A&E marketing and business development guest post: Capturing the value of ‘Free’

Your firm gives stuff away for free all of the time.  How do you capture the value of what you’re give up for free?

This is the sixth post in Deltek’s A&E marketing and business development blog series.  Expert David Stone, founder and President of Stone and Company, talks about how to give ‘free’ a value.  With this insight (backed by Deltek Vision CRM and the integrated suite of Vision marketing solutions), Deltek’s goal is simple: To help your firm win more work! Enjoy.  To learn more about Deltek Vision CRM, check out this demo.

Capturing the value of ‘Free’

I love getting free stuff. The feeling of walking away (legally!) with something that you haven’t had to pay for is right up there with sunshine and blue skies.

There’s free stuff everywhere you look: Coke is on sale at the grocery store: buy one get one free. Stay one week at the Turtle Dove Resort, get a free rental car. Buy a new BMW, get free oil changes for life.

It’s interesting to note, however, that you rarely get something for free unless you’ve paid for something else. Try telling the grocery store that you only need one bottle of Coke, so you’ll take the free one please. Hardly ever does anyone hand you something of value and say, ‘It’s yours!’ without you first having paid for something else.

So let’s decide that ‘Free’ simply means it isn’t a line item on your bill. You paid for it, but it just didn’t show up on the invoice.

As we think further about the notion of ‘free’ it’s easy to see there are two kinds. The ‘random act of kindness’ sort of free only scores points if it’s done anonymously. In our relentless efforts to make it to heaven, we’ve all been taught to do good deeds, but to do them quietly, without taking credit. – you’ll be rewarded later. The ‘good for marketing’ kind of free, however, scores no points if no one knows about it. If you give your client something for nothing and they aren’t aware of it, you don’t get any goodwill credit.

What’s all this got to do with your engineering or design firm?

You give away stuff for free all the time. Project scopes that stretch into size XXL without corresponding fees, the advice you give away without compensation, the extra time you spend with your clients. All these represent your equivalent of ‘buy one, get one free.’ To make matters worse, your clients come to expect all the free stuff without having to pay.

Let’s learn how to give away free stuff while enjoying the marketing benefits AND maintaining control.

When you write your next contract, include a clause that says something to the effect of, “This fee includes up to $2,000 of additional scope items that are not yet identified, at no additional charge.” Then, when the client asks you for something that’s outside the scope, remind them of their ‘free’ scope expansion and happily do the task. When the $2,000 (or whatever amount is appropriate) runs out, let them know they’ve had their free bottle of Coke and they’ll have to pay for the next one.

Any time you do provide a service at no charge, memorialize it with an invoice. Create an invoice that documents the work done, the hours taken and the fee for services. Then take a red pen, cross out the bottom line, write “No Charge” in big red letters and mail it to the client. They’ll be thrilled at the great customer service and the free stuff. But they’ll also catch on that you’re monitoring the creeping scope. You’ll get the goodwill points while building in a reluctance to let the scope expand into size XXL.


About Jon Bornstein

Jon Bornstein manages Deltek's marketing in the A&E industry across North America. His job is to ensure that firms understand the many ways they can drive business value using Deltek purpose-built solutions.
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