We, as soloists, are probably in the business because we want to help others.
But the word may get around that you are always ready and able to solve a problem or answer a question and before you know it your inbox will be full of requests from non-paying customers.
Perhaps it appears to the salaried employee that we have time on our hands, expertise to spare and unlimited availability in which to share our wealth of knowledge. But we don’t.
Responding to all these requests lowers your value and eats up your time. But saying no to colleagues, friends, family, casual acquaintances, and even strangers, is difficult.
If you are in this boat you are not alone. Sharon Hayes has had such a huge response to her blog, giving seven reasons why she can’t do work for free that she is now running workshop sessions on the topic.
I am not about to restate the great points Sharon makes, because you can read those for yourself.
But the whole blog, and the pages of commentary and conversation following it, point to two key concerns of the knowledge worker who must rely on networks and connections for ongoing business.
One is the value of your offer, and the other is saying no to requests in a way that keeps the relationship, and your dignity, intact.
Actually, these are two sides of the same coin – your professional self-worth. So here are three things to think about before answering next time someone asks: Can I pick your brain?
1. Be very clear to yourself about how much of your experience and time you are prepared to share.
It may be that you set aside a certain time period each week to support a community group with your skills, or run a free session for a low income group. Or you could set a boundary by replying to only a certain number of questions in a week. As a start-up you may not have any free time to donate – and that’s ok.
2. Think about offering a sliding scale of ways to help. For example:
I can talk to you about this for five minutes but if your problem is more complex I would ask you to make an appointment for a 15/30/60 minute consultation so we can get to the heart of it and I can work through it with you.
Most people would consider their issue to be worth more than five minutes. You have established yourself as a person who is more than willing to help and you have set out a range of choices for them, with a range of prices attached.
3. Letting people know what you do and how well you know your stuff is vital to word of mouth marketing.
Sharing yourself strategically, and offering your service in return for an hour of another person’s time, might be a worthwhile way of renegotiating a request for help if the person concerned has an equivalent skill area that you need.