348. When its free, it’s worth less. Much less.

348. When its free, it’s worth less. Much less.

A wise person once said “free advice is usually worth exactly what you paid for it.”

The Alberta economy, almost crippled by plunging oil prices has led to tens of thousands of people suddenly finding themselves among the ranks of the unemployed.

Some of these folks are giving thought to venturing out on their own and a few have approached me seeking advice on how best to break into the world of coaching, training and consulting.

As with any new venture, our ability to market and sell our services is, quite often, of far more significance than our ability to deliver them.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that being able to offer high quality, high value and highly effective services is not of paramount importance but you could be the very best in the world at what you do and if you have no one with whom to do it – if you have no clients – then it really doesn’t matter how skilled you are.

One of the most common methods that many people new to this, or similar industries adopt is to offer their services at no cost with their expectation being that as they are able to demonstrate their skills and proficiency they will generate a high number of referrals from those who reap the benefit of free coaching/training.

I would be less than honest if I said that I have not done exactly the same thing, but with more than 25 years of industry experience I can say, with absolute conviction, that doing so was among the biggest mistakes I ever made and, more than likely, contributed mightily to my career taking far longer to establish itself than I would ever have wanted.

Whenever we receive something at no cost we view it as having far less value than if we had, in fact, reached into our own pockets and paid for it.

The old adage of having “skin in the game” truly demonstrates its own credibility. I have worked with clients on a pro bono basis, worked with others where my fee was paid by a third party – most commonly their employer – and worked with those who pulled out their own personal credit card or cheque-book and paid.

I would love to be able to report that 100% of all clients with whom I have worked have experienced profound and beneficial result, but that would not be true.

What I can say is that some of those who received free services and some of those whose costs were covered by others did really well and some didn’t.

What is most interesting is with absolute certainty I can attest to the fact that nearly every single client I have ever worked with, who paid their full fee out of their own resources, experienced permanent and lasting benefits from our relationship.

My best speculation is that this is because those who did indeed have skin in the game viewed that skin as an investment to be protected and nurtured, and their commitment to doing all the things they needed to do was made stronger by the fact that they did that it because they had their very own skin in the game.

My faith, belief and conviction in what I do and the value it brings to the lives of my clients is absolutely undentable, unshakable, unbreakable and permanent. I am proud of what I do and feel blessed to be one of those few people who bounce out of bed every morning filled with passion at the thought of going to do something I truly love.

I will never turn away a person desperate to better their life, and willing to work hard to do so, who truly can’t pay my fee, not because it is not high on their priority list but because they have absolutely no ability to do so now and little prospect of doing so in the near future.

On the other hand, experience has taught me that the value of my work is best recognized when it is paid for and that those who are able but unwilling to pay my price have every right to choose not to do so and no right to expect, or believe, that they are entitled to receive anything other than the best I can deliver while offering to pay only a portion of what I ask.

My advice to people entering the consulting industry at any level, and in any field is that when you offer your services for nothing you are viewed as being worth nothing.  Those free services will bring many people to your door, all expecting the same deal.

We will all pay for what we want and we will all find the money if we want something badly enough. The greater the size of our investment, the greater the amount of effort we will pour into making it work for us and if we want our clients to work as hard for themselves as we work for them then, in return they the best way to ensure their effort is for them to pay for it.

If you’re one of those many people, particularly in Alberta, who have recently found themselves unemployed and are using this as a time to re-evaluate where you want to be and are considering self-employment as a means to building financial security into your future then I urge you, should you choose to pursue that avenue, to place a value on your services and not allow yourself to be talked into the fairy-tale notion that offering free services today will bring a stream of paid customers tomorrow.

It won’t.

One more thing. If you’re considering this type of future and are able to live with the absolute certainty of knowing that uncertainty will prevail in your life for a while as you establish yourself, then my advice is to take the plunge because life offers no greater gift than knowing that you have both the freedom to fail and the freedom to succeed.

Getting paid exactly what you are worth each month is terrifying at times and daunting at times. And there are times when the size of your paycheque will generate exhilaration unlike anything you have ever experienced.

It’s like they say, there’s is no life like it.

And don’t give it away for free.

Till we read again.

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