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Stop Giving Away Your Professional Expertise

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“Actually, I get paid to do that.” I hear that every day in a client’s story. I say that every day in my own head. I’m betting you mutter it under your breath as well.

And still, most people struggle with finding the words to tell yet another “prospect” that what they’re asking for isn't free. It’s actually the rarest of fruit that only comes from years of experience, study, real-life trials, and walking through the fire with a lot of clients.

You wouldn’t call a plumber and expect him to come to your house, diagnose, and fix your problem for free. However, every day, professionals, especially professionals of the creative class (doctors, lawyers, business coaches, marketing professionals, accountants, and other knowledge-based workers) are being asked to do that very thing.

If you’re a professional who draws on complex bodies of knowledge and experience to solve specific problems, you've probably faced this issue. So, how do you keep from having this recurring problem impact your business?

Here are some ways to communicate away the situation.

Stop giving it away. This first suggestion is certainly the simplest in theory and the hardest in practice. If you keep rewarding the bad behavior, you will just get more of it. When someone asks you to share your expertise for free, you need to have a practiced and comfortable answer.

That answer should be based on your organization, your brand, and your comfort level. It should respectfully and clearly explain that your advice is not free. In fact, that’s how you make your living.

Set the expectation early on. Long before someone ever gets you into a meeting, you need to establish the rules. On your website, in your brochure, as a part of your “get to know us” slide show, spell out the rules. Be very clear that your thinking time and expertise is delivered for a fee.

You don’t have to list prices if you don’t want to get that specific. Avoid being Midwest nice, and push yourself to be blatant that there will be a cost.

Don’t run after them. If they balk at being charged or try to get you to reduce your fee, be polite but stand firm. (This requires being fair when you set your pricing to begin with). If they walk away, let them.

I know this is tough when you really want the project---but they have just told you what value they’re going to assign to your years of experience. Is that really a client you want?

Give it away but with intent and purpose. One way to demonstrate the value of what you sell is to give it away. (I’m not contradicting myself, I promise!) So, go ahead and give it away to a non-profit or a start up you’re sponsoring.

Use that generosity to set the contrast for prospects. “Now as you may know, we did this same sort of XYZ plan for charity 123, but naturally, in that case, we actually donated our expertise.”

Next time you find yourself grumbling about this problem, remember---you are the one giving it away. And only you can keep it from happening down the road.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Fly Away)

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Drew McLellan's a 25+ year marketing agency veteran who lives for creating "a ha" moments for his clients, clients' customers, peers and audiences across the land. Sadly, for his daughter, he attempts to do the same thing at home.

Drew’s favorite tools for creating these moments are vivid story telling, Italian heritage inspired hand gestures and the occasional tipping of a sacred cow.

Over the years, Drew has lent his expertise to clients like Nabisco, IAMS pet foods, Kraft Foods, Meredith Publishing, John Deere, Iowa Health System, Make-A-Wish, and a wide array of others.

Drew writes at his own blog, Drew’s Marketing Minute and several other hot spots.

He’s written the book 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing, co-editing the Age of Conversation series of books with Gavin Heaton and he launched his own firm McLellan Marketing Group in 1995.

Recently he has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, Business Week and Fortune’s Small Business. The Wall Street Journal calls him one of 10 bloggers that every entrepreneur should read.

Shoot Drew an e-mail.

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  • by Ana Lucia Novak Wed Aug 1, 2012 via blog

    This is much needed advice and should encourage business professionals to remember the value they bring to the table. We should not hesitate to demonstrate our value when telling people that "I get paid to offer this or that" I tell prospects that if my answer will take more than 5 minutes to answer, then i would charge my hourly rate of $X. There is a good reason why prospects contact you, if they balk at the price - they most likely will be what I call a nightmare client, those types drain the blood and life from your business should you take them up on downgrading your fees just to win them over. I've found that by saying no frees me up to work with people who truly respect and value my knowledge and experience which ultimately saves them a ton of time and money in the long run. I find that once I educate a prospect the A-Z's of what goes into a specific project they usually will agree to a specific amount that I applied to the project. If they walk away, It just keeps me free for the right prospect who really likes me and wants to work with me as their partner towards success.

  • by Carrie Wed Aug 1, 2012 via blog

    Great Article!I find myself doing this often being a Realtor. It's a very fine line with the information I share. Thanks for the awesome tips!

  • by Greg Bardwell Wed Aug 1, 2012 via blog

    I do hear this from professional service providers quite a bit. It is interesting though that the biggest user of B2B content marketing is professional service providers.

    I just wrote a blog post last week titled "Top Of Mind B2B Content Marketing: Why & How To, With An Example" [

    In this Post I addressed the fear content marketing and giving of to much information -- which is what content marketing is about, educating and sharing information. Here is what zi had to say:

    Many professional service people worry that giving to much information will actually solve a potential customer’s problem and thus they will not be needed. In the B2B case this is misguided – we are a world of specialists. If the prospect is going to do it their self they do not need the information from you — they will find it somewhere on the web from someone else. I know how to cut a 2×4 and pound a nail, and I may actually do it to put up a shelf in the garage (maybe), but I will hire a professional to add a room to my house – one recommended by someone I trust or who has seen their work. Businesses are the same, just at a larger scale.

    Also, as a professional is someone asks you to their office for advise, charge them just as a plumber would.

  • by Rodney Brooks Wed Aug 1, 2012 via blog

    This article also applies to a lot of Sales Professionals. They get hired in as commissioned Sales Professional but end up doing a lot of Business Development. It may be months before that see any money but the hiring company is getting the benefit of the Sales Professional's contact to market and brand their company. Sometime the sales cycle is so long that the Sales Professional has to give up before see a dime because it is costing them too much money to develop the company's product or service. This is another example of giving your professional expertise away for free.

  • by Bill Brelsford Wed Aug 1, 2012 via blog

    Great tips Drew. Similar to what Greg mentioned above, one tip that I have used is to refer people who want information to my blog, eBooks, etc. so they can find answers to their questions and add themselves to my lead nurturing program so that when they are ready to buy, they will hopefully think of me.

  • by Carole Sacino Wed Aug 1, 2012 via blog

    If you don't value what you know, offer and one else will. Interesting story...a friend was charging much less than she should have with over 25 years of experience and 100,000 thousand plus in training and degrees...when her business began to shift to those unwilling and unable to pay...she had to look within and asked what she was attracting into her life. With self reflection, she discovered that she did not feel worthy and with this insight...did self discovery, self reflection along with a coach that moved her into a new "value" currency of what she provided. Tripled her rates and more than doubled her business in 3 months with the clientele she wanted to work with. Take sometime to evaluate what is and is not working-do some market trending and create the profile of the "perfect" client and go after it with confidence and ease.

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog


    If they walk away - it keeps me free to work with prospects who will pay me. We all need to remember that sentence. If you bill for your time (whether you bill by the hour or by the project) then you need to think of your time as a limited resource. You have to spend that resource wisely.


  • by Drew McLellan Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog


    I think a lot of realtors really struggle with this issue -- because your sales cycle is so long and there's such a huge spread of time in between purchases. I think everyone does and should give away some of their expertise. The trick is finding the balance.


  • by Drew McLellan Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog

    Hey Greg,

    I share your belief -- B2B professionals need to be generous with their expertise. I think there's a ways to do that (blog, other content marketing tools, free webinars etc.) in a broader context. It doesn't mean you have to let someone pick your brain over and over for free.

    I think the more you share...the smarter you look and the more business you'll earn. But, you have to find a way to do that so it doesn't tie up 3 hours a day.


  • by Drew McLellan Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog


    Interesting -- I hadn't thought about it from an employee/employer relationship. But you're right, I can see how that could happen too.

    Thanks for adding that to the conversation.


  • by Drew McLellan Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog


    Exactly. I'm not suggesting we be stingy with our expertise -- just that we're smart about how, when and how often we share it.


  • by Drew McLellan Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog


    I have heard that sort of story many times. When you establish your value, people want that value. And if you're up front about your costs (I always say to prospects -- "we will never be the cheap solution but you're always going to feel like you got incredible value for every dollar.) then you attract the right clients who are happy to pay your price.

    But you have to believe you're worth it.


  • by Cecilia Harry Thu Aug 2, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for the great article! None of these tips are revelations, but this is a great reminder that YES, what you know and can do is valuable and YES, it's OK to not give it away, and YES, you will be plenty busy with clients who actually pay you for what you're worth. Cheers!

  • by David W Johnson Sun Aug 19, 2012 via blog

    In some ways I categorize the information I give away in the same way Walmart prices its products. Walmart doesn't worry about the pennies its giving away in lower prices, it's aim is for you to take out the dollars to buy more products.

    Giving away information that for the most part is readily available on the internet, if the customer would only look for, builds rapport with the future customer that at least you know what you're talking about.

    As far as answers to questions that put food on your table, you kindly offer to work up a proposal to see what you can do for them. Right then you're going to find out who wants it for free and who sees you as the professional who can help.

  • by Cendrine Marrouat Sun Sep 30, 2012 via blog

    Excellent article, thank you!

    The other day, this lady asked me if she could pick my brain. Then, she added this:

    "I completely understand how valuable your intellectual property is. I'm not asking for the keys to the kingdom - just looking for some directions to the path that leads to the kingdom."

    I wish people understood how annoying it is to have to deal with that kind of requests. Why would I want to give away my knowledge, when I know that some people do not value my expertise?

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