One of the hardest things for me in breaking into being a successful consultant was getting prospective clients to see the real value behind my hourly rate. Have you ever hired a lawyer and been shocked that the huge retainer you paid got sucked up by billing for all sorts of things you assumed the lawyer would regard as a cost of doing business? (5 minutes travel time from court A to court B….xerox copying at 15 cents a page–3 pages)
Like attorneys, I actually require my clients to pay in advance most of the time. But I actually bill clients the way they wish their attorneys did. For instance if we chat on IM and I make two good suggestions, I would “charge” you for two minutes of my time. That the chat may have taken half an hour is not really relevant to me. But most clients who have been burned by professionals who pad their bills get the wrong idea if I hit them right off the bat with the idea of paying for an hour of my time in advance and then seeing how satisfied they are after the hour is over— which could take months depending on how much help from me they really need.
The solution I discovered is to give EVERYONE the first hour free. If someone asks about hiring me, I offer to work for them for an hour and then if they are satisfied we can discuss the rate and terms for further work. And if a social contact crosses the line into giving professional advice, I always write off the first hour of it before bringing up issues of rates and payments. Being able to show the client a list of all the ideas and advice you’ve contributed to their success in the hour they have paid for can be a great way of showing clients that you really do earn your hourly rate. And giving them the first hour for free is the best marketing strategy I have found.
Alan Jobe is the author of Walking Down The Avenue and consults with #indie writers and entrepreneurs about social networking and self-publishing.