Every small business owner runs into people asking for free help. They play twenty questions, trying to figure out how to do it themselves without hiring you. Handling them the right way can mean more paying customers. Handling them the wrong way will drive you crazy and hurt your bottom line.
You need ways to offer them something helpful, without cutting into your paid work time. Invest a little in educating them, because some will ultimately choose to hire you, or they may refer others to you in the future.
So how can you educate in a way that respects your time? Here are three ideas you can use.
Look through your blog archives. Create a single post with links and resources that can act as your educational tool. Then you can send people to it with a short, standard email, or you could even print it on business cards to hand out in person.
Publish yourself on paper. If you have an in-person business, paper makes more sense than electronic. Put together a simple handout or a booklet of information that you can give away. This could be the same information you’d put in the resource blog post.
Set up a regular workshop or seminar, maybe created with a local career and technical center. When the next person asks for free help, hand them the flyer for the upcoming workshop.
For example, I get lots of requests from local people wanting to start nonprofits. (Many times they are hoping I can get them some of that magical “grant money” they’ve heard about.) I created a list of links to non-profit startup resources that I can share with them. I keep it in Evernote, so I can paste it in emails or refer to it during phone calls. It gives these new non-profits some help, and it lets me get on with the business at hand.
Key point: Keep the focus on education, not selling. Let your great information do the talking in this case.
The bonus to this technique is that you don’t have to turn non-paying clients away empty handed. You can give them some assistance, without giving away your sanity at the same time.
Becky McCray is a small business owner from rural Oklahoma. She recently developed a toolkit with more instruction on how to draw the line between free and paid, with six steps to draw the line, worksheets to complete and a short audio demonstration. She runs a liquor store and cattle ranch, and she does consulting with small town governments on special projects. She and Sheila Scarborough co-founded Tourism Currents to help tourism professionals learn to market more effectively online. She also publishes the popular blog, Small Biz Survival, about small town business.