How to be a ‘no-favours’ good guy

Although I don’t like doing favours, I have found that sticking to three golden rules makes them bearable. BRENDAN LEWIS

Brendan Lewis

By Brendan Lewis

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I dislike favours. Almost certainly someone who knows me well has read the article and thought “b*llshit, you’ve done me favours!”.

It’s not true though. I don’t do favours anymore, I only do “specific favours”.

A couple of years ago I met with a “captain of industry” for coffee. We had a wide ranging conversation about what I was doing with the Churchill Club.

During the conversation I mentioned that I felt concerned about the number of favours I was doing for people and whether I was wasting time – and insane. My coffee guest pointed out something that was obvious as soon as he mentioned it, but I never would have thought of before hand – when I did favours, I threw a business-like approach out the window.

If I was offering to sell services, I would be very specific about what I would and wouldn’t do. But when offering to do a favour I would be too vague, just a “happy to help you”. My coffee guest pointed out that my favours would be far more effective and less demanding on my time if I put some structure around them.

So I came up with some simple rules.

Rule Number 1. Is there intangible value to be had here?

If the favour is going to introduce me to new and interesting people or opportunities, I am happy to get involved. If not, go to rule no 2.

Rule Number 2. Is it good karma?

Because I am not a self-centered [email protected], I am happy to do favours that need to be done. However if there is no intangible value for me, and it’s not good karma, I have learnt to say no. However if it is good karma, go to rule no 3.

Rule Number 3. Will it take less than two hours?

I, like the majority of the population, have to make a living and can’t spend all my time doing favours. Just like I can’t give to every charity, despite how deserving they may be. Therefore I have to ration my time. If someone asks for a favour that’s going to take longer than two hours, I really have to look at “what’s in it for me” as it’s highly likely it’s not actually a favour, but someone wanting to save money by getting me to act for free.

So once I have decided that I will do the favour, I am now much more specific about what I offer. I tend to focus on limiting the actions I can control, and not owning outcomes that I can’t. For instance:

  • I will help you for two hours, sorry I can’t spend more time on it.
  • I show you how to do this, but I won’t write the instructions down, you will have to take notes.
  • I will introduce you to person X with my recommendation, but I won’t make the meeting happen; you need to impress them yourself.

Doing these specific favours allows me to still think of myself as a good guy, without having to rip my hair out.


Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.



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