There is a time in any skilled freelancer/consultant’s life when someone they know comes up to them and says “Can you help me with ” and said person expects you to do that for nothing. Even worse, they may give you the runaround or play you more as you’re doing something to help them. Here are some simple rules to follow when you’re gut’s telling you the person looking to you is after “something for nothing”.
First, let me say that what I do is IT consulting. I handle quite an array of clients, computers, servers, data, devices and everything in between on a daily basis. The sheer number of personal requests I get range from the simple “My home computer…” to the cases where people simply just bring in the computer to the office and have me fix it on the side. For me it’s all good, I’m happy to do anything I can at the office or not. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I come across real tough issues and get to learn something new. When presented with someone close that needs help, I do and in most cases, I do it for nothing.
The bane of IT consulting is generally the family or close friends (and their friends) who willfully look to this as a means of taking advantage. Most people that I encounter are generally happy to pay me something for my service and time – especially if I had taken time away from actual work to fix a problem. Some, however, look to my good nature to get as much as they can.
One such experience (I won’t name names) had me fixing a computer that was in dire condition. It was pretty-much just shoved in my face and I was told “Fix it”. I could have said no, but because it appeared important, I decided to take it and do whatever possible. After having the machine – the initial problems were varied and complicated and even worse, more issues became apparent as I went on. All told, I would spend a good four to five hours solving issues and making sure this computer would run reliably. For that I expected nothing.
I told the person, that I managed get things working – but to take it to a complete fix – I would have to spend more time. For this, this person would have to pay something. The person agreed and seemed happy that I had a solution. The “go ahead” was given and I would be given the money on X date. I waited until that day, this person was a no-show. When contacted them, it was as if they had forgotten everything previously arranged and just asked for the computer. So, I, feeling somewhat used, returned the computer and moved on.
This situation highlights some very important rules I think you should follow when helping close friends and relatives with your brand of talent:
1. Be clear – This issue really underscores the trouble you may face, especially when there are those looking to get something for nothing. Be as clear as possible upfront about what your doing, what you’re about to do and what it will cost. Never do anything that costs you money without them acknowledging they will pay.
2. Get paid before – If you have a feeling about the situation or if you’ve never dealt with this person beforehand – kindly request that they pay you upfront for the costs of hardware and labor. Don’t ever go out of pocket and find yourself chasing that person down. I have fallen prey to that too many times, often just forgetting about the money because no time or energy exists to chase people. If they are serious about you, they will pay upfront.
3. Be nice – Always be as nice as possible, even when you don’t want too. You have to be the bigger person about the situation. Move forward, accept you lumps and..
4. Don’t forget – Too many times, I have forgotten about a person what has habitually come to me for assistance and not even offered to pay for the time. In those cases, I happily help out and am then taken advantage of yet again. The most valuable (and at times difficult) thing you can do – is remember who has done it before and don’t help them again.
5. Don’t let it get to you – Struggling as a consultant means that you are fighting two big things: Reality and Perception. You can’t always succeed on both levels and sometimes you’ll even fail miserably on both with people you care about. Don’t let this difficulty get you down or make you discouraged. There are people that will value you for what you do, so keep moving.
6. Finish it promptly – I might be telling you something you already know, but try to keep the scope of what you do as simple as possible and finish it as soon as possible. This is never more important with friends or family because when things linger, they can sit there for some time. make sure when you agree to help, you can see a finish.