When Free Advice Is Bad For Business

Are you filling up your world with people who are never going to pay you and keep asking to pick your brain? If so, it's time to set...

Photo: Stacey Harris, Social Media Strategist; Source: Courtesy Photo

Sometimes… free advice is bad for business. Now, I want to preface this by saying I’m all about providing value—even for free.

That’s why I’ve created my podcast and broadcasted nearly 400 episodes. It is why I publish guest posts, webinars, and more; I’m all about making it simple and giving people what they need. However, free advice can detrimental to your business.

When you’re a business coach, and your hairstylist is asking for business advice (or you are a graphic designer, and your landscaper wants logo advice) it’s okay for you to say, “No.”

When you provide a service make sure you’re providing the service, nothing more, nothing less. You’re certainly not asking the customer for free advice. 

This has happened to me a lot recently.


Free business advice isn’t free

We moved to Southern California recently. I’ve been booking a lot of consults to keep my hair pink, find a new trainer, massage therapist, nail tech, lash person, etc. I need all of these things to look like me. Inevitably the “So, what do you do?” conversation comes up. Inevitably the conversation rolls into: “Did you hear about this? What do I do about that? How could I…? What do you suggest?”


Free business advice
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If boundaries are not laid out, it quickly turns into a free consult for the rest of my appointment, which is sometimes an hour. To book an hour (one-on-one) with me is currently $297. For me, this is counter-productive to my business.

So how should you respond?

Give them a resource. For example, if someone texts me and says, “Hey, how do I do X?” I go, “You know, this is the exact kind of questions I answer inside of Hit the Mic Backstage. You should check that out.” That’s the end of the conversation.


‘Can I pick your brain?’ boundaries

When people ask for free advice, give them a resource. You have a ton of content on your website and social media profiles. You have resources that may answer a specific question. Use your readily available offerings to establish boundaries.


As entrepreneurs we are responsible for our boundaries. We are responsible for establishing and enforcing them; not the person trying to test them.


This happens to all kinds of people whose value is their expertise. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our information has a market and financial value. We can forget that, because if you’re anything like me, sometimes you think just because you know it, that means everybody knows it. “Because heck, I’m not that smart, so everybody probably knows this stuff!”


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Well, guess what? Everybody doesn’t. Not because they’re stupid, and not because you’re extra smart, but because we all have different areas of expertise. Don’t let that keep you from making money in your business.

When we don’t establish boundaries; when we don’t say, “Here’s how you can get that information,” we undervalue our product, because we are our product. We undervalue the investment that our paying customers make in us. We’re also filling up our world with a whole lot of people who are never going to pay us and keep asking questions. So, set the boundaries.


The right way to offer ‘free’ advice

Now, I’m not saying stop creating content, engaging on social media or stop answering questions. That’s great. It helps lots of people and when done correctly, these activities can attract leads and new business.

It’s a great way to showcase your value and knowledge. However, do it where it does the most good and has the biggest impact. Not in a one to one text conversation, a quick Facebook message, an email, or in an appointment sitting in somebody else’s chair while you’re paying them.


This article has been edited and condensed.

The Stacey Harris is a social media strategist and trainer helping entrepreneurs build communities online.
 Stacey also helps entrepreneurs stay up to date on social media with her podcast Hit the Mic with The Stacey Harris. Connect with @thestaceyharris
on on Twitter.



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