Where to Draw the Line on Free Business Advice

Where to draw the line on free advice.What’s the one thing that small business owners get asked for time and time again? Well, if you’re anything like me, it’s free business advice.

“Can I pick your brain?” quickly turns into the outline of a strategic plan or a brilliant social media idea. And it has to stop.

Us business owners have to start taking a stand. I simply can’t afford to give away my expertise for free. And you shouldn’t either.

Free Business Advice Versus Placing Value on Your Time

I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy my relationships with other small business owners. I support other businesses and professionals. Like you, I want to see everyone excel and succeed! But it’s time we all recognize that our expertise has value.

After all, I have decades of experience and knowledge to share—and I have excellent clients who pay for this experience and knowledge. I have built a reputation in digital marketing and communications, and also built a treasured Rolodex of contacts and connections.

And none of the above was built because of free business advice. In fact, for entrepreneurs wrapped up with keeping the bills paid, it’s easy to forget the hard work and sacrifices that brought us to where we are today.

Where to Draw the Line on Free Business Advice

I’ve created a list of questions I ask myself before I decide to let someone “pick my brain.” It’s a line in the sand that allows me to determine one of two very important things: Will this free business advice result in a valuable professional connection that could build my own business? Or not.

  • Will this discussion lead to a potential new client?
  • Can the conversation help to build my reputation?
  • What circle of influence does this person have that may benefit my business?
  • How much time do I have/am I willing to give for this conversation?

Sounds harsh, right? But let’s take the emotion out of it. And look at it strictly from a business owner’s perspective.

Nothing in Life is Free

Read the questions I’ve listed above again. The “harshness” seems to dissipate, and the decision making process becomes more business-like, right? Yes. And so it should be! Let’s be real, nothing in life is free, and there’s usually “what’s in it for me” at the heart of any transaction!

And don’t get me wrong, of course you should mentor people, and periodically provide free business advice and guidance to friends and industry peers. I volunteer my expertise for different community and charitable programs. But there’s a point where it’s actually OK to say no to the seemingly endless requests for your time and expertise.

Getting Real ROI From Your Free Business Advice

For business owners interested in sharing free business advice, consider trying some or all of these options:

  • Create a blog or newsletter to share tips related to your profession or niche—just like the one you are reading right now!
  • Start a Facebook group where members can share tips in a conversational, friendly and fun way. You’ll connect with other small business owners and build new relationships that could lead to new business opportunities.
  • Attend networking events and be an active participant while you’re there, or better yet, volunteer to be a guest speaker.
  • Set up scheduled consultation times, limited to 30-60 minutes of high-level conversation, i.e. “Tell me about your business and its current challenges.” And then share how you could support the business as a paying client. Make sure this consultation is virtual or by phone to limit travel time or other inconveniences.
  • Participate in volunteer opportunities with a local cause or charity that’s important and/or meaningful to you.

I’ve implemented all five of these options into my business and can confidently say they are working. I feel like I’m still providing value to those who are seeking it, but am also adhering to the old saying “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” As small business owners, we have to stop giving our milk away for free.

I’d love to know if doling out free business advice has ever led to a growth opportunity for your business or yourself professionally. How do you place value on your time? Hit reply and tell me about it!

Line drawn peony from Spodek & Co Digital marketing site