The Advice Recipe

There was a medical Doctor that began to dislike attending cocktail parties that he was frequently invited to because at every occasion so many people, immediately on learning that he was a Medical Specialist, would share their complaint and ask them for their advice.

At one such party, having just endured listening to the ailments of various patients, he was shaking his head in resigned frustration, after he had given into the demands of one highly insistent lady on what he advised she should do to ease the indigestion she regularly experienced, he recognized a lawyer he had met at a previous networking party when they had exchanged cards.

‘You’re in a profession where people are always wanting advice,’ he said to the lawyer as he approached him. ‘How do you field all the requests for your advice on legal matters?
‘I don’t,’ replied the lawyer, ‘and if they ask my advice, then I give it to them… then I send them a bill.’
The doctor looked as if a light had gone on in his head. ‘It’s as easy as that – but what if you don’t have their address?’
‘They usually offer it, but if they don't I always request it before I deliver the advice.’

The next morning the Doctor arrived at his office feeling pleased with himself. The first thing he did was to attend to his emails. The first message was from the lawyer, with an invoice attached for professional services provided the evening before.

On a regular basis I get invited to lunch. It is usually a senior executive or business owner that has read my material and has a problem that they need to bounce off me. There was a time that I would accept these lunches, always at good restaurants, paid for by expenses on the inviter’s company account.

The conversation would soon turn to: What are your thoughts on this… Any idea on how to handle that… and so on and so forth. And in good heart I would advise what the best action was to take. In following up I would receive a reply along the lines… it’s okay we managed to sort it ourselves now. Yes, by initiating the solution I provided!
That’s life… people are always wanting advice, but certain advices are intangible. A lawyer offers tangible advice.

You have a legal problem, he provides the advice based on precedent and submits a bill. There is a clear expectation on both parties that a bill will have to be paid – even when the advice is intangible – such as the above anecdote – because the expectation is ingrained within us for certain professional fields, including the medical profession.

We live in a world where we can probably get the solution to any problem we may have very quickly at the click of button. We freely ask friends for their advice.

In business top consultants are expensive – therefore is a very popular ploy to invite one to lunch, on the basis that this is a first step to building a relationship, to see what ideas can be gleaned. Because a £60 lunch is preferable to paying a £600 consultation fee, and the inviter gets to enjoy a lunch too, so is only paying £30 for the advice he is seeking. And a good executive, entrepreneur and business owner is very good at wheedling out of you the advice being sought.

Being a nice guy, I admit to having been caught in this ploy several times over the years. On one occasion the idea that I gave to the executive over lunch reaped over £100,000 in a 7-day period. I discovered this from his personal assistant when I was following up and she shared with me how pleased he was with the lunch as it had paid such dividends (admittedly my own skills wheedled that out of her).

Then, shortly afterwards, I was invited to another lunch by the same executive so I could give another idea. The executive was of the firm opinion that the idea and been his anyway, but would like to continue ‘our lunches’ as he liked to refer to them.

I can recall several occasions, unfortunately, where I have given the solution to a problem without agreeing a fee and the rewards for clients have added up to millions.

So I reached a Turning Point – and for me a very important one, because I am in the giving advice business: I no longer give even the smallest piece of advice for free. I don’t do free lunches.

And I have discovered that this is very much a win:win strategy for both parties. Because the person receiving advice will NEVER value it, when it is free, and the specialist delivering it will ALWAYS devalue their professional service, when it is free.

So what is the strategy I employ when I meet all the people that ask advice?

When people find out who I am and my credentials they naturally say that they would welcome my advice on a particular project. I ask them to briefly share the project with me and what advice they are actually seeking before replying with: Sounds interesting. With the right strategy, marketing campaign and contacts it could well prove to be a great success. I am able to provide and introduce everything that will help it along as you are asking, though prior to that we would have to discuss the project in detail. Here is my card, if you are interested in me advising you then please give my office a call and we can make an appointment to discuss. There will of course be my fees to pay in advance.

The reply I sometimes get is: I was not really looking for specific advice. It was really just where I can find out what I can do myself (and that information is not providing advice??).

If the person having been directed to one of my websites, and having received a series of follow ups, still chooses not to proceed, it simply indicates to me one of 3 things. The timing is not right, they do not value the right advice, or they do not relate to me. If this is the case then it follows that they are not the right client for me either – they have been filtered out. And this is of course directly inline with targeting the right audience – the key to business success. There are many times when the decision to not proceed is a budgetary one. The bizarre fact is that the person who thinks they can’t afford it, will then go out the same night and spend the same sum on entertainment.

And this is a key point, because the right client for you will not question the value of the advice. Only the wrong client questions the value you deliver. Without question this does assume that you are delivering exceptional and professional service. So the other Turning Point I reached was to only agree to lunches with those clients that fully fitted my criteria for the client I wanted to work with. In which case it is not a free lunch the inviter is giving you; it is a marketing investment of your time you are giving as the invitee: The start of possibly a very profitable relationship.

So there are 5 points to remember when investing your time with ‘free lunches’...

1. Be absolutely clear of the criteria that qualify the perfect potential customer or client for you. Your time is valuable – do not waste it on unqualified criterion.

2. Listen to everything the inviter has to say. Ask questions to understand what the potential client or customer is really wanting and the problems they are seeking solutions for.

3. Do not give direct advice. Indicate that you are confident that you have the capability to solve the problems (clearly assuming you are confident and do have the capability – which you would because this potential has already been identified as right for you).

4. Explain that following this introductory or relationship-building lunch you recommend that an understanding or agreement is entered into as your professional services deliver value.

5. Do not be persuaded to give your ideas away for free. Convey general examples of how you have successfully advised similar clients without providing specifics.

For me this has been one of my hardest Turning Points, because I love to help people out and guide them with the right solution, and my creative enthusiasm has often run free, delivering so many ideas that the person sitting opposite is desperately trying to write them all down.

Coming to terms with the reality that good advice given free is neither valued nor good for your business is very important. There will always be those people that will become upset when they realize they can’t have something for nothing, deriding you and crying who needs it anyway? But the point is that when you only seek out those people that will value the 10,000 hours of your life, which you have invested in becoming a specialist, then you achieve the best outcome – and you will greatly enjoy the lunches you have with them.

Whatever your business offering, remember that you can leverage your specialist knowledge by providing additional guidance in the form of coaching, or ideas – as part of your support service when you have a commitment from a client. Do not give away your ideas or guidance for free. The times that you can give things away in building a relationship must be viewed as part of your marketing. The investment required not to get a sale, but to acquire a customer. I give books, downloads or programs to potentially targeted clients that have the qualifying criteria.

That is a form of good advice, which they can buy from amazon, but because of it they are reassured that dealing with the person that gave it to them will be good for them, when you follow through.

Something that is increasingly happening in the current business market, driven by challenging times, is that customers with a specific need are visiting the shops to view the product and gain the advice from the sales assistant as to which product will be the exact right one for their needs. When they have the reference model and make, they surf the web on the mobile phone while standing in the shop, locate the make and model they require online and buy that one.

Why? Because the online model is so much cheaper.
Why? Because they do not have the overhead for sales assistants that can give direct advice as to a customer’s requirements. They rely on the customer knowing the make and model.

The end result is that the sales assistant’s advice has been given freely – in the hope of a sale – has been taken advantage of, because it has not been valued. Why? Because it has been given freely. Already the time is coming when certain physical outlets are charging for the advice. Otherwise they are only helping to build the online competitor business.

The world has changed and the way of the world is online. Already medical and legal advice is available online – at a fee. Thinking of ways how you can leverage yourself and your business by providing online advice for a fee is a must.

One thing that has not changed in the business world, however, is that there are no free lunches. And if you have something of value – it is not a wise recipe to it away for free.

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