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I was at lunch with a peer and friend the other day, telling her a story about how a mutual acquaintance had called me out of the blue to ask for some marketing counsel, which of course I gave her. My lunch companion said, "I hope you charged her." Gulp.

I've been in the business for 20+ years. Owned my own agency for almost 13. I know better. But I still give away too much milk. And then I get frustrated when no one wants to buy the cow. I know I am not the only marketing professional out there who struggles with knowing when a simple conversation turns into a billable opportunity. Am I?
I'm not suggesting that I carry a time clock in my pocket and start punching in every time someone asks me a question over a cocktail or at a networking event. But when someone asks you to have coffee or if you "have 10 minutes" at what point do you know this has turned into a business transaction?
And, how do you gracefully let them know it has turned into a business transaction? I don't want to even think about how much money I have left on the table over the years because I didn't have the answer to those two questions.
Don't get me wrong. I want to be helpful. I want to be generous. I'm even okay with being an absolute fool now and then. But, I also want to be a smart business owner.
As Steve Lovelace said in a post on this topic: "Nobody expects their architect to work free... so why would you?"
Have you figured this one out? I really would love to hear how you handle these kinds of situations.

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image of Drew McLellan

Drew McLellan is the CEO of Agency Management Institute, a company serving 250+ agencies to help the owners build profitable agencies that evolve and scale.

LinkedIn: Drew McLellan

Twitter: @DrewMcLellan