The more I help a potential client, the more I am paying them to not be my client.
It was a client who told me when I first began my business and tried to help them at my expense: don’t do it.
This both stunned and hurt me. It was and is against my nature not to help. I wanted to help a new business owner, especially when I was in their shoes just weeks or months before and no one wanted to help me. I figured it would be reciprocated, appreciated, and word-of-mouth would spread that my company was a company they wanted to be a client of.
Guess who was wrong?
Later, it clicked: I am helping a client, not a friend. The more I help a potential client, the more I am paying them to not be my client. How does this work?
Just like with a poisonous friendship, the more one party helps, the more the other takes, and does not give back. The more you help a (potential) client for free, the less they value you as a business – and you are less likely to gain them as a client. The old saying “Why buy a cow when the milk is free?” fits perfectly. There is nothing wrong with helping with free advice occasionally. There is everything wrong if you plan on helping a client at your own expense in the hopes of acquiring them as a client. Word-of-mouth will spread, and you will get potential clients who will ask you why you helped the first one, and not them for free. How do you plan on answering that?
Your work and time is worth money.
When you go to a potential client, establish ground rules. Act like an attorney in this case: the first consultation is free. Regardless if they take you as their vendor, they will be charged for questions that take longer than several minutes to respond to, including phone calls. No phone calls after a certain time, assuming it is not an emergency. (“Just to talk” does not count as an emergency.)
You can be as harsh or as lenient as you want and see fit. Remember, though: the more you give your services away for free, the more free services will be expected, not just from the current client but from others.
Your work is worth money. Value yourself and your company as much.