How To Switch From Free Advice To Paid With This One Negotiating Tactic

It happened again - you delivered a great presentation or you networked like crazy at a conference and the emails and texts start to roll in. The questions might be variations of the same script, but it inevitably will end with this question: Can I pick your brain for free?

There is a lot of good advice on how to handle these requests, but it is still a popular question I get and a situation I struggled with for a long time. Moreover, the research is clear: women do risk negative backlash when they ask for more money. So what do you do when you want to help people, but you are not comfortable with making the money ask?

The answer might be to practice anchoring first. Anchoring in negotiation is the first offer made on a deal. In this case, that first offer is your fee or rate in exchange for time with your expertise.

When someone asks for your help, consider responding with this advice from Tammy Gordon, President of Verified Strategy:

Practice saying, "I'd love to. My rate is $____ an hour. What day works for you?"

That's the hardest part. Uttering those words feels really foreign a first. But, if you're going to be a consultant, those words are your livelihood.

Then anchor first and firmly with your rate, and be aware that your anchor might shut down the request. But the potential for the conversation to end shouldn't keep you from anchoring. Remember that charging for your time is a reflection of how you value your knowledge, skills and abilities. It's also important to consider charging for your time when:

  • You have highly specialized knowledge and expertise.
  • You are helping someone solve a problem that you have no connection to.
  • You do not gain any direct or indirect benefit from helping solving the problem.

Anchoring first should not be the end of the negotiation, and the negotiation might go any number of ways depending on who you are talking to.

If you want to work with people asking for your help and they indicate that they cannot pay your rate, let them know you can move on price if you are able to do so. You could offer them a custom rate, and have a conversation around what that lower rate might be.

If you do not want to work with them or do not have the capacity to collaborate at the moment, diplomatically let them know you cannot move on price. If it is a relationship you value, consider having a pre-prepared free or more affordable option that is easy for you to give. You can also refer the person to someone else that could help.

But what if the person asking for help is a friend? How do you manage that important relationship? Remember that you are donating your time if you do not charge them a fee, even when it is a friend. Offer other options to recognize your value, like writing a public testimonial for you on a site like LinkedIn or promoting your latest work on social media. Have a conversation with them and generate ideas that will help them get the advice they need and while also helping you advance your interests.

Time is the ultimate scarce resource. Whether paid or donated, there are tradeoffs associated with how you spend your time, including spending that same time doing business development and other revenue generating work.

While the first few anchors you drop might be awkward, there is an upside to charging people for your time. It's not just about a fee. People paying for your help is an investment in themselves to make a change or solve a problem faster. If you come out of the nonprofit, philanthropy or social impact space, this can be a difficult mental pivot to make. I have given out thousands of hours of free advice, sometimes to people who did not have resources and needed advice. Over time, I noticed that they would not follow through with changes in the same way that paying clients would.

The downside to anchoring with a rate is you might get less requests for help, which may not be a downside. Fewer requests means more time for you to build your business and reclaim your time.


This article originally appeared in Tanya's Forbes column. You can see it by clicking here. 

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