The Upside

Here’s How to Avoid Giving Away Ideas for Free

I’ve been running a successful community of 250+ top consultants for more than 6 years now. Which means, I’ve seen it all: 

What works, what doesn’t, and the mistakes that consultants make as they build their businesses. 

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is this:

Giving away ideas during the discovery phase with the intention of gaining the client’s trust and building interest in working with you.

I’ve rarely seen this work to a consultant’s advantage. In fact, I usually see it backfire.

Here’s why:

When you give away your ideas, you’re devaluing your work. As a consultant, clients are paying you for your ideas, even if they are super simple, easy, and obvious to you.

Also, when you tease out your ideas during the discovery phase, clients may decide that the solution is simpler than they thought and they’ll just take it in-house.

Or, they may lose trust in your abilities. After all, if you feel the need to give away ideas before they even sign with you, what does that say about your confidence in your value?

Here’s what you can do instead:

Give them the what but not the how.

For example, you could say:

“You told me that you’re hoping to gain an additional 100,000 social media followers. However, you also need to be able to convert those followers into buyers. My suggestion is that we craft several out-of-the-box social media campaigns to shine a light on the spirit and soul of your brand, develop strategic partnerships with like-minded influencers (which I have several personal relationships with already) and develop a targeted ad strategy to convert your most active followers into loyal customers. How does that sound?”

What you wouldn’t say is:

“You told me that you’re hoping to gain an additional 100,000 social media followers. What I’m thinking is that we develop an out-of-the-box social media campaign that features some of your key employees sharing their personal stories so that your followers feel a deeper connection to your brand. Then, we’ll deliver a retargeted ad campaign with a shopping link to every follower who comments on those posts. We’ll also partner with Jane Smith influencer to further develop the brand on a more grass roots level. What do you think about that?”

See the difference? 

The first version features only the what: What needs to happen in order to get the end result they want.

The second version features the how: The specific ideas and strategies that will help drive the end result.

You may be thinking, “But Erin, what do I say if they push me for more information or specific details?”

Don’t worry, I’ve got you! Here’s what you can say:

“I have so many ideas and details for you that I can’t wait to share once we start working together. But this is exactly what clients hire and pay me for. So although I can’t share those details before you’re an official client, I can tell you that I’ve done this successfully for several companies and exceeded the goals they were hoping to achieve. Based on what you need, I have no doubt that I’ll be doing the same for you.”

You’ve got this!

Erin Halper

About the Author

Erin Halper is the founder and CEO of The Upside and the leading authority on independent consulting. Since launching The Upside in 2017, Erin has helped thousands of professionals transition from corporate life into consulting to achieve flexibility, autonomy, and a renewed sense of purpose in their careers.

Erin has been a frequent speaker at Columbia, NYU, Harvard, and Brown and has been featured as a leading future of work expert on dozens of podcasts as well as in Forbes, Business Insider, Nasdaq, Crunchbase and many more.

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