How to handle requests for free help

by Michele on February 6, 2013

How to handle requests for free services

Do you ever get requests for help someone for free?  I know I do.  I’ve had my business for 4 years now, and I have to admit that sometimes these requests still leave me flummoxed.

Let me be clear about what types of requests I’m talking about.  There are certain times it’s fine to ask for something free.  I regularly offer silent auction gifts to non-profits.  I welcome requests for quotes or opinions for media pieces.  I love being a guest blogger for someone else.  I’ve done interviews as someone’s guest.  What sets these situations apart is that the exchange is a win-win.  Each party gives and gets something.  In my case, it’s often free publicity or the opportunity to be seen as an expert.

I’m also not including someone asking for information to help them decide if I’m the right fit for them to work with.  I’m not including people who decide to have a discovery or other free session with me that I offer a few times per year.

I’m also not talking about someone asking me a question in casual conversation – I love to talk business and usually can’t stop!  I’m also excluding any volunteer or mentoring done as a way of contributing to the world.

What I am specifically talking about are the blatant (or implied) requests for free service with nothing offered in return.  These requests come in various forms.  There are a few people I see occasionally on a social basis who think it’s fine to ask for services I would charge hundreds of dollars for simply because we are loosely acquainted.  There was a recent request from someone on a social networking site whose first interaction with me was to ask me for free help.  There’s also the “Can I buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain” requests.

So how do you deal with these requests as a solopreneur?  When you operate a transparent, one-person shop there’s no receptionist or corporate policy manual to hide behind.  If you turn down the request, the person knows it is you turning them down.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Try not to react right away.  There’s often an emotional sting that comes with these requests because the person doesn’t seem to value your services or expertise.  Wait until the immediate urge to verbally chastise them subsides.
  • Offer lots of free resources on your website.  Having free items such as blog posts, a newsletter and other downloadable free gifts allow a person to access you and your expertise for free.  This could lead to future business, and at the very least it’s a good contribution to others that feels fair to you.
  • Be honest that you are not going to help them for free.  If you tell someone you can’t help them right now because you are too busy, expect regular calls for the foreseeable future asking if you are still too busy.  It’s better to get it over with quickly by being honest right away.
  • Be consistent.  Don’t say no to one request only to say yes to an identical request from someone you have the same relationship with.  Integrity is a huge part of having a successful solopreneur business, so don’t damage people’s perception of yours.
  • Offer a one-time consultation for a fee.  Many experts say not to do this, but I’ve found that people love being able to try just one session.  Not everyone is ready for a long-term commitment.  You can put this on your website as a regular offering or offer it to people who you think have a special circumstance.

I strongly advise against working for free except when you are just starting out and need at least a few references and testimonials.  How do you handle requests for free services?  Tell me about it in the comments.

Comments

  1. Over time I’ve accumulated a lot of types of “free help” requests and I try to do what you suggest. To offer this advice in a blog or email newsletter. Also, I try to find ways to make it worthwhile to create those free resources, maybe through affiliate links etc.

    When someone asks me for free help blatanly I tell them I have a free 30 min consultation and if I can help them we can go from there. Or I send them to my resources, etc. — Hopefully they get the hint and hire me.

    1. Michele says:

      Great idea Oscar, to put an affiliate link in a free resource! That makes it a win-win which I love. I think having a set policy of a “free 30-minute consultation to see if I can help you” is a good thing too. It sets the stage beforehand that the person will only get 30 minutes and the purpose of it is not to give free service but to help them (and you) decide if you are a good fit. Thanks for the ideas!

  2. […] undervalue – what you do. Business Strategist for Solopreneurs, Michele Christensen, recently shared some tips for handling situations when people are looking for you to provide your billable se…. Sometimes it is appropriate and beneficial to give your time away for nada, but be wary of doing […]

    1. Michele says:

      Great post Dawn! I love the rules you pulled together, and no we don’t need huge detailed operations manuals but we do need some policies and practices in place. Thanks for the mention in your post!

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