HOW OFTEN ARE PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS asking you for free or discounted services? If your answer is “too often,” then you’ll want to keep reading because I’m going to tell you how to change the situation.

  1. Don’t die mad about it. The need for “free” is about them, not you, so you really must strive not to take it personally. The perspective of a person asking you for a discount or to give away your time and energy to their cause is that this world is one of lack and entitlement. There’s not enough for everyone, they think, and if you get a bigger piece of the pie, then you should share it with them. “We can bake more pie” never occurs to them. In other words, if they see you being successful, they may think you already have plenty of money, and since they are struggling with hardship, you should be generous and help them out. The truth of this belief is irrelevant. Before responding, take a deep breath and say to yourself: “It’s not about me so there’s no need to be upset about it.”
  2. Know your value and your numbers. If you take the time to take a hard look at the actual cost of doing business, and how much money you need to cover the overhead and make a profit, you’re less likely to enter into some knee-jerk negotiation for your services. You’ll realize that if you do, you’ll be offering to pay for the other party’s needs or desires at the expense of your own needs and desires. Not only that, you’ll be asking your employees, your spouse, your children and whomever else you’ve obligated yourself to support to pay for the needs of the person sitting in front of you asking for free services. Taking the time to really understand your numbers and then to calculate your fees based on the needs of the business will help you to stand firm in your decisions when someone asks you to negotiate.
  3. Create a fee schedule and laminate that sucker. Ask any of my clients and they will tell you about “the power of lamination.” Once you have properly calculated your fees based on costs and profits and you know exactly what you need to make to create a profitable business, make a written document with the services you provide, the fees for each, and the conditions in which you will discount (like when someone buys a bundle of services). Now, laminate your chart and give one to everyone whose job it is to quote fees. You’ve just created a company policy—even if you are the only one in the company. It’s a powerful psychological tool for you and for the person sitting in front of you. You don’t negotiate your fees on the fly. You are a prepared, calculated business owner with policies and procedures that you follow. You are a CEO, not a solo.
  4. Offer to reduce services or create packages. As one of my old bosses used to say: “Don’t give them a Cadillac when all they can afford is a Ford.” If it’s possible, scale back your services to help them meet their budget. Offer unbundled services if you desire, or create incentives for engaging you for more services. There are other ways to help people with tight budgets besides giving free or discounted services simply because they do not want to pay your standard fee. Get creative and think about other ways you might be able to meet their needs without sacrificing yours.
  5. Don’t buy into other people’s money stories—or into your own. We all have a money story, a way we perceive our relationship with money. Some of us have money stories of abundance, wealth and success. Others have money stories of poverty, lack, and struggle. Our money stories are stories we tell ourselves about money. These stories are usually buried deep in our subconscious mind and were created in our minds when we are children. Think about the way your parents, grandparents or other caregivers talked about money when you were a child. Did they say things like: “You can’t have that because we don’t have the money?” or “Your father (or mother) is so tight with money?” or “Let’s go shopping! We’ll use the credit cards.” Perhaps they never discussed money at all. Perhaps they argued about money all the time.Regardless of how money was discussed in your home when you were growing up, those conversations linger within you, and they likely inform your relationship with money today—even if these stories are no longer true for you. When someone is sitting in front of you telling you they cannot afford your services, at that moment that may feel true to them, whether it is a reality or not. However, most people will spend money on that which they truly desire. If they are not willing to spend money, then perhaps they do not want what you are offering as much as they say they do. That does not mean there are no exceptions. However, you must always consider when a person is telling you that they cannot afford your services you do not know the truth about the resources they actually have at their disposal. You only know what they are telling you in the moment, which may or may not be true. Don’t take what they are saying as gospel, and don’t project your own money story on them. There are plenty of people out there who can afford your services. Find them and meet their needs.
  6. Stop shopping for free and discounted services. If you are unwilling to value services others provide, how can you expect others to value the services you provide? What we put out into the Universe is what we attract. If we put forth a mindset of “lack,” i.e., I do not have enough money to pay for what I need and desire,” then how can we expect to attract anything other than like-minded people? We cannot put forth a negative vibration about money and expect to attract an abundance vibration. Create a mindset of gratitude for what you already have in your life, ask for what you desire, and know you will get what you need when you are ready to receive it.
  7. Learn to say “no.” You are not required to provide services for others. You may tell them “no.” There are plenty of ways you can say “no” without being offensive. You can say: “I don’t think I am the best attorney for you. I suggest you contact the X bar association for other options.” Or “I understand. However, these are my fees and I cannot deviate from them. If I made an exception for every client, I would soon be out of business and unable to help anyone.” Or, simply: “I’m sorry, but I cannot help you.” The key to this is to refrain from judging them for asking. They have a right to ask. You have a right to say no. You can be kind and compassionate while you are doing it (See #1 “It’s not about you.”) and still stand firm in your decision.

Lastly, if you are getting a lot of people asking you for free or discounted services, I would encourage you to take three actions immediately: 1) reconsider your marketing message. You most likely are sending the wrong message about the value you provide; 2) reconsider to whom you are marketing. You might be talking to the wrong crowd. Find the people who can afford you and urgently need you and; 3) stop focusing on the problem. Stop griping to others about people asking for free services or discounts. We attract that upon which we focus. Shift your focus to what you want (people who clamor to hire you and pay you what you desire) instead of ruminating about what you don’t want, and watch your fortunes change.

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