Is your generosity sending you broke because your friends and family don’t know what you do, or don’t appreciate the commercial value of your expertise?
You know ‘stuff’, right?
You’ve worked hard to get ahead, and now master of your own destiny as an expert at what you do. You get asked a lot about things you do and what you know, but often your friends or family are resistant to paying your fee for some of the following reasons:
- They think they have the right to free advice
- They are ignorant of your actual value or what you charge
- They may be uncomfortable asking for your help because they don’t want to ‘take advantage’
How much do we end up giving away to people because we’re uncomfortable charging for our time? Or our expertise?
Let’s look at some scenarios here:
- A friend wants your help. They don’t really fully understand what you do, but they know it’s something to do with HR. So they ask for a few pointers, or a bit of help, and then wander off and do their thing. Maybe you were super helpful and saved your friend a lot of time and money on a difficult situation, but hey, they’re a good friend so that’s ok. They paid for the lunch and you had a good chat about the kids too. Happy Friday!
- A friend asks for your advice, then wanders off and hires another company for the work you could easily have also done – and maybe wanted to do – but in fact didn’t get a chance to quote on, because the friend felt uncomfortable mixing business with friendship.
- A friend wanted your help, took it, made a few great decisions as a result of your input, and then went and hired someone else to do the actual work required to put your ideas into practice.
So let me ask you this: in any of these instances would it make a difference if they were a really good friend, family member, or simply a well-known acquaintance?
Professional vs expert – or both
What if it’s not a ‘traditional professional’ situation (ie your business is marketing, design, publishing or coaching, rather than HR, accounting, legal services)? And let’s say you are not very good at setting boundaries around what you will and won’t give away. Would you ask your builder mate to build your deck on the weekends and expect to have that done for free or ‘heavy-duty mate’s rates’?
I have a close associate who is constantly called up by a semi-retired friend, who simply doesn’t get that the other person is in fact working hard when she’s seen to be ‘only spending time talking with people’. Another whose mother often calls through the day to see ‘what about we have lunch today’ despite the fact that her daughter is a highly competent and busy entrepreneur with a team of employees to support and deadlines to meet.
Setting firm boundaries
If we are offended by our friends seeking our advice and then going off and giving paid business to someone else, then there are some things we can do to rectify this.
1. Set firm boundaries around what you will and won’t ‘give away’ to anyone. Not just those people you are close to. Then radiate that out further and ring-fence the extras you might share free with best friends, and close family. From there, set rules for yourself about how you might encourage people you know to tap into your wisdom and knowledge in a way you can easily control.
For example, we offer a one-hour free hangout, twice a month, for people who want to know about publishing and writing matters to turn up with their questions and chat about their curiosity. It’s a no-holds barred opportunity to pick our brains for information that we’re willing to share – and it enables us to explain some of our own intellectual property and demonstrate the strength of our knowledge – but there’s a catch. People have to be registered, and we have the option to then follow up with them via an email if prudent to do so. (If you want to know more about this, please click here.)
2. Make referrals easier. If you publish a set of information, be it a book, catalogue, checklist or a video explaining some of what you do, you can then invite people to extend further into your toolbox and book your time, with an acknowledged referral fee or rate for people who are referred to you. This helps support those lunches with friends who do want to tap into your vast reservoir of willing and free helpfulness, and keeps those referrals coming.
For example, we charge a fee for a ‘let’s have a chat’ option to anyone not already known to us or referred to us by current clients, because otherwise we end up giving away an awful lot of time. When you’re a service-based business, time literally is money and valued as a commodity – but if that request is from someone referred to us, we waive that fee (mostly) for an introductory chat, because we want to keep those referrals coming. It also enables our friends and the cheerleaders we have for our business to feel they can be of help to their friends and family by being able to refer us this way.
3. Learn to simply say ‘no’ or say ‘so‘. This means that you explain to your friend or acquaintance that ‘this is how I put food on the table’. This design tweak, or coaching session thinly disguised as ‘lunch’ is how I earn a living and my time is valuable. I’m happy to help you out, and I’d value the work opportunity or the chance to refer you to a valued and competent colleague greatly, but this is where I have to draw the line on my ‘free vs fee’ time.
If you do a special ‘something’ that you know is valued highly and of considerable value to someone else, then learning to charge appropriately for that service, even to friends and family, means you also start to value yourself appropriately. It’s called intellectual property for a reason. It’s perhaps an intangible or creative asset you have worked hard to develop; your expertise defines the difference between someone spending a lot of time on something and taking a fast track to a better solution you can provide for a dilemma or situation.
So why not value yourself better? The alternative is risking your generosity and ending up broke. And for professional creatives, the pay-off vs cost is the time you have, or don’t have, for the work you do that feeds you and your family.