The Simple Tricks Experts Use to Always Get Paid For Their Time
by Laura Roeder
When I think about it, I still get that feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I was chatting with a woman with an interior design business about the changes she needed to make in her website. The conversation was going well — she loved all my ideas and was ready to rebuild her site.
I started getting excited, thinking I had found my next project. I was already putting together her proposal in my head. Then she uttered those dreaded words …
“I’d love to take you to lunch and pick your brain sometime.”
I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt my face turning red and I stammered out an excuse about getting back to her when I checked my calendar.
Requests for “brain-picking” are rampant in any business, and they’re never fun if you’re the one whose brain is being picked. It used to happen to me so much that I found myself becoming resentful.
Every time I spoke with someone new I heard a little voice in the back of my head saying “Ugh, I bet they’ll never hire you, they just want a bunch of help for free”.
That little voice was not very helpful for landing clients
If you’ve ever been in this situation, there is a way to turn this around. There is a way to handle these situations with grace and without frustration.
There’s even a way to make those freebie requests go away — or, even better, turn into paying clients.
It is your job, and your job alone, to set appropriate boundaries and clear up what you’re happy to give for free and what you charge for.
That might be hard to hear. But if you want to move through these situations with grace (and encounter them less often) you have to stop placing blame — and start making it a policy to get paid for your time.
Sound impossible? It’s not. Here’s how:
1. Take full responsibility
The most important thing you can do is stop being angry at the prospect for asking.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. If you were given the choice between getting a new computer for free or paying for the same computer, you’d pick free every time — and you’d never think about the company who doesn’t get paid for the sale. Why would you?
I know free is my favorite price for everything.
It is your prospect’s prerogative to ask for your time for free. Let me say that again — it is their prerogative to ask.
In fact, they’d be missing a golden opportunity if they paid for something when they didn’t have to. You can’t blame the prospect for taking the smart route.
You’re also missing the subtle compliment that goes with being asked for advice.
When someone asks you for your time for free, be grateful that they view you as someone who can offer valuable advice. Gary Vaynerchuk constantly says how grateful he is to get thousands of emails a day — he doesn’t take it for granted that every one of those people thinks that he is worth taking time out of their life to write to him.
Everyone asking for your time is already “sold” on you to a degree — they must be or they wouldn’t be asking you for more! Instead of viewing them as a dead-end cheapskate, see them as someone who is so invested in you that they’ll either be a potential client or a source of referrals.
2. Clearly establish your service offerings
Sometimes people ask you to work for free because you haven’t given them anything to buy.
When I offered web design I didn’t have any packages for ongoing support. I charged clients a per-project fee, and considered the project done when the client signed off on the design.
Invariably, people would contact me after the project was officially “over” with some tiny request — things that literally took 5-10 minutes of my time. Crafting a new invoice for this small request seemed silly, yet all of these requests were starting to seriously eat up my time.
I started to feel like I had to provide free service for life for each one-time purchase, and I felt like people were taking advantage of me when they asked for these small favors.
Looking back, I can see that they weren’t taking advantage of me. The issue was mine. I should have had a clearly-defined ongoing support package to offer in response to those requests.
That would have made things clear — either you had purchased my ongoing support or you hadn’t. As it stood, everyone was in the grey zone.
If you don’t like people asking for your time for free, but also don’t have any sort of well-defined offer in place to charge them for that time, the blame falls squarely on you.