How to avoid giving away free advice

Dear Niche Doctor,

After many years in the corporate world, I opened a consulting firm and hope you can help with a problem that I can’t seem to get on top of. The problem is that many of my friends don’t seem to realize they should be paying me for my information and that I can’t afford to keep giving it out for nothing.

Any advice?

Dr. Linda FalkensteinWelcome to the number one problem consultants (both ‘newbies’ and veterans) experience. I call it the “free advice” syndrome. However, the problem is not as you describe; that is, your friends and those who try to bleed you for information aren’t the problem. The problem is your mouth, and the answer is simple: shut it. Once you’ve done that, take a deep breath and consider telling your friends, “You know, that is a bigger issue than I feel comfortable taking on here with a cocktail in my hand and so much noise in the background. To really deal with it, I suggest you call me Monday morning when I have my professional calendar and let’s make an appointment.”

The above comment is how you can make it clear that you consider yourself a professional and that you plan to get paid for your advice. Chances are your friends will breathe a sigh of relief because you’ve alerted them that you can help fix the problem.

The point is, it’s up to you to give the signal. If you don’t, well, you’ve already seen what happens.

In case you’re still having trouble with this concept, think about what happens when you go to the grocery store. You gather your merchandise and walk to the cashier. If you collect your merchandise and walk out the door without visiting the cash register, you know what happens and it isn’t pretty. The critical thing to remember is that instead of tangible goods, your own merchandise is information, and it’s valuable.

Here’s one last way to think about it. Visualize an informal cocktail party conversation with your friendly dentist. You tell him/her that you’ve been suffering from a really bad toothache. Your dentist friend tells you to open your mouth right then and there and begins to pull your tooth. Ludicrous! Of course, the image is preposterous. So, the next time you are tempted to give away free advice, just call up the picture of your friendly dentist doing an extraction over martinis and canapés. If nothing else, it should cause you to pipe down long enough to make a getaway and protect yourself from dishing out even more free advice.

Dear Niche Doctor,

I’ve recently opened a pet and family photography studio and am struggling to identify the best ways to make myself known so that I can build a solid customer base. Although competition is stiff, there are definitely some photographers who have built themselves very lucrative and loyal followings. Like most small business owners, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing and would appreciate any ideas you have that won’t cost a lot and at the same time will jumpstart my business.

Thank you!

Do you have a professional role model? If not, get one!

Along the way, we all collect role models. Not all of them are good ones, and most are accidental. In this case, I’m talking about identifying an intentional role model – someone who has reached the level of success you can see yourself achieving. Start unpacking the strategies that this person (or business) used to get where he/she is today. Forget trying to reinvent wheels.

When we begin to implement strategies that have already proven successful, we can go from struggling to get business to struggling to manage the deluge of new customers. That, however, is an enjoyable problem to have.

Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is a business consultant and author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. To contact her with questions or comments, email or call 503.781.0966. Please note that the Vancouver Business Journal and Dr. Niche reserve the right to publish your letter or an edited version in all print and electronic media.

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