One of the most frustrating aspects of running a creative or consulting business is the amount of time we
waste spend courting clients and building custom proposals.
For years, I squandered my most valuable business asset (my time) jumping through hoops trying to convince people to hire me.
One particularly brutal experience lasted an entire year — back and forth emails, phone calls, research, getting quotes from subcontractors, schmoozy lunch meetings, and finally, a proposal that took me a week to write.
In the end, I “came in a very close second place” to a larger firm and lost the ($30k!) gig.
I was done. The opportunity cost of investing all of that time to benefit someone else’s business rather than my own was a game of chance more costly than I could afford.
I knew there had to be a better way go to about this. It was then that I decided to create a “lead service” — one that would allow me to get compensated for all the value that’s provided during the initial steps of the process of any project.
A lead service is one that allows you to monetize the discovery process while providing standalone value to your clients. It discourages tire kickers from picking your brain for free and frees up your time so you can invest it in your own business rather than someone else’s.
A lead offer (1-1 service) is part of a larger value ladder — which is simply a series of offers that increase and price and value. The lead offer is the step that comes right before your more premium offers, whether those are value-based, fixed packages or custom engagements.
The Benefits of a Having a Lead Service
It Helps Establish Clear Client Boundaries
Of all the steps of the value ladder, the lead offer is my favorite and I think that’s because I sometimes have a hard time setting and enforcing boundaries with clients.
I’ve always struggled with responding to people who ask me to meet with them to “pick my brain” … I want to help.
And honestly, if I could just help people all day long without having to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills I’d happily give value away for free all day every day.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.
If I’m spending my time (my “product”) on behalf of a potential client and helping them solve business problems, I deserve to be compensated. So do you.
Because I’ve created lead services — which are the first steps of working with me packaged up with a fixed price and scope of work — I can quickly move the conversation from “can I pick your brain?” to “absolutely, I have the perfect thing for that — here’s more information.”
No more awkward conversations, no more feeling resentful about people expecting me to invest my time for free — just a simple back and forth. They either see the value and say “let’s do this!” or they don’t.
It helps create a better client experience
I go into this in more detail in The Bullseye Offer Formula, but here’s the thing: good clients want you to lead them through the process. They appreciate that you’re prepared and have the steps for “how it works to work with you all laid out in advance.
It may feel a bit ungenerous at first if you’re used to doing free consultations prior to signing up a client, but it actually signals to your potential clients that you’re professional, you know what you’re doing, and you’re here to run a serious business. That can only instill confidence that you can help them with theirs.
It frees up your time to work on your business rather than just in it
Bad apple clients — who are only interested in “picking your brain” — aren’t going to appreciate this and that’s okay. They can go kick someone else’s tires — you’ve got an empire to build and your time is much better spent working on your business.
Take this email exchange between me and a client for example…
They were interested in hiring me to rebrand their online presence to prepare for a big upcoming launch.
61 emails were exchanged over a two week time period and about a third of those were from me. So let’s say those 20 emails took me 15 minutes each to write — all the while thinking, “I’ll answer their questions and then I’ll land a great project so it’ll be worth it.” Well, that would have amounted to 5 hours of my time spent FOR FREE.
In order to recoup that cost, I’d have to build it into their costs — something that’s not always so easy to do when you’re working with small businesses.
Instead, I spent just a couple of minutes for each reply because I had my services and my process all prepared and ready to go.
Because I had a lead service, it cut the back and forth to a short conversation — saving me five hours of my time for this one client conversation alone. (How many of these back-and-forths do you have each month? What is that costing you?)
In the end, this client didn’t hire me — they went with someone cheaper. They were looking for free and cheap help and that’s unfortunately pretty common. But, at least I didn’t waste my time on a dog and pony show — instead, I spent it doing things that benefit my business.
It helps you scale your business without growing a team
When you’re running a small service-based business, your most valuable business asset is your time. Unless you have a dedicated business development person on staff, recreating the wheel with each client creating custom proposals or responding to RFPs is likely going to be your biggest business expense— even though it’s not costing you in dollars, it’s costing you time.
By monetizing the sales process and charging for your discovery process, you’ll immediately get cash flowing in when working with new clients, you’ll eliminate time wasted in tire kickers.
Then, you can invest that time streamlining your processes, adding passive streams of income (as part of your value ladder!), building a client attraction system (a.k.a. marketing) and even levelling up your skills so you can charge more.
Ground Rules for Creating A Lead Service
Free advice belongs in the first rung of your value ladder only
I provide as much free value as I can in the form of blog posts, emails, tips I share on social media, free masterclasses and so on. (The first rung of the value ladder — or the “top of funnel” offers.)
Free value is how we market our businesses and establish our expertise, but it isn’t a very smart thing to give away to one person who may or may not ever reciprocate that value (in the form of a cash money dolla’ bills y’all).
That means I no longer offer free consultations, respond to RFPs, or build custom proposals for clients.
Instead, I invite them to take the first steps with me by purchasing a lead service instead. But there are some ground rules for this or they won’t see the value in doing this…
A Lead Offer Must Provide Standalone Value
It’s not enough just to start charging for something you’ve always offered for free in the past… you must describe it and package it in a way that your potential clients will see the value.
That means you must solve a problem with your service (not just create one by charging for a gab session).
Things like audits and assessments are a tough sell even though they can be incredibly valuable. A plan, a checklist, a roadmap, a playbook — these are all things that contain value whether your client signs up for your more premium offers.
Grab my value ladder planner below to brainstorm ideas for creating a lineup of offers that naturally lead to your premium services…
If you’re looking to scale your service-based business, a lead service can help you better leverage your time while creating a better experience for your clients.
Will you implement a lead service? If you have any questions hit me up in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.