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Free advice: how much is too much?

The difficult part for the adviser is knowing when to a stop with the free part – without offending the client!

With advisory services firms, there is always the presumption that there will be some free advice as an element of any transaction. And yet, in the world of retail, very few consumers would expect a trial run of a product.

As an adviser, I have had my brains picked countless times, ending up with a happy client (and a fee). But there are just as many times when the advice given has been taken, used and no fee has been involved.

It’s not the amount of time spent giving the advice (which could be as little as a few hours or even a few minutes) that carries the price tag – it’s rather the 25 years of experience that allows the adviser to know the answer to an issue.

So even charging for that can be a difficult assessment.

In the current economy, cost-conscious consumers are keen to seek the best value (or even free) advice. But when it is given a little too freely, the adviser ends up with nothing on his fictional shelves to sell – and without products you can’t even attempt to make the sale.

The first thing, then, is to have clear boundaries, making sure both the client and adviser understand the value of what is being imparted and that only a certain amount will be on the “free shelf”.

The second is not to forget that what you sell is time, and hopefully experience, and that is how your business operates.

This way neither party should feel they are being abused.

Over the many years of selling this intangible product, I have developed a sense for what is acceptable to give away – what has real value to the client but is just enough that they are left wanting more. This has come from experience, and also confidence in my skills, but you can learn these principles.

My advice is to do so without the arrogance that can sometimes be attached to this (and would certainly dilute your position in terms of an ability to turn an opportunity into a client).

Finally, once you have engaged your client, don’t risk loosing them by charging by the minute. Continue to give added value and the client will remain loyal.

Clients are hard won – and winning them in the first place expensive – so look after them especially hard when you are engaged and they will become your best sales team.

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