Consultants often receive “Just a quick question?” queries from clients or others and everyone responds differently. Most likely the questioner believes that their question is an easy one and is looking for pro bono service. In fact, while it is easy to ask a quick question, an accurate response is not always quick. I will outline how I handle quick questions but first a couple of anecdotes.
One potential client told me up front that they “did not expect to pay for their easy HTS classification”. I advised that I am a professional Licensed Customs Broker and am paid for my time and expertise. I then quoted a reasonable charge for HTS research, CROSS examination, reviewing GRIs and notes, and documenting for future reference.
Another potential client offered to compensate me for checking some regulations by buying me lunch. I politely responded that I sometimes conduct business lunches but always with the client as my guest. I then quoted a minimum charge for the research requested.
I never heard back from either potential client. As a solo practitioner I know that I need to remain flexible and avoid rigid procedures while making sure that I am compensated for my time and expertise. Based on trial and error, here is how I handle “quick questions”.
Active clients– It is easier to keep clients than to gain new ones. So if I can answer a question from an active client on the spot I will do so as a goodwill gesture. This usually involves something simple like identifying a resource for them. If time or research is required I will let the client know how I will handle the request and what I will charge. Most clients understand this approach because I have added value for them in the past. If they have frequent quick questions I may suggest my retainer service which allows them to prepay for brief consultations by choosing a set number of hours.
Prospective clients– This is a little trickier because of situations such as the ones I have described, so I am more selective in my responses. I do try to be helpful so that they will remember me when they have a real project. If time and research is required I will propose the retainer option or quote a minimum charge. I will always try to learn about the potential client’s business so that I can determine their real needs and follow up at a later date.
Former colleagues– One of the benefits of being a FedEx alum is having contacts with excellent colleagues all over the world. A number of active clients have been the result of referrals by former colleagues. Any questions they have are on behalf of their clients which can also be my prospective clients. Their referrals are my compensation. If they have a project requiring time and research I may ask them to connect me to the client if possible. I’m always happy to hear from former colleagues so FedExers don’t hesitate to reach out.
Friends and family- This is rare as I try not to mix personal with professional and I don’t want to charge friends or family. I would accommodate a minor request and give them a referral for anything more complex.
This method is not perfect but works well enough for me in my growing practice. I would be interested in hearing how other consultants handle “quick questions”