! After all – when you go to the supermarket during lunchtime on a Saturday, you can be enticed by the latest and greatest… and then yes! You want to buy more!

Here’s why that won’t work for advocates and care managers:

There is an enormous difference between an unnecessary product purchase, and a potentially life-saving service offering. A gulp of orange juice means you’ve had the opportunity to taste it, like it, be satisfied by it, and you’d like some more. Thus – a free sample (an orange juice consultation?) tells you all you need to know to encourage you to purchase that orange juice.

But a free consultation is none of that. It’s not a “taste” of help. The caller can’t possibly “like it” – because nothing is settled, nothing is improved. They can’t be “satisfied” by it – because there’s still more to be done. And whether or not they would like some more, and will purchase some more, will have to be based on what they thought was a free consultation – and turned out instead to be either all the answers they needed, or none of the answers they needed. Neither outcome bodes well for a successful practice.

What is a free consultation supposed to be anyway?

on the phone

The “all good intentions” advocates and care managers who offer a free consultation do so in order to encourage someone to connect. That part of it is a great idea! More in a moment….

Unfortunately, during that free consultation (which is never nearly as short as the 15 minutes or 30 minutes promised), one of two things usually happens:

  • Either the caller hopes to get all the answers they need (simple, silver bullet-type) within that 15 or 30 minutes time span. But they don’t, leading to a bad taste in their mouths, and little chance they’ll call back to sign a contract. Or…
  • The caller explains the situation, and the oh-so-very-helpful advocate solves the problem for them. This often happens when the advocate responds using questions such as, “Have you tried this? or “Have you called this person?” or “Did you get a copy of this paperwork?” So – now the caller has a way to move forward him/herself. The chances of a future contract are very slim. (Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?)

If you were that caller, would you contract with the advocate? Probably not.

And further – for you – you have just spent a good chunk of your time with that person; time that you can’t / won’t get paid for.

So, instead of a “free consultation”, what can you do to encourage people to phone you?

The answer is simple: Manage their expectations.

It’s OK to spend a few minutes on the phone with them. You just need to be as clear as you can about what they can expect from you, making sure they realize you’re not going to solve their problems in 15 minutes, but that you are willing to listen to them so the two of you can determine whether to work together.

You might start by NOT calling it a “free consultation” – which sounds very official, like it’s headed for resolution. Instead why not just use something like “Let’s Talk!” or “Let’s Connect!” – or something that indicates you’re open to a conversation, but doesn’t sound so official and solutions-driven.

Then describe it a bit further. Something like “You’ll have an opportunity to describe your situation to me. I’ll be able to tell you whether I can help resolve it, and what that will involve. We’ll get to know each other a little, and determine whether we want to work together.”

Such a description sounds friendly and open. And just as important, it doesn’t invite the caller to leap to the wrong conclusions about what to expect. The call will accomplish exactly what you both expect – and there will be a much better chance the two of you will end up working together.

Now, inevitably this call always leads to that one question most advocates dread – and answer wrong. “How much do you charge?” There is a very simple way to handle this which almost always leads to a contract! But that explanation takes more detail. You can find the answer here.

All in all… save yourself the failure that too often comes from a “free consultation.” Managing expectations to engage more clearly is a much better path to success!


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1 thought on “The Folly of a Free Consultation”

  1. Just prior to reading this article, I decided to stop offering/advertising a free consultation. I do have an agreements of understanding that state the initial consultation is not a problem solving session and lay out the expectations, but not everyone schedules through my website where they would acknowledge this.
    Between secret shoppers calling to phish for my pricing as they conduct competitive market research, and others who would not be my ideal client for various reasons, I have decided to go a different route. Great article, and I totally agree after having been through the school of hard knocks.

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