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 may be looking for pro bono service. In fact, while it is easy to ask a quick question, an accurate response is not always quick.
As a solo practitioner I know that I need to remain flexible 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– I truly value my long-term clients who are the foundation of my business. It is easier to keep clients than to gain new ones. So, if I can help a client on the spot, I will do so as a part of my service. This usually involves something simple like identifying a resource for them. If time and/or research is required I 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– Quick questions can lead to new business and I am happy to get them. I know my worth, however, so I am more selective in my responses. If the question is a simple one which I can answer on the spot I may choose do so as a “free sample”. 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 excellent contacts all over the world. I appreciate referrals by former colleagues and I will always try to help them. 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 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 will 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”