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Learn to say “no” when being asked to work for free.

When starting out as a coach or consultant it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that offering a free 1:1 client call with your programs or services helps you build a thriving practice fast. But, nothing could be further from the truth!

In fact, any amount of time spent answering questions and giving professional advice for free hurts your business and reputation in three very important ways.

1. People don’t value things they get for free.

(And the same is true when you discount your services on request without receiving an equivalent or greater form of consideration in exchange for doing so.)

Yes, it can be challenging to resist a plea for a quick call or lunch meeting when “helpful” and “supportive” are character traits you value and pride yourself in having. However, for your work to have the positive impact for clients you both desire, they must be physically and emotionally invested in it to have the best chance of achieving their desired outcome.

Giving you money in exchange for your time and professional services is a sign they respect themselves (and you) enough to commit to spending hard-earned dollars for the benefit of access to your time and attention in pursuit of their own agendas. This creates a completely different mindset for them and you – a mental shift needed for everyone to win.

That isn’t to say you won’t have or make free resources available to your target audience and prospects. Of course you will do that through your websites, promotional activities, and by publishing and distributing content through means that establish your credibility as an expert and increase your visibility as an authority in your field.

But this is work created on your own terms and, if you’ve done your job well, it attracts potential new clients and helps them make a buying decision. When you offer a “free session” hoping to sign them up later, what you are really saying is you don’t believe in yourself and what you’re selling enough to get paid from that very first call. This is not the right message to send.

2. If you don’t respect your own time, nobody else will.

Time is a limited resource – the most valuable resource you own and control. And what really happens when you offer free coaching or consulting sessions is those who are most attracted to your offer and advice are the people who don’t have the money to pay for it.

Clearly, booking these “try before you buy” calls is not going to be the best use of your time. You will never be able to get that time back regardless of how well-intended you were in making such an offer. You can, however, still use these initial calls to build your practice. But the way to do it without hurting yourself and your business is to:

  • limit the number of appointments available,
  • pre-qualify those who have access to them,
  • strictly limit the time available for each call,
  • pre-define what can be discussed in the call, and
  • charge a non-refundable fee* for the appointment in your calendar.

*You can apply this fee to the purchase price of services callers sign up for, if desired.

3. You diminish your worth and the value of what you sell.

When you are best known for giving away your professional services and expertise for free, you make it much harder for yourself to build a growing, stable practice filled with paying clients. There’s no longer any incentive or prestige in paying you and your perceived value sinks faster than a stone. Once lost, it becomes exponentially difficult to re-establish your worth as a credible leading expert in the field.

It’s not reasonable to expect people to respect you if you don’t first respect and believe in yourself. More importantly, you are running a business, not a drop-in clinic. You have a responsibility, both to yourself and to your paying clients, to create profitable products and services from which you can sustain reliable income.

You can’t grow your business or reputation by giving away your expertise and professional services for free on test drives. Make wise choices about how you spend your time. As hard as it can be, you simply must learn how to say “no” when being asked to work for free.

More next time. Until then, remember to LOVE YOUR WORK, whatever it may be.

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