For paid consultants, ideas and information are the product. Many consultants cringe at people who offer free advice on their websites or blogs—shouldn’t you be getting paid for that?
But to succeed in today’s marketplace, consultants must build their personal brands online with original content and the social proof of a loyal following. Social proof demonstrates credibility, and giving a taste of advice—a “free sample”—can turn browsing readers into paying clients.
Why Give Advice for Free?
In addition to helping people who can’t afford to pay for your consulting services, giving away the right kind of advice online for free can actually help convert prospects into paying clients.
On my blog and in my newsletter, I publish answers to the questions people have sent me for all my readers to see. I answer readers’ questions in such a way that they gain a new perspective from which to think about their problem, but I don’t give away the specific problem-solving tactics I get paid to deliver. It’s the first step in the right direction, and if they want more specific advice, they have to buy something or sign up with us.
Answering questions on your website or blog is good for several reasons:
1. Verification: Prospective clients can read your answers to people’s questions and see for themselves that you are a good source of expert advice and information.
2. Social Proof: Before the Internet, social proof of expertise could only be quantified by the number of books you sold or how many people attended your summit. Now, anyone can see how many Twitter followers you have and how many readers comment on a blog post. By publishing answers to readers’ questions, potential clients will see that other people value your ideas and view you as an expert in your field.
3. Make the Sale: If you can give the right kind of advice away for free, prospective clients reading your site (or asking for the advice) will get just enough information to provoke thought while bringing them back for more specific tactics.
4. Word of Mouth: My philosophy is, “How can I help people?” Maybe I can’t help them, but I know someone who can. Always be honest and try to leave people with a good impression. If you treat people with kindness, they will almost always go back where they came from and speak well of you.
How to Spot a Freeloader
My mentor used to say “they’ll pick your brain until there is nothing left.” And there is certainly a difference between helping someone and helping someone help themself. Of course, there are venues where giving away advice is appropriate — such as during a Q&A session during a teleseminar or summit — but generally, you learn to judge people’s motives from experience to find out whether they are sincerely seeking counsel or if they are just trying to get something for nothing.
If someone asks me for advice, I’ll usually redirect the conversation to find out why they are asking me the question and what their intentions are, which allows me to set appropriate boundaries. What are they really hoping to gain, and is there a way I can help them without devaluing my business? Then, I can usually take them down the road of a sales conversation to see how we can work together in the future.
Turning Free Advice into Conversions
The best way to begin building social proof around your consulting business is a blog. Pick a general topic related to your expertise and answer questions around that topic. Don’t publish redundant advice — keep the content fresh, original, and engaging. We probably get a few hundred questions each week, and we try to pick ones we’ve never published before. Promote your posts on social media, network online with readers, and build a following. Then once people are regularly approaching you for advice, you can steer the conversation towards a sale.
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