Spending too much time on non-chargeable work. We’ve all had it happen, or at least I know I have many times in the early days. People come to you asking for a “quick favour” or can I “pick your brains” on something. Then the email from them comes through with a long list of questions, at which your heart sinks.
90% of business support professionals that I come across tend to meet with most or all people that approach their business without any pre-qualification as to whether they are a potential client or not. Their first response is to say let’s get a meeting in the diary or meet for coffee because they are just so excited to have a ‘lead’.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t offer FREE consultations if that is important for you, but what I am saying is that you should be pre-qualifying who you are doing this for more. If there is little or no likelihood that the connections can add any ‘value’ for your business, then you need to question whether that is the best use of your time. Time is money, after all, and any time spent on FREE consulting is less time that you could be spending on chargeable work from which your revenue is derived. The opportunity cost for FREE consultations can be huge in a typical business.
For example, to demonstrate the opportunity cost, say you spend 1 hour preparing for, 1 hour travelling to, 1 hour during, and 1 hour travelling back from the meeting (which is not an uncommon occurrence in many businesses) – that’s four hours of your time taken up for that FREE consultation. If your hourly charge rate is, say, £100 then the cost of the ‘FREE’ consultation to you would be £400.
That’s revenue you could have been earning during that time. Of course if that FREE consultation leads to a four or five figure piece of work then that’s an acceptable return on investment. The key difference is to be stacking the cards in your favour by ‘qualifying’ the conversations you have to remove some of the risk, so that the conversations you do have are more likely to lead to more client wins.
Remember also that with FREE consultations, no financial commitment is being made by the prospect. They have no vested interest or skin in the game. I am a big proponent of the school of thought that people value things more when they pay something, however small, towards it. It shows that they are committed, and this can be used as a pre-qualifier in its own right. Consider that if somebody is not prepared to pay a relatively small amount to get access to your expertise – you need to ask whether they will commit to the fees associated with a bigger piece of work from you.