One of the occupational hazards for entrepreneurs and professionals alike is that friends, family members and sometimes even random acquaintances or strangers may think nothing of asking you for free advice. Often, they simply assume that if you have a particular skill, and they know you (or, in some cases, simply know of you and just made your acquaintance), they're entitled to ask for that skill gratis. If you're a lawyer, maybe it's reviewing a document and giving them free legal advice; if you're a computer consultant, maybe it's taking a look at their laptop. If you're a writer, maybe it's giving them feedback on a story they've written, or a free copy of your book.
Part of the challenge in dealing with these requests is that many of us can't say no to them, or even worse, feel guilty because we're afraid our services aren't worth what our rate card states. This is because what we do is easy for us in general, either because we have trained for it or because we have an inherent love and aptitude for it. If it's easy and fun for us, then how can it be worth money? But just because we have a passion for something that we also happen to be good at doesn't reduce its value. There's also the fact that we've spent time and energy developing our talent. The first step in dealing with others who don't place a value on our expertise is learning to recognize its inherent value ourselves.
There's a famous story about Picasso that wonderfully illustrates what I'm talking about. The story goes that the artist was sitting in a Paris café when a fan approached and asked if he'd draw a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, executed the sketch and handed it back--but not before asking for a sizeable sum of money in return. The admirer was shocked: "How can you ask for so much? It only took you a minute to draw this." To which Picasso, replied, "No. It took me 40 years."
Since, as Picasso discovered, these requests can take you by surprise, it's a good idea to have a policy in place or a set piece in your back pocket in case of ambush. Unless you have a strategy for politely refusing, you'll be spending a lot of time giving away your expertise for free, and resenting it, especially if the person to whom you're giving the freebie can easily afford to pay for it. Maybe you say that you don't mix business and pleasure, or that you've learned it's best not to work for friends. Some entrepreneurs offer a friends and family discount --an alternative that acknowledges the special relationship but at a price they're willing to pay. Alternatively, you can suggest trading or bartering services.
I like that idea because I find that most people who ask for something for free don't have any idea of the cost attached, and suggesting a trade immediately alerts them to the fact that a transaction is taking place. You're signaling that you're giving up something of value and it comes with a price--even though on this particular occasion you're agreeing to accept payment in another way. You're also letting them know that if they want the benefit of your expertise, you, too, deserve a benefit. It works both ways. Bottom line: if you don't want to get sucked into giving away the store for free, the onus is on you to value your skill and then find a diplomatic way to educate the other person about that value.
Do you find it hard to put a price on your services? Have you ever been caught off guard by the request for a freebie? How did you handle the request?