Small business marketing: How much should you give away for free?

A number of recent requests for free marketing advice (along the lines of “I’ll buy you a coffee in return for you advising me on what marketing to do”) have made me ponder this question so I thought I would open it up to debate through my blog.

I accept that there is always a degree of time which needs to be invested when you are pitching for a new client and I am not questioning that. At Straight Marketing we are always offer potential clients an initial free of charge marketing consultation. My query is how do you respond to those who clearly have no money and just want something for nothing?

I am all for sharing my expertise and helping people out and whilst the person you are consulting with might not have any money to spend with you immediately that situation could change in a few months. If they were impressed with your initial consultation they are likely to come back to you and engage your services when they have the budget to do so. You also have to look beyond the immediate scenario and consider who that person might have contact with and be in a position to refer you to.

However, when you are a consultancy business, as we are at Straight Marketing, time is money and time spent giving away your wares for free could be spent in other ways – writing a blog, doing some research into target clients, fee earning or enjoying some time off! There is an opportunity cost. When I first set up Straight Marketing I spent quite a lot of time giving away advice for free and I’m not convinced that there was much return in it.

Let’s be honest, there is also an element of annoyance and lack of worth when someone expects you to provide your expertise for nothing. You wouldn’t expect to have a free meal in a restaurant so why do you expect a professional to share their expertise with you for free?

On balance I don’t really know the answer but the conclusion I have come to is that you need to judge each request on its own merits weighing the opportunity cost against the business development potential.

So these are my thoughts, I’d love to know what you think. How much should you give away for free and how do you respond when you think someone is taking the proverbial? Please respond in the comments section below.