“No, I Don’t Work For Free!”

Whether you are out of work, in between assignments or just taking a break from it all, you have the right to set the bar in terms of how you value your time and more importantly, your worth.   Just because your friend calls and asks for some “free advice” doesn’t mean you should always put yourself in a position to discount your services.  It’s good to help out a friend or former colleague or make referrals because you want to in turn help someone else land a job, but this does not mean you should give your services away for free.

Having the courage to stand up for yourself particularly when you are in between jobs or maybe starting your own business, will set the tone for how you will succeed in negotiating for yourself in the future.  Knowing when to say, “No, I don’t work for free” from, “Yes, I’d be glad to help you.  Let me get back to you on my rate for those services,” means you are not short-changing yourself or more importantly, putting yourself in a position to be taken advantage of.  It’s tough to say no to a friend, colleague or former business associate when it means they are not willing to pay you to help them.  Last time I checked, working for free is not going to help you pay the rent, mortgage or utility bills every month.

Being available to help someone in need is different than just being “available.”  The former suggests you are eager and welcome to offer your time to help someone in need.  The latter implies you are open and willing to offer your services at a reasonable rate. You need to know the difference. Just because you find yourself out of work or looking for your next opportunity does not mean you should give your talents and your time away for free. It’s probably more important to know how to negotiate on your behalf when you don’t have a job than when you do have one.  It’s not that your friends and colleagues are out to take advantage of you.  They are probably thinking you are merely sitting around waiting for the phone to ring and in your boredom wouldn’t mind giving them a hand. Whether that is even slightly true or not it does not matter.  You need to make sure that you represent yourself in a way that serves and protects your interests first and foremost.  Now, I’m not suggesting you strong arm anyone when they ask for your assistance, but it is wise to know in advance what you consider a favor from what you know is giving away your valuable time and intellectual knowledge.

We’ve all faced situations where we’ve been asked to make a “referral” or “provide some insight” into a situation or asked, “What would you do if you were me?’ in an effort to gain your perspective, which may or may not lead to you offering up more than you were asked.  It’s natural for us to want to help-it’s even somewhat flattering.  The point is to know the difference between offering your honest advice from providing services that you would ultimately get paid to perform.  It’s not easy to say no, especially to someone you know and like, but there is a diplomatic way to handle any situation that arises where you potentially put yourself in a compromising spot.  It’s okay to say, “Well, I’d really like to help but it sounds like this is a real project which will require more of my time.  What sort of budget do you have in mind as I’m willing to help you work within your budget?”  Don’t feel just because you are asking to be paid that you’ve broken some cardinal rule.  You owe it to yourself to be honest and know that your time is of value, especially if you are in a situation where you are not working or working independently.  Next time you are asked to assist someone that turns into a real job, ask yourself how you think the other person would have handled it if in a similar situation?  Find a way to offer up a compromise and don’t settle if you believe your time is worth more than a cup of latte.

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