Why Freelance Writers Should Happily Give Free Advice to Potential Clients

Why Freelance Writers Should Happily Give Free Advice to Potential Clients

Picture this: You’re mingling at an event when someone asks what you do for a living.

You tell them you’re a freelance writer, and they start asking you follow-up questions on how your freelancing service relates to their business. Basically, they want free advice.

Let’s say you specialize in ghostwriting online articles for businesses. You might get questions like, “I don’t get blogs. Should I have a blog for my business?” or “Can I show you my blog real quick? I don’t know why but we don’t have that many pageviews!”

At this point, you might start feeling awkward. Um… That’s what I do for a living, you might think to yourself. I’m not just going to give you a free blog assessment or free advice for no reason. Plus, you’re this random person I just met! I don’t even know you.

On the contrary! Yes, this person might be a stranger. Yes, they might be asking you to share knowledge with them that you would normally charge clients for.

But giving away free advice can actually benefit your freelancing business!

Here are five reasons you should give away (some) free advice.

1. It doesn’t really cost you anything

If you have the answers to your new acquaintance’s questions on the tip of your tongue (which, if you’re an expert in your field, you probably will), then it’s not really costing you a huge headache to rattle off some practical suggestions.

Successful freelancers are passionate about their work. Helping people by giving them a couple suggestions to improve their business might be something that takes next-to-no effort on your part, but could be extremely useful to them.

Plus, it gives you something to talk about if small talk isn’t your strong suit.

2. It positions you as an expert

The free advice you give will probably be information that the person asking has never heard before. But now, they know that you know your stuff — and that you’re confident, smart and experienced.

That means they’re more likely to pass your name along to a colleague who needs the service you offer.

3. It increases the likelihood they’ll hire you

If you’ve given even just a tidbit of advice, then your conversation partner implements that advice and it works, there is an extremely good chance they will hire you.

At the very least, they will remember you. They they might mention you to someone else, or they might hire you for their own needs six months from now.

4. It will help them realize how valuable experts are

They probably won’t remember half of what you say.

Yes, you’re technically giving out free advice.

But this person is more likely to remember your authority and experience along with one or two recommendations, as opposed to the entirety of what you have to say. Even if you’re “giving away” your secrets, the recipient won’t have the ability to implement everything you say, and that will make them much more interested in hiring you in the future for your continued expertise.

5. It will help you better understand your clients

When people ask you these types of questions, you’re getting the opportunity to practice your skills.

You might discover you know more than you expected, or you might find you need to do research in a specific area to brush up on your skills. You might learn something new or consider a common problem from a new angle.

It’s also great opportunity for you to figure out the best way to connect with and speak to your clients about the problem they’re having, and to practice taking the technical language out of the equation so your explanations are easier for the average person to understand.

By giving away free advice, you are in effect positioning yourself as an expert. Your willing demonstration of skills will drastically increase the likelihood that potential clients will choose you over another freelancer.

A word of caution: While giving away some free advice can definitely be a good thing (for them and for you!), do note there’s a big difference between someone asking questions casually at an event, and someone who asks to “meet for coffee” every week to  ask questions that are extremely targeted to their business.

Free advice isn’t the same thing as giving a brand consultation. If it turns into an ongoing one-way street, let them know your rates.

Successful freelancing is all about maintaining that balance of client relationships and earning an income!

When has being forthcoming with free advice helped grow your freelance writing business?

Filed Under: Freelancing
Blogger Sophie Lizard

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17 comments

  • Tal Valante says:

    All solid reasons for sharing some advice for free.

    I think it’s an extension of writing professional blog posts–that, too, is a medium to share your knowledge for free, and for the very reasons you have stated.

    Thanks for sharing, Sagan!

  • John Soares says:

    Excellent advice, Sagan. I love to talk about writing and marketing at social gatherings, and it’s good for business for all the reasons you describe.

    I also give the person my business card at the end of the conversation.

    • Sagan says:

      Always good to have a follow-up option! I like that you’ve mentioned here that you give your business card at the END of the conversation — so many people make the mistake of trying to force their business cards on people immediately. Gotta give value first to increase the likelihood that they’ll actually make use of that business card.

    • Karen Ingle says:

      Another option: write the tips you share on the back of your business card in a short bullet point list. They may remember who gave them those valuable tips next time they use them.

    • Ju7n says:

      very nice moved Mr. John. Yes Ms. Sagan give value first. Thanks for sharing.

  • Robert says:

    Giving free advice is a great way to network and build a client base. One of the great things about doing this aside from being seen as an expert is that you can also show your passion without feeling like your selling yourself.

  • Kris Willis says:

    Great advice, thanks! I’ve always gone over and above for clients, in every one of my professions. It doesn’t always pay off directly, but I feel I get paid in “karma”.

    Several weeks ago, I about 4 hours writing out some specific advice to one of my clients. He was trying to target lawyers, and I have a lot of relevant knowledge. I wrote what was essentially a career map, showing him every place where he was going to have to specialize and target if he wanted to be competitive. I also did some free editing work on blog posts he wrote for himself, as his writing is dreadful.

    I did the extra work because I genuinely liked the kid, and I wanted to see him do well. It was, in all, not a tremendous amount of effort on my part, just a brain dump of relevant info, but I was annoyed that he never said thank you. He would have had to pay a lot to get the same stuff anywhere else. However, I went to his blog to get some information a couple of days ago, and apparently I scared him, because he changed his career entirely! The writing I did is still on his blog, but his business is different in every way. Lol. Poor guy.

    • Sagan says:

      Oh dear! Bet he’s glad to have learned all of that BEFORE he really got started, though 😉

      And YES even though sometimes these things don’t pay off directly, they definitely have a way of coming back to us.

  • Wendy says:

    Well, I also do photography, and I had a–I think she exhibited at the fair in some of the same stuff I did–loose acquaintance come over to me one day I was working at the library (no internet at home, so I spend several hours a day at the library). She knew I did photography (major fair category for me) and she needed this picture of her house. Not a big deal, just stitch a panorama, but it does take some time when the relationship of the images isn’t obvious to the program. So I did it, shrugged and said “I don’t know” when she asked me what she owed me (I should ahve said ‘buy me some chocolate’–it was around Valentine’s), but a few times since then, she’s stopped by when I’m trying to work just to be a Chatty Charlotte. Hey, time is money! At least it occurred to her that some monetary compensation might be appropriate; I’ve had others that expect I’ll do things entirely out of the goodness of my heart. Heck, I managed to catch the moment of impact in a racing crash (I knew nobody in the infield was positioned to get the shot, so it was exclusive) and sent it to the local paper. I didn’t figure the cheapskates would pay for an unsolicited photo, but I was hoping there was a chance the exposure might lead to some interest in my photography. It was published–captioned as “contributor photo.”

  • No. 1 is not quite true. It does cost you time. Time that you could have spent otherwise.

    • Sagan says:

      It sounds like you might be talking about something similar to what Wendy was getting into above — the difference between giving away advice if you’re out at a networking event, for example, vs. actually doing the work for someone for free.

      Yes, it takes some time… but if you’re going to be having a conversation with that person anyway, why not give them some insight into what you do?

  • Will Edridge says:

    Great article.

    I’d like to add that if you are going to give away free advice though don’t expect any of these things or you’ll be disappointed.

    Both myself and other writers I’ve known have given away free advice only for the client to outsource the advice to cheap writers on elance.

    As you said towards the end of your article, there’s a fine line between free advice and being taken advantage of so you need to trust your gut and learn to recognise when people are only after free.

    • Sagan says:

      YES! Good point — we shouldn’t assume that something will come out of it every time we give away free advice. Luckily, we can at the very least learn something from every experience… whether it’s getting a better understanding for what our potential clients are looking for, figuring out new ways to explain what we do, or by honing our marketing skills.

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