You’ve probably heard the expression “TMI” jokingly directed at someone who reveals more information (typically of a personal nature) than the listener cares to hear. I propose a business definition for that acronym, too–and it has nothing to do with manners, squeamishness, or professionalism.
The Too Much Information I have in mind refers to giving a prospective client so many useful suggestions that one of two things results:
1) They don’t need you anymore. I made this very foolish mistake exactly once, quite some time ago (in fact, it was the inspiration for this post). Someone contacted me–out of the blue, no prior solicitation or interaction–to talk about Facebook for their business. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for her, this particular business is well-suited for Facebook marketing (some industries are better than others). I was very enthusiastic and full of ideas–not just for Facebook, but for her blog, website, and other components of her marketing mix. I oversold it . . . during a free consultation. How do I know? Her follow-up to the meeting was a “thanks for your time and all the great info; I’m going to try all this myself and I’ll let you know how it goes.”
So, if many months ago you heard a strange sound that you couldn’t quite identify, something like a woman smacking herself on the forehead and muttering a few choice words at herself, it could well have been me upon receipt of that email.
2) They take your ideas and hire someone else to execute them. Again, this was based on a lesson learned just a few months after we started. A restaurant was planning an opening, we brought a proposal overflowing with ideas *and* suggestions for implementation, and we were certain the gig was ours. The company made it sound as though we were the only bidders–until we handed over this lovely, detailed proposal. We aren’t sure if they shopped it around externally or used it as a template for action to be used by in-house resources, but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. We didn’t get the project, and they got the ideas.
Now, it’s important to let potential clients know that you’re knowledgeable and that you can help them find solutions that are best for their business. It’s great to let your passion shine through as well. But there’s a fine line between being too vague–fluff doesn’t sell, nor should it–and providing as much help and information as you do once someone becomes your client (in which case, there’s no such thing as being too helpful. When someone signs with us, sharing ideas and offering thoughtful suggestions are a given).
Takeaway: When you have a service business involving consultation, ideas, instruction, and so on, take some time to define that fine line. At the end of the day, the objective is for both yourself and your prospective customer to benefit from the interaction.