Do business advisors, consultants and coaches have an alternative to offering free sessions in order to win new business?

Unless you operate in the big leagues, where business seems to just roll in based on the strength of your brand or your great referral network, you probably have no alternative to offering free sessions to potential clients to convince them that you can deliver significant value for their businesses.

Some of the tactics often used by business advisors and consultants, as part of their free session strategy include:

  • Blowing the prospect’s socks off with wide ranging free advice
  • Solving one particularly demanding problem for the prospect
  • Showing the prospect a bunch of degrees and other professional credentials
  • Boring the prospect with your historical achievements with other clients
  • Referring prospects to testimonial-givers for independent verification of your efficacy and the professionalism of your firm
  • Asking pertinent questions that bring clarity for the prospect
  • Showing a deep understanding of the prospect’s business issues
  • Having an open and free exchange of ideas
  • Offering money-back guarantees
  • Discounting heavily to reel prospects in and then increasing charges to reflect the perceived value being delivered
  • Simply listening and reflecting back what you are hearing
  • Ensuring that there is an early discovery of whether you can do your best work together
  • Creating powerful expectations for the free session and then delivering on the promises

None of these tactics are the wrong way to do it and in fact, a combination of them will prove useful in a face-to-face engagement. But one must ask if free sessions are the best way to attract valuable new clients in the absence of any other screening process? In my experience, it depends on the individual client. Some prospects will value the time and effort you put into meeting them and a bond of trust can be established very quickly. In other instances, prospects are simply time-robbers that want to get access to your best stuff without having to pay for it. This can be extremely frustrating for the business advisor as well as being costly, particularly if it happens frequently.

So how do you ensure that your initial get-to-know-you sessions are a valuable forum for both parties and that they create value that leads to engagement? In my view, it is important for the business advisor to pre-screen every potential new client, prior to any get-to-know-you session, so that you can know in advance whether you can do you best work with them prior to sitting down for a warm cup of coffee. This pre-screening serves both the business advisor and the client equally in that you may refer them on to someone more suitable if it becomes immediately apparent that you don’t have the skill set or temperament to meet the clients initial articulated needs. More importantly, it means that you do not waste your time or theirs.

The pre-screening can be a simple online questionnaire or email that allows the prospect to articulate his key issues, concerns and expectations or it can be a thorough analysis of their business. Each business advisor will have their own preference for the level of detail. The information gleaned from this pre-screening exercise must identify how a business is being managed, what the choke points are that may be holding the business back and what the prospect desires from an engagement with the business advisor. The outcome of the pre-screening should allow the business advisor to decide if a face-to-face meeting is warranted or desirable.

My personal preference is for a detailed pre-screening to be carried out prior to a face-to-face meeting. After all, it serves both the prospect and the consultant in that it forces the prospect to look deeply at their business and to answer some of the hard questions in their own time and space, before committing time to explore it in person with you, the experienced business advisor. Also, from the point of view of the business advisor, he is coming to any subsequent meeting that takes place, fully armed with a good understanding of the prospect’s business, the business issues that exist, and the business management style employed. In fact, GrowthOracle was designed to do this pre-screening automatically, so that it can save the business advisor significant time and cost.

Niall Strickland