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The Risks and Benefits of Giving Your Stuff For Free

The other day I wrote about how you can swap services to get help rather than think you have to pay people all the time. This morning I read Jacks My worst nightmare post and it made me realize how they are very related. Rather than write the post I was going to I had to address this point.

First let’s take a look at his post …

Every IT person I’ve ever met has at least one nightmare story about being roped into fixing somebody’s home PC/network/broadband and everything going wrong.

You can read my comments so I won’t repeat them, suffice to say I have had the experience and it has left me a little defensive over the whole “can you help me with my PC” thing. In fact one of the nice side benefits of now being a Mac owner is I can say “Vista? Oh, bad luck, never used it”.

My problem with people doing this were not so much that they asked, it was that they would call at random and irritating times (1am not uncommon, especially when these people were from overseas) and would assume I would help and get annoyed if I was less than enthusiastic. Demanding help from a complete stranger (even one who is a friend of a friend of a distant relative) is not my first choice of persuasion technique.

To make matters worse, on questioning it turned out many of these people had skills I could have benefitted from, accountants, plumbers, builders … did any of them offer to return the favour? No. Not once.

It might surprise you to hear that I still advocate helping people out. I do it all the time.

Even for the ungrateful, miserly folks, it still feels good to help someone out.

You see I believe you must not change your personality because a bunch of freeloaders have taken advantage of you.

My approach is to be clear with myself what is a charged service and what I am willing to give for free and who for. As an example, I am much happier to bend my personal rules for a charity.

What personal giving rules can you decide?

Also you can not really blame people for not knowing your rates if you do not publish them. While you are not exactly saying “please take one” it doesn’t help if there is no indication that you charge money for what they are about to ask of you. Make it obvious that you charge for your services.

People wonder why I give so much away, a free ebook, free advice, etc. Of course I am naturally a helpful guy πŸ™‚ It also works for me.

Giving stuff away is my main marketing technique.

I am not going to stop being helpful, it would be against my character and actually reduce my effectiveness. Had I not given stuff away you might not be reading this now!

So to sum up, keep being open, helpful and friendly, just know where you draw the line.

People don’t take advantage of you, you allow yourself to be taken advantage of. You are in control πŸ™‚

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Comments

  1. It’s a nice thought that, as an IT person, I can help people out with their IT kit at home and somehow gain some nice kudos. I don’t think it quite works like that. If their IT kit even hiccups you will get the blame for it and will be expected to drop everything to go and fix it. Touch even one minor piece of their kit and you have in their eyes taken on an unwritten expectation that you are on 24/7 support duty for everything forever.

    There is no upside πŸ˜‰ So, for me, it’s just close family I will help. Everybody else, go to PC World!

    It’s only going to get worse too. The whole house will soon be one big IT system!

  2. It’s a nice thought that, as an IT person, I can help people out with their IT kit at home and somehow gain some nice kudos. I don’t think it quite works like that. If their IT kit even hiccups you will get the blame for it and will be expected to drop everything to go and fix it. Touch even one minor piece of their kit and you have in their eyes taken on an unwritten expectation that you are on 24/7 support duty for everything forever.

    There is no upside πŸ˜‰ So, for me, it’s just close family I will help. Everybody else, go to PC World!

    It’s only going to get worse too. The whole house will soon be one big IT system!

  3. Great Post! Computer whiz I am not. If it has to do with wood, I can hold my own, much to a neighbors delite. I planed doors, boxed in an entertainment center and a few other items, being neighborly. When I had finally had enough I stated my rates for carpentry work, furniture building, glass cutting, and a host of other things that I do. My workload became my own again. Helping folks is a good thing. Letting folks take advantage, that’s another.

  4. Great Post! Computer whiz I am not. If it has to do with wood, I can hold my own, much to a neighbors delite. I planed doors, boxed in an entertainment center and a few other items, being neighborly. When I had finally had enough I stated my rates for carpentry work, furniture building, glass cutting, and a host of other things that I do. My workload became my own again. Helping folks is a good thing. Letting folks take advantage, that’s another.

  5. Nice sharing. My experience is that I work for IT company, not as IT related employee… just an administrative work. But my friends and relatives kept on asking me to help on their computer problems.

  6. Nice sharing. My experience is that I work for IT company, not as IT related employee… just an administrative work. But my friends and relatives kept on asking me to help on their computer problems.

  7. My DH has the same problem – people phone at random hours of the day and night asking him to drop everything and fix their computer. I can spot them a mile off because they always begin with ‘I’m a friend of so and so’. Even worse they seem to assume that somehow his knowledge has rubbed off onto me, because if my DH isn’t in they ask me what they should do.

    I think you are right when you say (on Jack’s blog) that because they see ‘computing’ as a hobby they think it’s something people aren’t entitled to get paid for.

  8. My DH has the same problem – people phone at random hours of the day and night asking him to drop everything and fix their computer. I can spot them a mile off because they always begin with ‘I’m a friend of so and so’. Even worse they seem to assume that somehow his knowledge has rubbed off onto me, because if my DH isn’t in they ask me what they should do.

    I think you are right when you say (on Jack’s blog) that because they see ‘computing’ as a hobby they think it’s something people aren’t entitled to get paid for.

  9. This is a very interesting point. Not everyone is perceived to have something to trade. It may be, like doctors and dentists, that they feel they give so much to others that asking you for a favor is justified – call it Karma. It is hard to keep a running balance on who is up and who is down. I think it has to do with the attitude of the requester.
    If I have helped someone in the past I feel obligated to do so again, unless they have never been helpful to me. If it is someone I don’t know I just talk about the potential for it to become a big problem and decline. There is not much one can barter with as a molecular biologist. I help with homework now and again but most people don’t think to call me when I could be of help on that.

  10. This is a very interesting point. Not everyone is perceived to have something to trade. It may be, like doctors and dentists, that they feel they give so much to others that asking you for a favor is justified – call it Karma. It is hard to keep a running balance on who is up and who is down. I think it has to do with the attitude of the requester.
    If I have helped someone in the past I feel obligated to do so again, unless they have never been helpful to me. If it is someone I don’t know I just talk about the potential for it to become a big problem and decline. There is not much one can barter with as a molecular biologist. I help with homework now and again but most people don’t think to call me when I could be of help on that.

  11. Hey Chris – Great points. If you’re in the public eye, it makes a lot of sense to give away “stuff” – ebooks, reports, great information (as in your blog). And, for the most part, I’ve found that people are generally decent when asking for help.

    It’s the 2% of people who take advantage – some not even realizing it – that stick in your craw. But, I’ve found that if you just explain your time situation (i.e. “I’m very busy right now and can’t help”), you can usually prevent these time stealers from taking up all of your time without giving anything back.

    Thanks,
    Chuck

  12. Hey Chris – Great points. If you’re in the public eye, it makes a lot of sense to give away “stuff” – ebooks, reports, great information (as in your blog). And, for the most part, I’ve found that people are generally decent when asking for help.

    It’s the 2% of people who take advantage – some not even realizing it – that stick in your craw. But, I’ve found that if you just explain your time situation (i.e. “I’m very busy right now and can’t help”), you can usually prevent these time stealers from taking up all of your time without giving anything back.

    Thanks,
    Chuck

  13. Scott Powers says:

    Nice post Chris. I’m in the telecommunications field by trade. I work for a small company that offers all the areas TV, Internet, and Telephone services. Before that I was a Satellite Technician for both Directv and Dish Network at different times.

    Being in this field you can imagine the requests for help somebody like me gets. Can you install a new phone jack for me? or My DVD player isn’t working right. Can you take a look at it? The list goes on and on for days. My brother also works for verizon as a cable splicing tech. So between the 2 of us, I think my family alone probably owes each of us a couple of weeks pay and that’s not to mention the friends each of us has helped out.

    Would either of us ever quit helping? Of Course not. Both of us are in the business of serving people. I don’t mind helping folks out to an extent. There are always limits though. There has to be. People go overboard with their requests. Like.. “I’m building a house and would really like to save some money on electrician labor. You think you could wire the house for phone and cable? without ever mentioning payment. Sorry, I have my limits.

  14. Scott Powers says:

    Nice post Chris. I’m in the telecommunications field by trade. I work for a small company that offers all the areas TV, Internet, and Telephone services. Before that I was a Satellite Technician for both Directv and Dish Network at different times.

    Being in this field you can imagine the requests for help somebody like me gets. Can you install a new phone jack for me? or My DVD player isn’t working right. Can you take a look at it? The list goes on and on for days. My brother also works for verizon as a cable splicing tech. So between the 2 of us, I think my family alone probably owes each of us a couple of weeks pay and that’s not to mention the friends each of us has helped out.

    Would either of us ever quit helping? Of Course not. Both of us are in the business of serving people. I don’t mind helping folks out to an extent. There are always limits though. There has to be. People go overboard with their requests. Like.. “I’m building a house and would really like to save some money on electrician labor. You think you could wire the house for phone and cable? without ever mentioning payment. Sorry, I have my limits.

  15. @Scott: hard to get a warm feeling inside fixing people’s PC so they can masterbate though πŸ™‚ I can’t imagine what else they’re doing at 1am.

    @Chris: You’ve got more comments on here than I did! πŸ™‚ Darn that I’ve got less than a tenth of the subscribers you’ve got! πŸ˜‰

  16. @Scott: hard to get a warm feeling inside fixing people’s PC so they can masterbate though πŸ™‚ I can’t imagine what else they’re doing at 1am.

    @Chris: You’ve got more comments on here than I did! πŸ™‚ Darn that I’ve got less than a tenth of the subscribers you’ve got! πŸ˜‰

  17. I have this all of the time. I’m an accountant by profession and I get loads of people thinking I can give them expert personal taxation advice. I can’t though seeing as I predominantly worked in industry. I tell them I know a bit about Corporation tax and that usually gets me off the hook.

    I guess I would help if I could but there is not much call from friends and family wanting manufacturing costing systems being developed.

  18. I have this all of the time. I’m an accountant by profession and I get loads of people thinking I can give them expert personal taxation advice. I can’t though seeing as I predominantly worked in industry. I tell them I know a bit about Corporation tax and that usually gets me off the hook.

    I guess I would help if I could but there is not much call from friends and family wanting manufacturing costing systems being developed.

  19. Believe it or not, the same thing happens with knitting (but not sewing.) If you knit in public — say an employee lounge etc. — nearly complete strangers will ask you to knit something for them, they will even expect you to buy the yarn and they will think they are doing you a favor. (Because you are addicted, and clearly don’t have friends who might like your sweaters.)

    My friends and I have decided there are several possible correct answers. One is “Sure. You come over to my house, and I’ll work on your project while you vacuum my floors, clean the toilet and do the laundry!”

  20. Believe it or not, the same thing happens with knitting (but not sewing.) If you knit in public — say an employee lounge etc. — nearly complete strangers will ask you to knit something for them, they will even expect you to buy the yarn and they will think they are doing you a favor. (Because you are addicted, and clearly don’t have friends who might like your sweaters.)

    My friends and I have decided there are several possible correct answers. One is “Sure. You come over to my house, and I’ll work on your project while you vacuum my floors, clean the toilet and do the laundry!”

  21. Chris, I agree with your helping attitude and your last comment about “allowing” people to take advantage of us. My sister taught me this valuable lesson years ago. She was always borrowing money which she and her husband never paid back. For years I was angry at her for “taking advantage” and never paying me back. She was angry at me because I was in the position of being able to loan her the money. She didn’t like “feeling obligated”. When I realized that we were both angry over the situation, I stopped loaning her money. Years later, I decided that if she asked and if I wanted to help out, then I would freely give the money with no expectations of being paid back. I gave the money as a gift. I still don’t give everytime she asks. There is now no anger on my part, because there are no expectations. Guess what? Now when she borrows the money, she usually pays me back. ?????

    Did she change because I changed????

  22. Chris, I agree with your helping attitude and your last comment about “allowing” people to take advantage of us. My sister taught me this valuable lesson years ago. She was always borrowing money which she and her husband never paid back. For years I was angry at her for “taking advantage” and never paying me back. She was angry at me because I was in the position of being able to loan her the money. She didn’t like “feeling obligated”. When I realized that we were both angry over the situation, I stopped loaning her money. Years later, I decided that if she asked and if I wanted to help out, then I would freely give the money with no expectations of being paid back. I gave the money as a gift. I still don’t give everytime she asks. There is now no anger on my part, because there are no expectations. Guess what? Now when she borrows the money, she usually pays me back. ?????

    Did she change because I changed????

  23. I am also a helpful guy Chris. I guess its in our nature to help people and sometimes we get taken advantage of but later on we get control back. If you are a public figure and you are because you have so many readers, it only helps you to give away free stuff like ebooks and tips. If you are a guy that doesn’t have any publicity, the tips you learn are your only salvation to get you to the top. You have to save your own secrets until you become big enough that people know you and then you can give out your secrets.

  24. I am also a helpful guy Chris. I guess its in our nature to help people and sometimes we get taken advantage of but later on we get control back. If you are a public figure and you are because you have so many readers, it only helps you to give away free stuff like ebooks and tips. If you are a guy that doesn’t have any publicity, the tips you learn are your only salvation to get you to the top. You have to save your own secrets until you become big enough that people know you and then you can give out your secrets.

  25. “People don’t take advantage of you, you allow yourself to be taken advantage of.”

    I could agree with these words more than you know. One has to know when to draw the line both with customers and yourself. If anyone steps on you it is only because you have allowed the opening for it…..well in most cases. Sometimes there are just outright mean people out there looking to stir trouble simply because of their personality.

    Great article!

  26. “People don’t take advantage of you, you allow yourself to be taken advantage of.”

    I could agree with these words more than you know. One has to know when to draw the line both with customers and yourself. If anyone steps on you it is only because you have allowed the opening for it…..well in most cases. Sometimes there are just outright mean people out there looking to stir trouble simply because of their personality.

    Great article!

  27. A little reciprocity is a beautiful thing, and that taking-advantage sense-of-entitlement thing is most certainly not. But I believe that the skill swap isn’t always a direct exchange — sometimes you give to Person A, and it goes into some great global pot o’ goodwill, then Person B comes along and gives to you…

  28. A little reciprocity is a beautiful thing, and that taking-advantage sense-of-entitlement thing is most certainly not. But I believe that the skill swap isn’t always a direct exchange — sometimes you give to Person A, and it goes into some great global pot o’ goodwill, then Person B comes along and gives to you…

  29. Just on the part about people not knowing your rates unless you tell them. Very recent experience (as in Thursday this week) has shown me that this can be a major problem…especially when it comes to friends.

    This experience is from the other perspective.

    An artist friend offered to help me out on a photo shoot for my website…she showed up with no equipment (none was required – she was just helping) but when we were deciding on how to take one of the shots she found a great angle and clicked off a few shots – one of which being the shot we decided to use. With no previous mention of her rates she sent me an invoice for $250. Next time I think I’ll say “oh no, thanks for the generous offer but I think we’ll be just fine.”

  30. Just on the part about people not knowing your rates unless you tell them. Very recent experience (as in Thursday this week) has shown me that this can be a major problem…especially when it comes to friends.

    This experience is from the other perspective.

    An artist friend offered to help me out on a photo shoot for my website…she showed up with no equipment (none was required – she was just helping) but when we were deciding on how to take one of the shots she found a great angle and clicked off a few shots – one of which being the shot we decided to use. With no previous mention of her rates she sent me an invoice for $250. Next time I think I’ll say “oh no, thanks for the generous offer but I think we’ll be just fine.”

  31. @Jen: the problem with that is that there are pushy people around who take a whole lot more out of the pot o’ goodwill then they ever put back in. Stupid thing is the ones who give the least usually have the most to give.

  32. @Jen: the problem with that is that there are pushy people around who take a whole lot more out of the pot o’ goodwill then they ever put back in. Stupid thing is the ones who give the least usually have the most to give.

  33. Sometimes, the people with the most to give don’t have the self-confidence to realize that they have the skill to give or the knowledge. Sometimes, they don’t realize the value of their own knowledge or skills. I did say, sometimes. Other people are just too self-centered to give anything of themselves for “free”. Payback works both ways. I do believe that what we give, we will receive back. It may not be from the same person that we give to.

  34. Sometimes, the people with the most to give don’t have the self-confidence to realize that they have the skill to give or the knowledge. Sometimes, they don’t realize the value of their own knowledge or skills. I did say, sometimes. Other people are just too self-centered to give anything of themselves for “free”. Payback works both ways. I do believe that what we give, we will receive back. It may not be from the same person that we give to.

  35. @Jack, you are right. But the grabby ones clearly haven’t figured out about all those intangible benefits that come back to the one who gives. Plus, I choose to believe that the Big Dog Bad Karma will sneak up on the ‘takers’ and bite them in the tender bits. Somehow. Eventually. πŸ˜‰

  36. @Jack, you are right. But the grabby ones clearly haven’t figured out about all those intangible benefits that come back to the one who gives. Plus, I choose to believe that the Big Dog Bad Karma will sneak up on the ‘takers’ and bite them in the tender bits. Somehow. Eventually. πŸ˜‰

  37. @Jack – One thing I won’t miss about fixing IT is all you hear about is problems, people never call to say “everything is working great and it is all thanks to you, thanks!” πŸ˜‰

    @Dave – Hmmm … I need some wood work doing … πŸ˜›

    @Reztar – Heh, I have friends who get that too. One is a project manager for a major IT company, another does the same but for a bank so people think he is good at math πŸ™‚

    @Kate – Yeah and I think it is partly because the people doing the asking DID buy their computer as a hobby. It is like they think they bought an XBox and they are asking you over to play a game.

    @Roger – As I said in my recent post, I think everyone has something to offer πŸ™‚ In my experience when someone asks for “help with homework” they really mean “do my homework while I bitch about it” πŸ˜‰

    @Chuck – Yes it is the loud few who spoil it, most people are nice about asking for help and I realise it takes a lot of courage to ask for help in the first place

    @Scott – Oh yeah, I know a cabling guy and not only do people expect him to wire up new offices, they expect him to do it with his employers tools and materials. So taking advantage AND risking him getting fired. Of course he says no to the latter but that just leads to them thinking he is ripping them off on costs!

    @Jack – Heh, even worse is when you fix their PC and that’s all you see on it. Just a good job I don’t take my daughter when I have fixed peoples computers πŸ™‚

    @Mark – That has to be a pain!

    @lucia – Heh, very true, and I love your solution πŸ™‚ My auntie did a lot of knitting and baking because she enjoyed it. To start out just for friends, the local hospital, family kids etc, but then people started hearing about it and asking, then demanding and she had to stop because all her time and spare money was going to it.

    @Patricia – I do believe that often a change you would like to see in others begins with yourself, especially when what you want is a little respect.

    @Shortshire – Never be afraid to give away ideas or solutions. While some people take and give no credit, there are enough people that are honest that it works out in your favor πŸ™‚

    @Bunk – Some people are just mean but I think they end up self destructing so we don’t have to worry about them too much πŸ™‚

    @Jen – Pay it forward kind of thing, yeah. I do believe what you put out into the world comes back to you. It might not always be obvious but it does seem to work.

    @LAChick – Awkward situation! Yup, it is better all round when this stuff is clear from the get-go.

    @Jack – There are leaches in all walks of life and if we let them it can spoil it for the rest of us so we just have to not let them πŸ™‚

    @Patricia – Sometimes it takes a request for help to realize you have something to give too πŸ™‚ A friend of my wife does ironing now as a living, who would have thought she could earn a wage doing something like that? But she is good at it and other people hate doing in – win-win πŸ™‚

    @Jen – Agreed. It is true you do get a lot out of giving, providing it is given freely and on your own terms. The feeling of being taken for a ride can be upsetting but if we are in control of the situation with clear boundaries I think the giver comes out ahead. I believe what you give is what you get returned, call it karma, God, nature, ying-yang, a balanced universe, Newton’s 3rd Law, whatever πŸ™‚

  38. @Jack – One thing I won’t miss about fixing IT is all you hear about is problems, people never call to say “everything is working great and it is all thanks to you, thanks!” πŸ˜‰

    @Dave – Hmmm … I need some wood work doing … πŸ˜›

    @Reztar – Heh, I have friends who get that too. One is a project manager for a major IT company, another does the same but for a bank so people think he is good at math πŸ™‚

    @Kate – Yeah and I think it is partly because the people doing the asking DID buy their computer as a hobby. It is like they think they bought an XBox and they are asking you over to play a game.

    @Roger – As I said in my recent post, I think everyone has something to offer πŸ™‚ In my experience when someone asks for “help with homework” they really mean “do my homework while I bitch about it” πŸ˜‰

    @Chuck – Yes it is the loud few who spoil it, most people are nice about asking for help and I realise it takes a lot of courage to ask for help in the first place

    @Scott – Oh yeah, I know a cabling guy and not only do people expect him to wire up new offices, they expect him to do it with his employers tools and materials. So taking advantage AND risking him getting fired. Of course he says no to the latter but that just leads to them thinking he is ripping them off on costs!

    @Jack – Heh, even worse is when you fix their PC and that’s all you see on it. Just a good job I don’t take my daughter when I have fixed peoples computers πŸ™‚

    @Mark – That has to be a pain!

    @lucia – Heh, very true, and I love your solution πŸ™‚ My auntie did a lot of knitting and baking because she enjoyed it. To start out just for friends, the local hospital, family kids etc, but then people started hearing about it and asking, then demanding and she had to stop because all her time and spare money was going to it.

    @Patricia – I do believe that often a change you would like to see in others begins with yourself, especially when what you want is a little respect.

    @Shortshire – Never be afraid to give away ideas or solutions. While some people take and give no credit, there are enough people that are honest that it works out in your favor πŸ™‚

    @Bunk – Some people are just mean but I think they end up self destructing so we don’t have to worry about them too much πŸ™‚

    @Jen – Pay it forward kind of thing, yeah. I do believe what you put out into the world comes back to you. It might not always be obvious but it does seem to work.

    @LAChick – Awkward situation! Yup, it is better all round when this stuff is clear from the get-go.

    @Jack – There are leaches in all walks of life and if we let them it can spoil it for the rest of us so we just have to not let them πŸ™‚

    @Patricia – Sometimes it takes a request for help to realize you have something to give too πŸ™‚ A friend of my wife does ironing now as a living, who would have thought she could earn a wage doing something like that? But she is good at it and other people hate doing in – win-win πŸ™‚

    @Jen – Agreed. It is true you do get a lot out of giving, providing it is given freely and on your own terms. The feeling of being taken for a ride can be upsetting but if we are in control of the situation with clear boundaries I think the giver comes out ahead. I believe what you give is what you get returned, call it karma, God, nature, ying-yang, a balanced universe, Newton’s 3rd Law, whatever πŸ™‚

  39. Great post! And one I can identify with too, esp, fixing PCs/software for friends of friends of relatives πŸ™‚

    In general, I think helping others in ‘knowledge’ areas benefits me too; sharpens up skills, and there are always things I learn through the process of fixing a new problem. That said, I may not offer my help to someone with a poor attitude. I like your point on swapping services; never really thought about that!

  40. Great post! And one I can identify with too, esp, fixing PCs/software for friends of friends of relatives πŸ™‚

    In general, I think helping others in ‘knowledge’ areas benefits me too; sharpens up skills, and there are always things I learn through the process of fixing a new problem. That said, I may not offer my help to someone with a poor attitude. I like your point on swapping services; never really thought about that!

  41. An auto mechanic once asked a lawyer how he could stop people from asking him for free advice. The lawyer said that any time anyone asked him for legal advice, he would mail them a bill the next day. The mechanic was impressed and thanked the lawyer for his advice. The next day, the mechanic got a bill in the mail.

  42. An auto mechanic once asked a lawyer how he could stop people from asking him for free advice. The lawyer said that any time anyone asked him for legal advice, he would mail them a bill the next day. The mechanic was impressed and thanked the lawyer for his advice. The next day, the mechanic got a bill in the mail.