If you're a CPA, free consultations are a counter-productive way to acquire new business and to earn the true value of your services.
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No More Free Consultations. Ever!

On this week’s Business Development Call, we discussed the TMN Book Club selection for the month: No B.S. Trust-Based Marketing, by Dan Kennedy and Matt Zagula [TMN members can access the discussion here]. The book details why building trust is so important (because nothing you say really matters if your listeners don’t trust you) and various ways to build that all-important trust.

The authors, both of whom I’ve worked with personally, devoted an entire chapter to one key concept, which we’ve already integrated into TMN marketing. But I wanted to reiterate it here because they do a better job of explaining why it’s so powerful. The chapter is called “The Power of Prescription,” and the concept is eliminating the usual “free consultation” your prospects can get from anyone else in favor of some sort of “audit” or prescription. Kennedy gives three examples: 1) a dog kennel in Cleveland that won’t accept new customers before they’ve had a full tour of the facility, that they conduct once per day at 4PM; 2) a commercial real estate broker in Cedar Rapids who makes clients pay a monthly fee to buy properties from him (in addition to the commissions he charges); and 3) a carpet cleaner who conducts a “carpet audit,” with different-colored pins for different types of stains, before pitching his service.

You’ve worked hard to build your expertise. You’ve probably earned a college degree. Maybe a Master’s in Taxation or other graduate degree. Earned your CPA, EA, ATP, or other professional designations. And you work hard to keep current in your field. Your time and advice put money in your clients’ pockets.

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Now you’re building your business, hoping to attract clients you can work with. Are you offering a “free consultation” on your brochure, your business card, or your web site?

Abraham Lincoln famously said that “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” (And make no mistake, the advice is where the value is, not the time. No more hourly billing, ever. But that’s a different rant.)

Lincoln’s characterization is just as true for you as it is for a lawyer. So why give away your stock in trade?

Are you wasting hours with prospective clients who never hire you? With tire-kickers who never even intend to hire you?

What, exactly, are you offering with a “free consultation”? What are your expectations for that time? What are your prospect’s expectations? Are they the same?

You may think your usual “free consultation” is your opportunity to evaluate the prospect’s business, determine whether you can help, and set the stage for an engagement. But what if your prospect doesn’t see it that way? What if your prospect sees it as a free hour to pick your brain? One of you is going to leave that meeting disappointed. Why should it be you?

So I say, no more free consultations. Ever!

For starters, offering a free consultation makes you sound like everyone else. (Seriously. I just Googled “free consultation” and got 802,000,000 hits! “Complimentary consultation” yielded 23,700,000 more.)

I like offering a free analysis instead.

Dictionary.com defines consultation as “a meeting for deliberation, discussion, or decision.” In contrast, the site defines analysis as “a method of studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations.” Analysis connotes a more specific measurable value.

Next, define exactly what you’ll be analyzing and the benefit your analysis delivers. Why should the prospect pick up the phone and schedule an appointment?

Compare these two calls to action. They could be on a web site, brochure, Yellow Pages ad, or even in smoke signals:

Call 513-321-2820 for your free consultation

Or . . .

Call 513-321-2820 for your free analysis. We’ll find the mistakes and missed opportunities that may be costing you thousands, then show you how we can implement a plan for rescuing those wasted taxes!

Which call to action will get your phone ringing? What’s more, you’re not just generating leads. You’re setting the ground rules for the appointment, telling your prospect what to expect from your time, and suggesting how your service will benefit him.

You might go even farther and guarantee the appointment:

• If you don’t agree it’s the most valuable hour you’ve ever spent on your taxes, we’ll donate $50 in your name to your favorite charity.

If your target market speaks their own unique lingo, consider offering something that appeals specifically to them. One TMN member who focuses on medical professionals offers a free “second opinion,” where she (you guessed it) diagnoses tax problems and prescribes solutions.

I don’t have any problem with “free.” “Free” is one of the most powerful words you can use in your marketing. Just make sure you define what your prospects get for their money! And give them something more valuable than the hordes down the street who are competing for those same clients!

The Briefs is a weekly column on marketing and business planning for tax professionals and financial advisors looking to better serve clients and grow their business. 

Edward Lyon

Edward Lyon

Edward A. Lyon is CEO of the Tax Master Network, where he's coached tax professionals to add planning and financial services to their business since 2005. Go here to join the network. Go here to upgrade your membership or discuss opportunities in financial services.
Edward Lyon

Edward Lyon

Edward A. Lyon is CEO of the Tax Master Network, where he's coached tax professionals to add planning and financial services to their business since 2005. Go here to join the network. Go here to upgrade your membership or discuss opportunities in financial services.

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