Jo Uppalnite, CEO of Cocoa Roasters, calls you in search of advice because she’s mired in a challenge. Jo’s smart to call you because: 1) your consulting firm specializes in Jo’s issue; 2) you’ve spent your consulting career developing skills in this area; and, 3) she’s too amped up on roasted cocoa to make decisions without supervision.
While Jo’s problem perplexes her, your consulting firm has untied her tangle many times at many clients. You could point her in the right direction during your short chat.
You run a consulting firm, and isn’t being paid for your consulting firm’s specialized knowledge and capabilities the point of your years of effort?
How much free consulting advice is fair to give away to Jo, and where should you draw the line?
Dancing around your head is the old story of the expert mechanic who restarted a production line in 30 seconds by twisting a particular bolt. His bill: $5 for labor; $4,995 for knowing which bolt to turn.
You know which bolt Jo needs to turn. The mere fact that you could solve Jo’s problem in half an hour shouldn’t matter. Yet, somehow, you know it does matter.
Your conundrum may feel particularly vexing if your consulting firm (wisely) bases your fees on value rather than labor time.
Actually, though, this dilemma isn’t much tougher than tasting the difference between dark-roasted Ecuadorian cocoa beans and lightly roasted tennis balls.
There are generally two types of problems: wrinkles your consulting firm can smooth in one or two, short conversations, and rocky ruins that require your consulting firm’s help and intervention over time.
Not many problems demand the middle ground of three or four, short chats.
Jo has the first type of problem. A wrinkle. Give her good advice and send her on her way.
The fact is, if you can tell a consulting prospect which bolt to twist and he can just scamper off and rotate it himself, you’re not in the running for a high-ticket consulting gig.
As a rule of thumb, a problem that can be solved in one, reasonably short conversation, is a freebie. Give that away.
Never falsely overstate the magnitude of a prospect’s challenge so that you can win a consulting project or inflate an engagement.
Fortunately, consulting prospects who call you with wrinkles often confront the chasm between knowing the solution and confidently implementing it.
That’s when you hear, “Sure, turning that bolt makes sense, but I can’t wield a wrench. What would it cost to have you come in and do it?” Now, you’re off to the races on a consulting project.
And, of course, the next time Jo’s in a cocoa pickle, resolving her predicament may require investigation, diagnosis and/or extensive input. That’s your opportunity to secure a lucrative consulting engagement.
When someone calls you with a problem, how much advice do you give away for free?
Text and images are © 2021 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.