7 Signs You’re Being Hit Up For A Consulting Freebie

If there’s one thing in consulting that I dislike it’s encountering an expectation by potential (and past) clients that I’m available to freely answer incoming phone and email calls that ask for technical advice on consulting matters they’ve determined are “quick” questions – aka freebies.

I’m not opposed to providing anyone with enough information to research an issue on their own — with absolutely no cost.

I’m opposed to any inquiry that expect me to resolve a technical problem at no cost. Especially when nearly all these inquiries are from users who’ve previously made a decision to forego any  type of support plan.

I think I’ll drop my car insurance. The next time I’m in an accident I’ll just call and have them renew it and cover the claim if full, quickly and with the highest priority…. Sadly that’s the logic that seems to permeate some clients seeking ERP consulting support.

Determining when to charge and when to give information for free is a difficult task for consultants. On the one hand you can’t spend all your time providing free advice to companies with quick questions. And you also don’t want to leave the impression that clients should not call with a fee based request.

Sadly what usually ends up happening is I provide the answer – for free – on the basis of “it’s just quicker to answer than to argue about why there’s going to be a charge”.

With that in mind I have these seven opening lines that non-clients almost always use. When I hear them I cringe because it tips me off that a request for a freebie is right around the corner:

1. Client who dropped maintenance years ago calls and uses any of these words:
– Hey quick question
– I’m wondering
– Any way
– Can you
– I’m thinking of renewing but first

2. Overly prepared prospect has all the detailed questions to ask during the first phone call

3. “Why do I need to pay a  fee for a quick question?”

4. Caller who finds you on the Internet drops their profession as:

– Attorney
– Law enforcement

5. Conversation begins “Hi this is xxxxx from yyyyy. We’re the IT consulting firm for zzz (your client) and I was wondering” or the software user calls and say’s “My IT guy has a question”

6. Question – “Do you do hourly billing? as they launch immediately into a machine gun like recitation of the problem that just occured.

7. Orphans call use any of these words:
– We’re moving off of….
– We dropped maintenance / don’t have support because we’ve never needed it
– We never call

Am I missing any?

8 Replies to “7 Signs You’re Being Hit Up For A Consulting Freebie”

  1. “Business-focused people understand that free is not sustainable and they will wonder how long the vendor will be around if they do not charge for their product.” Murphy

    1. One of the things that I’ve seen a lot of is people who claim to be migrating away from a solution and therefore they don’t want to pay anything for support.

      While on the one hand I understand — I’ve also seen that most of these migrations take 3 to 5 times as long as they customer originally planned — yet when we explain this to them they never believe it.

  2. One tip off that I notice is that there isn’t any discussion before they begin asking their question. If I answer a call and the user immediately asks their questions, they are bypassing all of the billing and contract details (I assume in the hopes they will get their answer before we outline any cost).

    1. And truthfully some quick questions take longer for us to explain the fee arrangement than to just answer the question.

      The ultimate issue that I think gets lost in this is so many customers intentionally drop maintenance then get themselves into a jame and expect red carpet treatment — and also to be billed in one minute increments at your best rate…

      We stopped doing hourly billing for support about 5 years ago and it’s exhausting explaining the reasoning and playing 20 questions about why — over and over….

  3. Absolutely – over the course of several years, I feel like my explanation of fixed fees versus hourly billing has been perfected but it is always followed by a litany of questions (I guess it isn’t perfect after all). If they questions continue, I will offer our (unpalatable) hourly rate for which I still have no takers. At least it resolves the argument against hourly billing. Unfortunately it doesn’t simultaneously make their case for a support plan.

    1. Let me guess — the number one question is:

      1. So what is your rate

      followed closely by

      2. Yes, I know it’s a fixed fee – but what is your rate

      and then

      3. So if we decided to pay hourly, what would that rate be

      I’ve also learned the hard way that your rate is either fixed or it’s not. Never put down as a service estimate “we will perform x so long as hours don’t exceed y”

      Clients read that and it’s instant “not to exceed” — if you are able to perform the task in an hour instead of your “capped hours” of 8 the client expects to be billed for one….and likewise if you go over 8 they don’t much care (and are reluctant to pay because naturally it’s your fault)….

      Not to exceed (whether expressed or mistakenly implied) is a poor billing method.

      Made that mistake once and never again.

      1. Oh, and I did the same thing for clients who demand a rate. I picked a rate that’s double or triple the high end of market and also make it known that we have a minimum fee and are not able to bill in one minute increments.

        By the time the conversation has degraded to this level I’m really just looking for a polite way to hang up…

  4. My easy response is, “It took 20 years of experience to give you this quick answer. What’s your credit card number? I guess you’ve already found out Microsoft will charge you $175 for this so quit complaining.”

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