Do friends, prospects and colleagues ask to “pick your brain” and expect you to help them for free?
Ooh, do I have a story for you!
Recently, I had the most interesting interaction with a prospect. Over the course of a few days, the emails were flying fast and furious. We had discussed the project scope, money and timelines. I was excited. Things were looking good.
Then, I received a note from one of the stakeholders saying, “We’ve taken some SEO classes, but we need you to fill in the blanks and show us how everything ties together. Can you work with us for an hour?”
My response? “Yes! Of course!” I explained that I’d send over an agreement and invoice, and we’d schedule the appointment after I received payment.
Their reaction? “Well, I didn’t think this is something you’d charge for. You’re not the right person for us after all.”
Their reaction fascinated me. I even said to myself, “Is he trying to guilt me into free consultation time?”
Because that’s what he was doing. This wasn’t a meet-and-greet conversation to make sure we were all aligned. Nor was this a friendly check-in.
This was a play for free consulting.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The thing is, we’re asked to give away our skills ALL THE TIME…
The colleague who wants to “pick our brain” about something.
The random business owner who offers to pay for coffee in exchange for your help.
The prospect who wants you to evaluate his content, tell him what’s wrong with it, and then send a detailed proposal.
The prospect who wants a “free sample” before she’ll make her hiring decision.
Nope, nope, nope.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when giving away a freebie is perfectly appropriate. You may want to do it out of the goodness of your heart and that generosity comes from a lovely place.
Heck, I’ll often take a few minutes to help a friend, a new prospect, or someone who emails me.
However, in many (most) cases, we will agree because saying no makes us feel weird.
We acquiesce because we badly want the job. Or, we feel obligated. Or, we feel like the other person will think poorly of us if we say no.
So, we do it, feel resentful, and swear we’ll never do it again.
Until the next person guilts us into it.
Here’s another way to handle this situation.
The next time someone asks to “pick your brain,” smile and say, “I’d love to! My hourly consulting rate is X.”
When the person grumbles, “Well, I don’t need that much time,” follow up with, “I understand. We don’t have to use the entire time right now, but my hourly consulting rate is X. Since this is how I make my living, I always charge for my time.”
That’s all you need to do. You’re setting a boundary. Work talk = consultation time.
Granted, I know saying no is hard for some people. It doesn’t come naturally.
If this is you, here’s something to try…
Withdraw ten $1 bills from the bank. Whenever you give away your knowledge out of guilt or fear — whether in an email, on the phone, or in person — throw away $1.
Because that’s what you do every time you give away your knowledge for free. You’re throwing your money away.
Seeing a pile of $1 bills dwindle down to nothing is a wonderful visual reminder of what you’re doing to yourself — and your business.
Will you lose work if you don’t provide free samples?
Are those the clients you want in the first place?
That’s why you have a portfolio page on your site with links to past work — so clients can see what you’ve done and decide if you’re a good fit.
But, there are still clients that insist on a writing sample before they’ll sign on the dotted line.
If you hear this, counter that you’re happy to provide a writing sample at your going rate.
Then, issue an invoice and wait for payment before you start work.
It’s amazing how many prospects will agree to payment. You just have to ask.
What do you think?
Are you going to just say no to free work? What’s the biggest, “pick your brain” horror story you have? Hit reply and let me know!
What’s this week’s challenge?
You know those annoying five-minute tasks that pile up because they aren’t a huge priority? Maybe it’s answering an email. Or organizing your desk. Or researching a topic.
Complete one of those tasks this week. Get it out of your life and cross it off your list. You’ll feel so much better. Promise.
Have a great week and thanks for reading!