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How to Stop the Free-Loaders and Get Paid For Your Time


I get a version of this email or Skype message from friends and clients at least once a week:

“OMG. X person just sent me an email asking if I could just take a peek at something he is working on and give him feedback. Gratis of course.”


“What do I do? Someone just asked if I had time for a quick call so she could get some feedback on something. I don’t want to be rude but this is what I do for a living!”

Ah yes. The free-loader.

That may sound harsh and I truly believe most people who ask for our time for free don’t really think they are free-loading. But here is the harsh reality: when someone asks you to spend time doing what you do for a living and does not offer to pay you for your expertise, that is exactly what it is.

And because we all want to be nice and have everyone like us, we usually cave and do it and then kick ourselves. But if we don’t respect our business enough to draw a boundary, why should we expect anyone else to?

(And before people jump on me about being generous, there is an absolute difference between being generous and being taken advantage of. I often offer to help people without expecting payment and I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of generosity as well. I’m talking those people who EXPECT you to give your time and expertise to them for free.)

To help me do a better job at navigating this tricky situation, I’ve devised a response to these requests that a) allows me to offer a little help and b) sets a very hard boundary. It goes something like this:

“Thanks for asking for my thoughts, xyz person’s name. Here are a couple of quick suggestions. [Note: these have to be QUICK, requiring no more than 2 minutes of your time to compose.] If you’d like to schedule a coaching/consulting/whateveryourcallyourappointments session to go deeper, I would love to connect you with my assistant so she can schedule a time that works for you. ”

Another helpful version is: “Sounds like you have an interesting project going on, xyz person’s name. Because of all the demands I’m juggling, my phone time is really limited. If you’d like to schedule a session and get on the schedule, my assistant would love to help you find a time that works for you.”

You can also direct them to the awesome free resources you have available on your site. Bonus points for directing them to a specific one you think would be especially helpful.

Warning: you may experience dry mouth or shaky fingers the first few times you respond this way. Hold firm anyway; it will get easier with practice. Promise. 🙂

In the end, we teach people how to treat us and how to treat our businesses. When we respect what we do enough to treat it like the business it is, others will, too.

Would love to hear about your experiences and your thoughts about using this approach. I’m sure you have even better solutions than I’ve thought of.

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