Ok, I know that sounds harsh. I need to put this into context. This was approximately 15 years ago and I had a skill that seemed to be in high demand: I knew how to create websites. Though I wasn’t a website designer, I knew enough that I had created some very nice sites for work… and myself. And once word got around about this, I was inundated with requests from friends who “just needed a little help.” And, somehow, I ended up politely doing a lot of free work.
It had to stop.
It didn’t take long before I had the brilliant idea that if I started telling people that I now charged for this kind of work, well, they’d go away and stop asking. Instead they asked how much I charged.
Huh? I had to figure out pricing now?
So, instead of just saying “no” to the projects, I calculated a polite cost and quoted that (i.e., I charged something that I thought wasn’t too much). Unfortunately, more often than not I lowered it when they balked. And I still took quite a few pro bono projects.
The result was that I was still doing a lot of projects, but now I was in “business.” Now the projects were for clients instead of friends.
I eventually had to make the mental leap needed to take my freelancing seriously. What gave me that last push was a rash of “project creep” incidents that resulted in hurt feelings and broken relationships. I learned that, in the long run, underpricing actually hurts.
Fast forward 15 years. I flatter myself that I’ve learned a bit about running a business. The type of work I do as a freelancer has changed. My approach to the work has changed. What hasn’t changed are the “can I pick your brain?” requests.
It never fails that someone will invite me to lunch or dinner with a very casual “can I pick your brain?” situation or question. These are basically (and frequently) a request to have me give them a complete communications plan over the course of a meal, for free. Of course, it’s never couched in those terms. Often it’s presented as something that’s not that big a deal.
I find myself having these conversations more often than I’d like, explaining to people why I can’t just “give them some recommendations” over lunch. But I don’t think I could have explained it as well as Shonali Burke did in her recent post “If You Pick My Brain, I’ll Have a Hole In My Head.” Of course, I don’t offer as much free advice and support as Shonali does (read her post, it’s a lot), but I do participate in online forums, conversations and other discussions that provide suggestions, information and ideas to others. I can improve. I will improve. And I will endeavor not to end up with a hole in my head.
— Written by: Sandra Fernandez
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