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We're Friends – Can you Help for Free?


Let’s imagine the world was split into two kinds of friends. I know, we don’t know everyone everywhere, so there’d logically have to be a third group (strangers). But let’s, for just a moment, imagine that the third group is just a queue for people moving into one of the other two camps.

Help for Free

The first group of friends is one you know well. They’re the folks that say, “Hey we’re friends, can you help me out with something you know well – for free?” That group is great at asking for favors. They look for in-kind trades, and all that kind of stuff. Saying they’re “trading” on the friendship sounds too harsh, but for painting with broad strokes, it would characterize the nature of the relationship.

You meet these friends online. You meet them in social media circles. You even meet them in person. Some of them don’t know better. Others know how easy it would be for you to help, so they don’t think of it as much of a favor.

Send me an Invoice

Then there’s the other group of friends. Maybe you met them online too. Or you’ve known them since you were kids. Either way, they’re the ones that say, “Hey we’re friends, can you help me? Let’s start by you sending me an invoice.” They know your expertise is valuable and they’re willing to pay for it. They want you to succeed and therefore presume you need to be paid.

(They value their own time and would likely charge for it too.)

These Two Groups

I hadn’t thought much about these two groups because I live in the second world and don’t spend much time in the first.

That’s not to say I don’t do favors for people for free. It’s simply to say most of my friends who ask for favors start by saying something like what was in the emails I got this past week.

“I’ve been working on a number of projects lately that I would like to pick your brain on… I know you’re a busy guy and would like to purchase a block of time to pick your brain and hear your feedback.”

or

“I only need an hour of your time to review a proposal…can you send me a quick invoice so we can get on the phone or Skype?”

These arrive from people I respect. And I have the option to send an invoice or to say, “Your money is no good here.” But either way, it’s my call.

How this Bubbled Up

Like I said, I don’t think about this much. But this week I sent a request to one of my favorite WordPress developers, Jason Coleman. I’m writing an article about online memberships and wanted to make a point about some key metrics. But his plugin didn’t have the key metrics displayed.

So since I thought it was a good idea, I wrote him to see what it would cost to have him implement it. It would be good for him, good for his product, and good for his customers. Plus it would help me write a great article.

But notice I asked about a price. I didn’t ask for a quick favor. And he responded by telling me how much it would be.

Even before he sent me an invoice, I went thru my old emails and found his paypal email and sent him the money. I like paying fast. It says I respect the person I’m working with.

It never dawned on me to look at how many leads I’d sent him from my site (1000/month) and ask for a trade of some sort.

So you can imagine my surprise when he sent me an email asking me if I was offended by being charged. How could I be offended for being quoted a cost for work someone would have to do? I said no, but sent him back the question I had (“why would anyone be offended?”) and that’s when I learned more clearly about the first group.

And the more I thought about it, the more I felt compelled to write this post.

My Advice – When you want Help

Here are my seven steps to asking for help the right way.

  1. Start by trying to do it yourself. It will provide you context. It will hone your question. It will demonstrate you put time and energy into it.

  2. Find the right someone. Asking the right person, who has the right expertise is a compliment in its own right.

  3. Start by offering to pay. Ask for the cost and invite them to send you an invoice. It’s fast and easy and puts it into their court.

  4. Make an offer. If they don’t suggest a fee, start by offering something. In doubt, start at $100. Cash, not gift cards.

  5. Keep it focused. Whether you pay or they won’t accept it, keep your time short. Ask one question, not 20.

  6. Send a thank you. Don’t just say thank you. Send a note. A physical card is even better. It speaks to the value and your respect.

  7. Offer to help. When I end a call, especially a free one, I invite the person to tweet about their experience. It’s a simple way to help my reputation.

These are just my tips. You may have your own. But either way…following this approach will bring you a lot more benefit than simply asking everyone you know for favors.

Do you have your own advice for folks? 

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