There was a moment after I started my business when I realized that lots of people were hitting me up for advice. Not only were clients eager to learn as much from me as possible, but old friends and new contacts were asking to “pick my brain.” At first, it was very flattering. But quickly it became too much. First of all, it was taking up a lot of time. But more importantly, I thought, they should be paying me! But I didn’t want to offend anyone, and I didn’t want to lose any potential business opportunities.
If you’ve been in your line of work long enough, I’m sure the same has happened to you. Your clients have asked you for extras that weren’t in the original agreement. And you have non-clients asking to “grab coffee and bounce ideas around.”
Sometimes it is good to say yes, but often you’ll want to say no. In these cases, how do you push back without jeopardizing the relationship? You wouldn’t want to risk losing any future projects with this person.
Read on and I’ll show you how to say no gracefully and firmly.
It’s OK To Say No
First, it helps to approach this with the right mindset. Perhaps you feel guilty for not agreeing to help… that’s natural. After all, part of the reason you went into this business was to share your gifts with others. But to think that you should help for free really undermines the value of your expertise. You’ve honed it with many, many years of sweat, and your clients happily pay you good money for it. Honor yourself–and your clients’ investment in you–by upholding the value of your expertise.
OK now you’re ready. Follow these three guidelines to say no clearly and respectfully.
Make Them an Offer
Consider the request you’re getting, and ask yourself, “At what price would I WANT to do this work?” Got a number? Great! Now, you can turn a “no” into a “yes.” Instead of saying, “Sorry, I can’t look over that contract for you,” you can say, “Sure! I’d be happy to review that contract. My fee for this project will be $500. Would you like me to go ahead?”
You’ll find that most people, when they hear this, will realize their freebie request was kind of uncool, and they’ll appreciate having clear options. Either they can hire you to do the job, or they won’t expect your help.
Some people will decide to hire you, so make that choice easy by including a clear next step for them. Tell them how to pay you, direct them to a payment page on your website, or (as in the example above), just ask them for agreement to start.
CAVEAT: Don’t make them an offer if you really don’t want to do the work! Some requests are just too small or too annoying to be worthwhile. In these cases, steps 2 and 3 below still apply.
Be Firm and Definitive
When declining someone’s freebie request, there’s a tendency to use a socially-acceptable excuse to make the refusal sound nicer. “Oh, I’m just so busy right now,” or “I’d love to but my cat is in the hospital.” The problem here is that often, they don’t take the hint, and they’ll come back next month to request the freebie again.
I believe it’s kinder to be firm and honest than to potentially mislead them. To make your response definitive, delete any phrase which could possibly be interpreted as a “not now.”
Don’t Make Excuses
Another habit we have to soften the blow is to apologize or make excuses. “I’m sorry to have to charge you, but I’ve gotta keep the lights on.” Or, “Due to the high volume of requests, I have to charge for this.”
Apologizing for charging what you are worth perpetuates the myth that you should be working for free. You never have to make an excuse to ask for fair compensation.
Sample Scripts for You
In a case when you want to make them an offer:
Yes, I’d be happy to tune your piano. My tuning fee is $150. If that works for you, let’s make an appointment for next week. How about Thursday at 3pm?
Yes, I’d be happy to help you brainstorm about your marketing campaign. We could accomplish this during a one-hour consultation. My consultation fee is $350. If that sounds good to you, please pay me via PayPal, and then we’ll schedule a time to meet. I’m looking forward to it.
In a case where you don’t want this work under any circumstances:
Thanks for thinking of me with your closet remodeling! Unfortunately I’m not the right person to help you with this. My minimum project size is $10,000. In the future if you have a construction project of that size, I’d be delighted to work with you. For the closet remodel, I would suggest you talk to Acme Closets (www.acmeclosets.com); they might be a good fit for you.
Share Your Thoughts
What have you found to be effective or ineffective in fielding freebie requests? Share your success stories, or your cautionary tales, by posting a comment below!