Don’t run from those seeking free advice. Suggest they hire you instead.
Seasoned freelancers love to boast about how often we shut down people who ask us for free advice. But this is a lost opportunity. Rather than dodge or decline them, try suggesting they pay for your hard-won knowledge.
Sure, most advice seekers won’t have the desire or ability to pay. But some will. And you won’t know which ones unless you speak up. (“My rate for that is $xx an hour” often suffices.) Most will politely decline you. But some will take you up on the offer, perhaps not immediately, but several weeks or months down the line.
So, to which advice seekers should you propose being paid?
Potential clients who want freebies. There’s a sweet spot between sharing a few insights with possible customers to win their business and letting them milk you for free information. How much time you dedicate to this wooing phase depends on project size and the type of work you do. Writers, editors and career coaches, for example, often meet with potential clients for 15 to 30 free minutes to discuss how they’d work together. A marketing strategist angling for a multiweek gig, however, might spend a several hours putting together a proposal. The trick is to not give away ideas and work for which you’re normally paid. If a potential customer won’t show you the money, show yourself the door.
Current clients who want extras. Of course you want to accommodate your existing clients as best you can. If they have a quick question that’s outside the scope of your present project, by all means answer it. But if they want to spend a couple hours brainstorming future project ideas or want help retooling some aspect of their creative process, that’ll cost them extra. Some clients forget that freelancers aren’t salaried. It’s up to us to remind them that we can’t spend half an unpaid day helping them.
Creatives and startups seeking handouts. Yes, you once were a fledgling solo worker in need of a helping hand, too. But if you agreed to review the business plans, marketing strategies, beta products and book proposals of every acquaintance who asked, you wouldn’t have any time left to make rent. Better to budget for the number of volunteer hours you can devote to people and projects you believe in each quarter. Doing so makes it easier to request payment from the rest.
Brain-picking strangers. There’s a big difference between dashing off a brief email reply and agreeing to meet someone you barely know for coffee so they can pepper you with questions for an unpaid hour. Don’t be afraid to tell these people it will cost them. I’ve found some of my best consulting clients this way.
I’m not suggesting you charge your mother or your best friend for advice. Nor am I suggesting you charge colleagues with whom you regularly swap professional tips. But there’s an entire swath of friends of friends, colleagues of colleagues, and strangers on social media who would love nothing more than to monopolize your time. There’s no law that says you have to let them.