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[epub] Re: Free to Fee [was Re: Whether it is every ok to add subs without permission
At 09:54 AM 1/11/2005, Christopher Knight wrote:

I'd like to hear how other experts handle converting all of the freebie question asking that goes on without offending these folks and without giving dozens of hours a week of free consulting.

The approach we've taken at my company - we provide email newsletter management and related services - is a bit of a mind shift one. It's the same one I personally use.

We provide a good deal of free "advice" to our hosted clients. But even in those cases, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Since these are already clients paying money, this is what we use as a starting point. If what they are asking requires (a) looking up a response or (b) something that will require some thought in order to explain AND (c) is not directly related to the use of the service they are paying for, we will suggest an email or phone consult. We've always offered an add-on support package that is $79 a year and allows up to 5 emails a month. This ends up being a LOT more reasonable than paying a la carte. Fortunately in the (almost) 7 years we've been doing this, we haven't had any clients abuse it.

The mind shift part of it is this: our priority is our paying clients. We are in business to SERVE these people. If we dedicate resources to those not paying, it is doing a disservice to those that do pay. Basically, the last thing you want to do is s**w a customer and we don't. Ever.

Having this as a starting point, I use this in personal emails I receive from clients and non-clients. If it's something a client already paying us for other service would need to pay for, then I'd be straightforward and say that. I also refer them to a private, paid subscription roundtable newsletter where I answer questions from subscribers and provide tips. For those that are price-sensitive, this ends up being less expensive than providing them with personal consulting.

Where we do make exceptions are those with which we have a non-monetary relationship with that brings other compensation or where it can. You know, the whole thing about giving BEFORE you receive applies. Almost all of our business comes from referrals and about half of these referrals are not personally customers, but people we've built relationships with over time. For example, we have gotten a lot of referrals from ad agencies, developers and web page design shops because of this. Even then, unless actual referral business has been generated that warrants it, we DO draw the line on free consulting. Over the past couple of years, we've been cutting back on this type of free consulting. Now we stick with it to subjects directly related to our services and consider it prospecting rather than consulting.

If you're worried about losing business by cutting off free advice, consider the perception you are giving people. If you are a professional, show it! It's rare that a doctor, lawyer or accountant will give a free consultation where a problem will be remedied. When it comes to Internet-based professional services, it really shouldn't be any different.

Finally, I suggest preparing an FAQ for the 'simple' stuff that you get asked repeatedly. Provide brief answers in the FAQ and refer them to paid materials or services if they need more in-depth assistance.

Sharon Tucci

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