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It is easy to get frustrated when a potential client asks for a meeting to discuss a project and in that meeting they start fishing for your solid gold ideas to solve their problem. You, being helpful like you are, offer up strategies for their challenges, free of charge in an effort to build your reputation with them in hopes of closing the deal.

The frustration comes when you give them some great ideas and they take those ideas, walk out of your office, and either implement them on their own or hire someone else to do the work. Fury boils in your bosom and you begin to wonder, “Should I be charging for discovery meetings?” Let’s look at this issue and uncover the right way to handle it.

If your client meeting looks like this photo, you should probably be getting paid.

Discovery Meetings Are Part of Sales

A discovery meeting is part of the sales process. Before we enter into any paid engagement, it is advised to sit with the client, discuss their business challenges and prepare to create a proposal to solve those challenges.

Traditionally, this discovery meeting is an unpaid meeting where you begin to formulate the projects and strategies you will use to solve the clients problem.

In this meeting, it is advised not to solve the clients problem through ideas and strategies that they can take, free of charge, and implement without you.

A Strategy Workshop Is a Paid Engagement

If, during this sales meeting, you realize that your client needs you to provide ideas and strategies to solve their business problem, my recommendation is that you transition to a “Strategy Workshop” as the first phase of your proposed PAID engagement.

A Strategy Workshop can be a 2-4+ hour meeting with you and your client in which you discuss their business problem in detail, review how competitors or other businesses have solved similar problems, analyze some of their business data, discuss their target customer and then brainstorm recommended ideas and strategies to solve their specific problem.

Typically, this type of workshop will include a follow up meeting where you deliver your recommended ideas and strategies to the client in a formal presentation. This presentation and document becomes the “deliverable” from the paid strategy engagement.

How to Transition the Client to a Paid Strategy Workshop

Does the client need a Strategy Workshop, or not? The answer to this question can be found in your client’s answer to the following two questions…

  1. What is the business problem you are trying to solve?
  2. What do you want us to create to solve it?

Let’s look at two examples of how this conversation usually goes with a potential client.

You: “What is the business problem you are trying to solve? What do you want us to create to solve it?”

Client 1: “Our website is outdated. It is seven years old. Our competitors all have better sites than ours. Our E-commerce engine is usually broken. We need a new website.”

You: “We can definitely help you with this. Let’s discuss a few details like the number of pages your site will need and how many products you have and then we can put a proposal together.”

In this situation, the client knows their business problem and knows what they want you to create to solve it. You can transition from your unpaid discovery meeting, right into a proposal presentation for their new website as the next step of your sales process.

Here is how the conversation may go with a client who should pay you for a Strategy Workshop.

You: “What is the business problem you are trying to solve? What do you want us to create to solve it?”

Client 2: “Our sales are down. We need a creative partner to help us fix it. What ideas do you have?”

You: “We are a great fit to help with this. What we’d recommend is that we first engage in a Strategy Workshop. This workshop is usually a 2-4 hour meeting. We will discuss your business in detail including your competitors, target customers, brand, marketing and any data we can get our hands on. We will also brainstorm some initial ideas with you and then follow up with a presentation of our official recommendations to improve your slumping sales. The Strategy Workshop will be the first step in us working together to help your business and it will serve as the launch pad for future projects. Would you like us to put together a proposal and budget for a Strategy Workshop?”

This script usually results in a “yes” from the client and you allows you to easily transition them into an engagement where they are paying for your ideas and strategies.

The Rule of Thumb for Paid Meetings

Here is my rule of thumb for whether a “discovery” meeting is paid or not. If we are providing value in the form of ideas, the client should be paying for them. If we are merely discussing the client’s self-diagnosis of their problem and their self-prescribed solution seems on point, then the conversation is just part of the unpaid sales process.

Take the time to ask your client a few questions and determine their level of understanding of their needs and don’t ever shy away from offering up a Strategy Workshop to be paid for your ideas. You don’t have to give away your creative ideas for free.

Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 25 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world including Disney, Google, Fox, ABC and NBC. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help creative entrepreneurs run successful businesses.