We all have them in our social and family circles – notorious favor-askers who want to pick your brain for free. The first time you may be flattered, but the next time it’s your right to speak up and say that you aren’t in a position to keep helping.
Here are some expert tips on how to stop the “free” requests.
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Set clear professional boundaries
When you are in a service profession, it can seem harder for people to understand the value of what you do, says Erica B. McCurdy, managing member of Purpose Point Coaching and McCurdy Solutions Group. The closer they are to you, she says, the more they may feel as though they can ask for opinions and advice.
“In most cases, it may not even have occurred to those who are asking that they have crossed a professional line,” McCurdy explains. “It becomes the responsibility of the professional to set the boundary.”
Counter the ask with clarification
McCurdy says that you can respond to your friend or family member in a way that makes your business boundary clear.
“You do it by clarifying the ask: One easy way to do this is to say something like, ‘It sounds like you are talking about what I do for a living. Would you like me to set up an appointment to come into my office to talk about this?’ ” she continues.
As awkward as it seems, with practice, this becomes easier.
Have a policy in place
If you are asked about getting a service for free or at a discount, you should have a policy in place, and stick to that policy. This is a way you can curb “free work” relationships, says Stacey Staaterman Feeney, a career strategy coach. She says she has a policy in place has proven successful for keeping free-seekers at bay.
“For me, I rarely offer a discount to anyone, but have done so (and worked for free) for friends in true financial hardship due to illness, death, divorce, etc,” she says. “Otherwise, free work is a hard ‘no’ for me.”
Be clear you don’t mix business with friendship or family
If you’re worried about getting into business with friends and family you can avoid the situation completely by saying you don’t want to mix friendship and business.
“Then refer them to a colleague who can help them,” recommends business coach Lindsay Anvik. “This way they still are getting help, your colleague will appreciate the referral and you’re off the hook.”
Furthermore, Anvik says to be casual about your response. Consider saying, “We’d probably end up drinking wine more than working at a business dinner together. I have a fantastic colleague who can definitely help you.”
In this manner, you’re saying no to free advice but still being helpful.
Create a “friends and family” rate
Anvik said a way to get around awkwardness is to have “friends and family” pricing.
“This sets a clear boundary for friends and family, but still offers them a special rate,” says Anvik. “Make this slightly less than your regular fee, but still enough so you won’t lose money.”
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