I can’t tell you how flattering it is to be approached by representatives from major companies seeking my wisdom and advice. It shows they are listening, and like what I have to say.
But often I find the road ends when they are just on a fact finding mission. That mission is to pick my brain to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need to make their jobs easier.
Not gonna happen, sorry. My brain costs money to maintain. There’s training, classes to attend, reading (I have to buy books), gaining certifications, costs of memberships so I can network, attending conferences and mastering my skills that all cost me money.
I have to protect my investment. How fair is it to me to give away all the knowledge I have acquired that I use to make my living, pay my bills and eat?.
Now as someone who has tried to break into consulting, this can be a hard one. If people don’t know your work yet you may need to give them a bit of sample before they’ll accept that you know what they need you to know. But you do have to watch out for the leeches. They may not even know they’re leeches, but that doesn’t make you any better paid.
There was one near-client I worked with for over a month. He found my knowledge of social media interesting and wanted to see what I could do for him, so we met and discussed some options. I ended up giving him some free information on what he could do to improve his customer relations using social media. He liked my ideas and scheduled an appointment at his office to come up with a contract.
Except no contract came out of that meeting. Instead he wanted to discuss my thoughts on an upcoming vendor show he had done in the past. I walked him through the pros and cons and guided him in the direction I felt was best for his company. He liked my ideas–of course he did, they were still free! And we scheduled another meeting to discuss a contract for the social media consultation.
The next meeting he realized he was lacking something far more important than a social media strategy: a business and marketing strategy. We discussed some options and I was to come up with a proposal for how I would come up with a those two strategies for him. So I went away and came back with an itemized proposal and the cost of it. He seemed to like it and saw the value of it, but said he would need to discuss it with him staff.
The next time I came back he informed me that his staff had talked him into reworking his website instead, and since that was something I knew I couldn’t do for him, he was going to work with someone else on that and put off working with me on strategies until after the website was done. Well, that was a year and a half ago. He still hasn’t upgraded his website. I’ve never heard from him again. And he got close to 10 hours of free work out of me.
I don’t blame him. I let him get away with it. To quote the Old Scottish Saying quoted by Scotty in a Star Trek episode, “Fool me once, shame you you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” The fault is mine for not sticking to my guns. But hopefully I’ve learned from this, and should I ever find myself in this position again I’ll handle it better.