As a marketing coach, I get asked that question all the time. In order to answer it for you, we need to split the kind of expert or specialist advice you can offer, into one of the two following categories:
General advice – Which is designed to address common questions or challenges. For example; “Are mail shots as effective as they used to be?”
Specific advice – Which is designed to address someone’s particular situation. For example; “I have a 3 partner law firm and need to attract more local, commercial clients. What should we invest our marketing budget on?”
Giving general advice away for free
This is what I do, here on the blog. In my case, I write about general areas of marketing and business development, which I hope will be of value and interest to as many small to medium-sized business owners as possible. Giving general advice in this way, is known as content marketing. This gives prospective clients a chance to see my approach to marketing and to get to know me a little. It also helps me reach more people with my work, as many of the people who find something they find really useful here, share it with their friends and social networks. It works for my readers and it works for me.
However, before you decide to become a distributor of free information, you need to factor in the cost of writing and delivering it to your marketplace. I spend a huge amount of my time on this blog and have paid out on things like server hire, programmers and designers. The information on sites like this is only free for the reader, not the provider; so consider the time and financial costs before you proceed – BUT DO PROCEED!
I highly recommend offering general advice for free, as a content marketing tool. This blog and it’s Twitter account, has generated the majority of my fee income over the past 12 months and massively increased my name awareness within my target market.
Giving specific advice away for free
This is a lot trickier, because of the enormous amount of risk attached. So, although giving specific advice to people on their unique problems can be a way to generate new clients, you need to be cautious before adopting it as a business development option.
Let’s look at it from a time management perspective. You only have so many hours in a day and it can be enormously time consuming to plough through all the details of someone’s problems, in order to give them the answers and instruction they need.
For example: In a quarter of the time it takes me to give free, specific advice to just 1 person, I can write a blog post, which will be seen by thousands of people that day!
The bottom line
If you run a busy enterprise and you value your time, the best way to market your services via free advice, is to focus on helping as many people as possible; as I do here. Yes, if someone contacts you with a specific problem and you believe that by showing them a little of what you can do, that they will pay you to provide the help they need – do it!
However, we can’t expect the marketplace to place a monetary value on our expertise or time, if we don’t!