Can I convert a request for free help into a paid consultation?

One reader writes:

I work in a pretty specific niche area. I was at a conference recently describing my work and a leader from another organization came up to me to ask how he could find someone like me to work for him. I emailed him some information about the graduate school I was attending where there are many students who would dream of working for such an organization. I also pointed out a popular job board for my area to him.

But the questions did not end there. We then talked for about half an hour about my duties, his organization, recommendations I would give him at this point, future directions he might consider, etc. Later that day he asked me what a reasonable salary range for that Position he hopes to occupy.

I am flattered by his interest and I am happy to help him find the right person. But I am currently unable to join his organization.

However, my fear is that I have put myself in the position of unlimited free counseling and recruiting. I would be willing to offer limited services as an independent contractor (e.g. drafting a job description, helping with the creation of a strategic plan).

I wonder how I can turn our current conversations into an independent contract offer. It feels awkward to say at this point that I’m not ready to chat with him for free anymore. It’s one thing to have a conversation at a conference, but he mentioned that I would have a lot more emails to come.

I’m answering that question today at Inc., where I revisit letters that were buried here in the archives years ago (and sometimes update / expand my answers to them). You can read it here.



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