Ah, the ol’ “free initial consultation.” Those three words adorn many a web page across this great internet.
But it’s a trap.
If you have real issues you need help with, a free initial consultation just isn’t something you should be interested in.
There are only three reasons why a professional would spend time talking to you without getting paid for it.
It’s not a consultation, it’s just a sales pitch
This is the most common reason for the free initial consultation—to sell you on the professional’s services. The professional tells you just enough to sound like they know what they’re talking about and maybe provides a little hint at a solution to your problem.
There are several problems waiting for you when you sign up for a sales pitch:
- The professional’s going to steer you toward the only solution they can provide (or the one that makes them the most money), whether consciously or subconsciously;
- The professional’s going to “spit-ball” some possible solutions and things for you to think about, none of which may actually apply to your situation; and
- More generally, the professional’s just not going to care about you. You’re just one of the tons of “free initial consultations” the professional had to deal with that day.
it’s not a consultation, it’s just pity
Maybe your brother-in-law’s golf buddy does something related to tax, and maybe he works at some place you’d never be able to afford to actually hire.
Here’s why you shouldn’t want to talk to this guy for free:
- Not every tax professional can actually help with your issue. Tax is an absolutely huge area, and there are lots of tax professionals that do lots of different things. Just because someone has “tax” in their job description doesn’t mean they know anything about your particular issue.
- Even worse, some professionals aren’t honest about the fact that they work in a different area and can’t really help with your issue. They may offer up some half-thought-out “solutions” just to sound like they’re actually helping.
- He’s not going to care. He’s just talking to you to be a nice guy and help out his buddy, and time he spends talking to you is just a distraction from something he’d rather be doing (which is just about anything else, really).
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It’s not a consultation, it’s just practice
Once upon a time, there was a tax attorney with over a decade of experience in international tax. However, almost all of that experience was in helping big companies, investment funds, large pension plans, foreign governmental investors, etc. Very little of it was in helping expat humans or non-US entrepreneur humans.
So, he wanted some experience—he wanted to get a few at-bats to better understand the real situations people face and how they tend to think about them. He put those famous three words all over his website and social media: “free initial consultation.” And the floodgates opened.
He learned a great deal about the real situations people face and how they think about them. He tried his best to actually help everyone.
Unfortunately, due to his inexperience, some of those people left his office with an understanding of their situation that’s like the sort of haircut you get at the barber college.
All in all, he got more out of it than any of the “free initial consultation” recipients ever did.
It’s not a consultation, it’s your clue to look elsewhere
“Free initial consultation” is your clue that it’s time to look for help from someone else.
A professional offering a free initial consultation can’t really help you.
Even worse signs are when a professional:
- Is willing to have multiple consultations with you until you buy something from them or
- Makes you “apply for help” (or has some other convoluted process other than a simple paid consultation).
If you’ve become email pen-pals with a professional, and they keep answering your questions for days on end for absolutely free, you know the screw job is definitely in. This professional has organized their practice to spend time talking to people on the front end (before you buy), so what do you think happens on the back end (after you buy)?
Once you’ve paid them to set up an offshore corporation or other structure, they’re done with you. They don’t have time to help you because they’re too busy doing all those free initial consultations to get other suckers to buy something. They’ll leave you to figure everything out on your own while they try to get more dollars in the door.
Then, when a professional makes you “apply” for a free consultation . . . what percentage of those “applications” do you think get approved? Just run away.
With free initial consultations, more is definitely less
Some people compound their problems with free initial consultations by doing a whole ton of them. They’ll tee up every professional they can get their hands on and then come up with a “solution” by cobbling together all the free “advice” they got.
That’s just never going to work. Never ever ever going to work.
In addition to all the individual problems with the actual consultations discussed above, a person who does this is inevitably going to just confuse themselves more. What they’re really doing is trying to diagnose their own problem and figure out their own solution.
When it comes to the international aspects of US tax law, that’s just never a good strategy. This stuff is really complicated—perhaps the most complicated area of US law in existence—and the consequences of getting it wrong are extremely high.
There’s just no way to get your own “mini law degree” by hacking together a bunch of free consultations and coming up with a coherent path forward.
I respect you too much to give you free advice
Well that sounds pretty corny, and you may not believe it. But it also happens to be true.
I charge for the initial consultation, but they aren’t a huge money-maker for me. In fact, the fees I receive for initial consultations typically make up less than 10% of my monthly gross revenue.
I charge for the initial consultation for three reasons:
- I want you to know you’re getting real advice from an experienced US tax attorney. You’re not getting a sales pitch, you’re not getting pity, and I’m not using you for practice.
- I get an absolute ton of new inquiries every single day. If I didn’t charge for an initial consultation, I would have time for nothing other than free initial consultations. That’s not fair to my current clients.
- The initial consultation is very often the only consultation. A little tax advice is often all you need. After our call, you’ll know exactly what you need to do, so you can move forward with confidence.
And, since you’re paying for it, a consultation with me avoids all the problems discussed above:
- You’ve paid for my time, so I don’t need to steer you in the direction that makes me money. Click here for a case study where I actually told a client that the solution I typically use wouldn’t really work in their situation.
- When we talk, I’m at work doing the exact job I’m really good at. I’ll only talk with you if you have a problem I can help with. I’m not some guy that got roped into talking with you—I actually care about helping you, and your problem is the exact sort of thing I help people with.
- I’m way past my batting practice days. Now I hit my client’s problems out of the park.
If you’d like some advice for your situation, click here to book a call.
Not Ready Yet?
A consultation works best when you know you have a specific problem and you know you need help with it. For example, click here for a list of issues I routinely help people with.
If you’re not ready for a consultation quite yet, then here are some ways to learn more:
- Read some articles,
- Listen to the Tax-Savvy Expat Podcast,
- Read my answers on Quora,
- Read my posts on Reddit, or
- Take one of the Tax-Savvy Expat courses.
Then get back in touch. I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk.
Want to know more? The Tax-Savvy Expat courses teach you everything you need to know about expat tax.