Ask Ron Baker: How Do You Price One-Off Meetings?
Chris sent in the following question:
I’m interested in how we should handle inquiries from non-clients regarding matters that require a 30- to 40-minute meeting and no further action is required. How should we price these calls, and when do you let the caller know the price? Ideally, it should be upfront! Would you have a minimum price of, say $300, of which the inquirer is advised at the time he or she makes the appointment? The caller can then determine whether the proposed meeting will be valuable before the call actually happens. I had an unpleasant experience with such a person this week, and while it was resolved amicably, it still was unpleasant enough to endure. Fortunately, I can understand the person’s position.
I would be interested in your thoughts! Thank you.
This is a great question, and I have seen it handled many different ways.
My first thought: Do you want any more customers? Most firms do. They are more than willing to give the “first hour” consultation free. I have always thought this strategy to be a mistake because people usually don’t value what they get for free.
I’m a firm believer in having minimum prices for all aspects of your firm, quoted upfront. Set one for meetings with non-customers. If they engage you, you can always apply that price (or a percentage of it) to the project. If they come on as a client, you can waive it entirely.
In addition, these types of consultations are great to pass to team members. It gives them experience in rainmaking, customer contact, or just handling various concerns and thinking on their feet.
In any event, there are many ways to handle this situation, depending on your objectives. But, always, always, quote a price upfront, period, especially on something as easy as a consultation. We only get in trouble when we “bill” in arrears, rather than pricing upfront!
While thinking about this some more, I recall a customer who called my colleague, Dan Morris, a couple of days before his Christmas holiday, and wanted to meet with him urgently. He had an enormous tax issue and wanted to see if Dan would be able to do anything to mitigate the issue before the end of the year. Since Dan didn’t want to sacrifice being with his family, he quoted this person a $5,000 price simply to meet with him, with no promises he’d be able to help (it was a $200,000+ tax issue).
The guy came in and paid the $5,000 at the start of the meeting. Dan offered his full value guarantee – that is, if the client wasn’t happy, he could tear the check up. He didn’t, Dan got his price and didn’t lose his pricing integrity.
I suppose the moral is this: All of these matters require judgment. Quoting a minimum price is essential before the meeting, and offering a value guarantee can raise that minimum quite a bit.
I hope this helps, Chris.
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of "Ask Ron Baker" articles for the Firm of the Future blog.