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The Marcus Perspective

Do You Give Samples?

By Bruce W. Marcus

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Will You Settle For References?

Every so often, in a particular area of a professional practice, somebody gets the bright idea to give samples ó to give a half hour of free advice as a way to entice a prospective client to ask for more.

Two questions arise. Is it ethical? Is it good marketing?

The unqualified answer to both is ó it depends.

Lawyers and accountants give free advice all the time. They do it at seminars, in articles, in legal clinics, on television, on commuter train platforms, at dinner parties, and now, even online.

Is it ethical to give free advice in the hope of getting a client? Of course. Why else do professionals give so much free advice? (Except maybe to soothe oneís own ego, or as a courtesy to a friend.)

How binding is free advice? Now thereís the rub. If a lawyer or an accountant gives free advice thatís bad, and gets the advisee into hot water, is the lawyer or the accountant liable? Not our station. We raise it just as a consideration and concern.

Is free advice (assuming a qualified source) worth more than the price of it? Of course. You donít pay for it.

Now for the other question ó is it a good marketing tool?

Yes, I think, if itís a gateway to advice thatís really valuable. If it helps people understand why they really do need a professional ó a lawyer or an accountant ó to address the problem in question. If itís not superficial and the problem itself isnít trivial. If it helps define the magnitude of the problem and explain why further consultation is necessary (or maybe not necessary, which is also a service).

This implies, as well, that care is taken not to trivialize serious questions and problems by giving superficial answers.

It should also be realized that one simple action like this doesnít a marketing program make. It may get clients, but it doesnít shape a practice that conforms to the objectives that might be the vision of the partnership. It may get clients that are ephemeral, and give the firm a false security in numbers.

Building a sustaining and satisfying practice, on the other hand, requires a different kind of planning. And planning, for the professional firm of the next decade, begins not with the professional, but with the market.

And so the validity of a program of a free half hour depends upon what you want for the firm. If you want to get clients, this may get clients. If you want to build a practice, make sure the kind of clientele you get from this kind of activity builds the kind of practice you want. Getting clients isnít always the same thing as building a sustaining and satisfying practice.

Either way, do it with your eyes open ó knowing why youíre doing it and what you mean to get out of it.

Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, ( and the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). His e-mail address is Copyright Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.


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