Are you constantly being asked for ‘tips’? Or invited to meet for ‘coffee’ in exchange for your advice? Fed up with people expecting ‘freebies’, even if it’s for a good cause? Then it’s probably time to start training yourself and others to put a value on your time and expertise.
Heartless capitalist bitch. Money-grabber. Greedy.
Those are three descriptors I’ve dreaded being called or thought of as in the past. I know I’m not alone as I see so many discussions online where service providers ask how they can handle requests to ‘pick your brain’ or provide other time-consuming work for no fee.
Coaches and consultants are particularly prone to this phenomenon. It’s even more prevalent for those who consider themselves to be ‘ethical’, ‘socially conscious’ entrepreneurs who want to make a positive difference through their work to people, animals and planet.
Admittedly, I’ve done this myself. I’ve asked web developers to “just” or “quickly” do something (which probably takes a lot more time than I assume it will).
Here’s the thing:
When you ask a professional for advice or to do some work for you, yet expect it for free, you’re essentially saying to them, ‘I value your expertise, but not enough to pay you for it’.
Offering to buy the professional ‘coffee’ is no better, as you’re telling them their years of experience and expertise is only worth a few dollars. This is what people are communicating to you, as a service provider. Not pretty, eh?
I get asked constantly for tips, advice, or to ‘look over’ a document. If it’s a friend, or a very quick query, I’ll most likely respond and help them out. Anything beyond that, I’ve started to encourage people to book in a time for a paid consultation. I’m trying out this new platform, ClarityFM, where you can book with me from 15 minutes onwards. Or if it’s writing or editing work, I reply with a request for more details and let the person know I require this to be able to provide a quote.
Initially I felt a bit guilty – and worried about what people would think of me (see first line of this article). Then I realized that if I was going to run a business, there had to be an exchange: I give value and get compensated in return. Otherwise, I go broke. That helps no one and detrimentally impacts the causes I’m passionate about.
Profile-building ‘alchemist’ Vanessa Talbot agrees. “You MUST put it upfront that a consultation with you is $X amount. I no longer get ‘pick your brain’ requests once I made the decision to put it upfront when I get that request. They’re either happy to place value on my time and expertise … or they’re not.”
Psychologist and communications trainer Clare Mann was recently contacted about potentially carrying out some consulting work with the managing director of a large multinational corporation. After an initial couple of gratis telephone meetings totalling around two hours, she was told by the HR department that the MD had a shortlist of prospects and wanted her to come to a face-to-face meeting to see if there was “chemistry” between the two of them. This required Mann – a highly skilled practitioner with decades of experience in her field – to set aside a morning for this purpose.
She provided the HR person with a quote for her time, only to be told that the company wasn’t expecting to pay her to attend this meeting. She declined the ‘opportunity’.
“Paying for a professional’s services says much more than just paying for their time,” she explains. “It gives permission for the client to be challenged and for the consultant to be accountable. In this situation future work would only result if the executive liked me, instead of being linked to my ability to challenge him and get real results. The scenario set up meant that Cinderella either went to the ball and married the prince, or was dismissed through the back door without even a glass of water!”
‘But it’s for the [insert cause here]’
As vegan entrepreneurs, we’re in business for more than just money alone. Our ‘why’, our purpose, is to contribute to making the world a better place. Raising awareness of the horrors of industrial animal exploitation and providing a kinder alternative is a major driver for many vegan business owners. We want to help the animals.
So, when someone from a non-profit organization or an activist group or a vegan business reaches out to you for gratis help, it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ all the time because you don’t want to let the side down. After all, it’s about getting the vegan or animal rights message out there, right?
The problem is, if you’re constantly working for free, you have no time to do paid work. Also, the more you develop a reputation as someone who doesn’t place a value on your expertise, the less likely you are to attract paying clients because you’ve taught people not to value your time or skills.
“As advocates we must form a better relationship with money and transmute it into something powerful,” says Mann. “When we charge for our services to other vegans and animal advocates, we demonstrate by example the value they should put on their own services and the imperative of developing an abundance mindset if they are to be successful.”
If this is pushing your buttons, consider this: You wouldn’t go into a vegan shoe store and expect to leave with a pair of boots without paying for them because it’s ‘for the cause’. You understand the store owner is running a business. As a service provider, you’ve got to start training people to recognise that you, too, are running a business. Your expertise and skills are your ‘goods’ and you deserve to be paid for them.
When IS it ok to do stuff for free?
Of course I’m not suggesting you become someone who does absolutely nothing unless money is involved. Here are some examples of how you can provide complimentary help without devaluing your skills or time:
Volunteer your services for a particular project
If you have the time and energy to donate your skills to something you’re particularly passionate about, go for it. Just don’t spread yourself too thin. Also, put a dollar value on your services. Even though you’re donating it, make sure you let the other party know the value of your expertise. This can be a simple email describing the services, stating their monetary value and that you are providing them on a pro bono basis.
Contribute in Facebook, LinkedIn and other online groups
Joining groups where your target market hangs out and providing tips and answering questions is a great way to demonstrate your expertise while providing value to your audience.
Write or produce content for relevant media outlets, including your own
Maintaining a blog, podcast or YouTube channel is an ideal way to give away free content. It’s a win for you as it showcases your expertise and it’s a win for your visitors as they gain valuable information. The same goes for contributing to other people’s blogs, such as guest posts. If audiences want more indepth training or one-on-one help, they can buy one of your programs, book a consultation with you or hire you to do some work for them.
Offer a prize
Running a competition or donating a raffle prize is a good way to generate buzz around your offering, as well as giving one or more people the opportunity to experience it. Think about whether you really want to offer a service as a prize. You’re likely to be better off offering a product if you have one, such as a book, ebook, or online program. These are quick and easy to deliver while providing excellent value for the winner.
What to say when someone wants to pick your brain/buy you coffee/get your advice/do free work for them
Below are some responses I’ve found helpful in response to these requests:
“I’d be happy to help you and guide you in regards to _____. I offer the following services _________. The next step would be to book a ‘Rent My Brain’ session on my website at ______.
(The use of the word ‘Rent’ implies it requires payment and trains people out of the ‘picking’ mindset)
“Yes, I do offer those services as part of my business. If that’s of interest, feel free to drop me an email at ______ or give me a call on _________for further details and fees.”
“Yes, this is something I can help you with. My pro-bono work is at capacity, so I’m not able to do this on a voluntary basis due to the time involved. My fee for ______is $_______.”
“I don’t have time to grab a coffee unless we’re doing it as an official business meeting. And my charge for a consultation, if you’re game, is …” – Marie Forleo from her video 3 Ways to Say No to People Who Want to Pick Your Brain.
At the end of the day, if you want to run a business based on your skills and expertise, you’ve got to get comfortable with charging for your time and work. If you don’t value yourself, no one else will.
Thoughts? Too ‘hard ass’ or useful advice? How do you handle requests to ‘pick your brain’?