Event Management

Quit Giving Free Consultations and Event Advice; Insider Tips to Navigate Blaggers

Skift Take

When people find out you plan events, are they always hitting you up for free advice? If you find that happening a lot, it’s time to put an end to it. Use these seven tips to bring in more revenue, by giving out less free advice.

There’s an ironic situation that plagues most event planners. Many ‘potential’ clients try to get free advice. Yet by doing what they ask of you, you’ve not only given away your services but devalued them as well. After all, everyone knows you get what you pay for.

But you don’t want to be rude in saying no.

So how do you navigate around those tire kickers who only want suggestions and have no intention of ever giving you the amount your advice is worth? They come to you under the guise as a potential client and leave with a solid outline for their event with ne’er a penny exchanged.


7 Ways to End Free Consultations and Event Advice

  1. Know where the request is coming from. It’s likely they simply don’t know what they’re asking.
  2. Turn the tables and ask to pick their brain.
  3. Charge for proposals.
  4. Create a freebie that answers the most common questions you receive.
  5. Offer a consultation and be clear where you begin charging for your time.
  6. Use humor to communicate your need to make a living. Don’t be afraid to be direct.
  7. Limit your free advice the way apps limit their free features. Never give them everything they want for free and they’ll be more apt to pay you.

You Get What You Pay For. So Stop Being Cheap

There will always be people who try and get something for nothing. But you don’t have to be the person who gives it to them. However, you must be the one to set the boundaries and here’s how you can do it:

  1. Understand They Don’t Know What They’re Asking

When you were a child you likely asked for something that was ridiculous. For me, I wanted a pony. I didn’t understand the cost or maintenance. I just wanted it.

It’s likely your acquaintances see you as successful in your industry otherwise they wouldn’t ask for your opinion. And in today’s sharing economy, resources are provided largely for free. People give away ebooks, blog posts, articles, podcasts, and other treasure troves of information for FREE. And no one bats an eye. But when they ask in person, we feel put upon.

Plus, the person inquiring doesn’t know how often this happens either. For most people, one question isn’t a big deal but when you’re faced with your brain ‘getting picked’ every day, it takes a toll. But before you lose your patience with them, keep some perspective. While they likely respect you as someone who knows what they’re talking about, they have no idea how often you’re asked for professional advice.

But why are you getting angry?

Maybe because you’ve already given so much of yourself. Maybe it’s because you had them on the line and really believed they were ready to become a client. Whatever the reason you are angry with their request, let it go. They don’t know how inappropriate it is. They think they’re just ‘talking shop’ with you. Hey, it’s your business. Don’t you want to talk about it? Sure you do. Just like doctors and car mechanics like to diagnose issues by symptoms and sounds at cocktail parties.

If you must blame anyone, blame the search engines. No one has to work for information, they only need to Google it.

Now that you’ve left the anger behind, move on to the next tip.

  1. Ask to Pick Their Brain

This works best if they have a job, but it’s a lot of fun to ask them for something free. For instance, ask a museum curator who wants ‘advice’ on how you would host an event if you could have a priceless piece of art to hang in your hallway on loan. Admit to them that you’re okay with it being of the lesser-valued works that they have in storage. See if they understand the correlation.

  1. Charge For Proposals

Some people ask for your planning advice but others describe their event and ask you to ‘bid’. When you create an itemized bid, they now have your ideas and you never hear from them again.

Instead, if someone asks you to bid on a project, explain that your bid process is not free because you customize your approach to every event. Doing that takes time so you request a small upfront payment. If you are selected for the project, that amount goes towards final payment. This will root anyone out who isn’t serious about seeking your services.

This approach makes some event planners nervous because they don’t like the idea of potential clients being turned off when asked to pay for something they normally aren’t charged for. Look at it this way, if they select you, they pay nothing out of pocket. If, on the other hand, your talents are so easily overlooked because you place a nominal charge on something, this is not a client you want to work with anyway.

All event planners need to learn sooner rather than later that clients are selecting them but they are also able to select their clients.

  1. Create a Freebie

If you’re always being asked for event planning ideas, create a generic proposal on your website. A designer can help you create an easy interactive piece where the visitor can add their information and have a quick customized list of what they need. Or you could create articles that walk people through the planning process or a checklist on how to estimate event needs.

Make a list of our most commonly asked questions when someone asks to ‘pick your brain’. Brainstorm how many of these can be turned into freebies. Creating good content will improve your SEO on your site but will also impress your website visitors with your knowledge.

These resources won’t detract from signing clients because the people who go this route never to be seen again, didn’t intend to pay you for your services anyway. But they may appreciate the help and you could get a future referral from them.

  1. Offer a Consultation

If someone asks to ‘pick your brain’, take the lead by countering with something like, “Fantastic. I’m glad to hear you’re interested in learning more about my event planning process. The next step is my personal consultation where I can learn more about your event and we can talk about event planning options. The charge for my 30-minute session is $________. I also have an hour session for $_________ that comes with a list of ideal venues (or some other value add). Which one works best for you?”

This type of conversation takes out any guessing or misinterpretation about what portions of your work are free. Instead of blaming potential clients for asking for too many free things, be more deliberate in your approach and clearly explain the process. They simply don’t know.

  1. Use Humor

If someone offers to ‘pick your brain’ over lunch you can always use humor to diffuse the situation like, “Lunch would be very nice but I tried paying my mortgage last month with ‘brain pickings’ and for some reason, the bank wanted real money.” Most professionals understand this gentle reminder and you may both have a good laugh over it. But don’t try this over email. Humor can seem snarky without hearing tone.

  1. Free Advice Should Only Be Why and What, Never How

If you find yourself giving free advice after all, always speak in generic terms. Give the why and what if you must, but never the how. If they press you for details, explain that you customize each event proposal to the specifics of the client. It’s why your business has been so successful. Then suggest a personal consultation and lay out your fee structure for doing so.

If charging for a consultation doesn’t feel right to you, explain that you charge for the initial consultation but if they become a client, that amount will be applied to the event planning fee.

What Things Should You Give Away for Free?

As mentioned above, creating giveaways and other valuable content can give you something to refer others to when they start asking for your knowledge. But you don’t want to stop there. Giving away knowledge in the proper format aids your career but only if it’s preserved. It can elevate you as a thought leader or top in your field, which allows you to command a higher price from your clients. Here are a few suggestions on what you should give away for free;

  • Good content on your website. Including the suggestions in #4.
  • Volunteering in an industry association either physically or by writing an article.
  • Blog content.
  • Newsletter for subscribers. This keeps people interested in you and up-to-date on best practices in between events.
  • Speaking opportunities in your industry (this needn’t be free but does continue to elevate your brand).  

Bartering. Okay, so this is a little bit of a tangent, but another time it makes sense to give advice away for free is in a mutually-beneficial relationship. But the critical point here is ‘mutually-beneficial’ because when you give your offerings away for free, you are discounting their value so you need to make sure you’re getting something really good out of the deal too. For instance, a hot event photographer volunteers their services if you’ll help out in a high-profile charity event. While exposure doesn’t pay the bills, networking can. So if there’s a true benefit to you bartering service for service, go for it.

Turn These Requests into a Business

If you continue to get requests for help after you initiate a charge for proposals and consultations, guess what? You have a new business. Some people want the guidance of an event professional but can’t afford to have someone on staff for the entire event, before and after. But what they can afford is someone to point them in the right direction with ideas and tips and a good organizational structure.

If you create a formula, with a few plug-ins for variables from event to event, you could create a watered down version of what you do and begin charging for it in a few different ways such as:

  • As a preliminary consultant. Establish what they need and create a plan for them to follow. You could charge this as an hourly fee or a flat service fee.
  • Day-of assistant or manager. You come in only the day of the event to be the heavy and ensure everything runs smoothly. This also allows your client to enjoy more of the event knowing someone else is taking care of the work that day.
  • By writing a book. If you create a magic formula for planning and managing an event, you can share it with the world by writing a book. While there is an initial time investment, a book provides another stream of revenue and is an easy suggestion for you to give when people are asking for free advice.

All of these ideas can help fill in any blank space you have in your event planning calendar and still allow you to get paid for it. If you’re already receiving a lot of requests for information and advice, it would be an easy addition, and perhaps a lucrative one.

In Conclusion

The next time someone wants to ‘pick your brain’, tell them you prefer to leave lobotomies to the professionals, of which you would expect to pay. A friend asking you if they should have roses or hydrangeas as a centerpiece is very different than someone wanting a complete proposal for a party they never plan on hiring someone for. You can’t stop them from asking but you can recognize who they are and refuse to participate in their ruse. Let someone else’s brain be picked.

Additional Reading About Charging for Your Services

13 Honest Truths Why You’re Not Earning the Event Planning Salary You Want
How To Charge More for your Event Planning Services
The Ultimate Guide to Starting an Event Planning Business
How to Start an Event Planning Business from Home
The Dark Side of the Event Industry