The Audacity of Free: The Products and Services Edition

Last year, Chris Brogan coined the phrase “the audacity of free” to refer to the entitlement his “friends” feel they have about getting free entry into conferences that he and his team spend months to organize. Somehow, individuals forget along the way that costs accrue when considering the venue, food, exhibit hall, and the staff required on hand to run the event smoothly. At the end of the day, contrary to seemingly popular belief, the hosts aren’t the only ones pocketing the money.

Yet with social media, there’s a perception that it’s easy to score freebies. After all, we become easily connected and six degrees of separation is slowly becoming three degrees.

Social media has introduced incentives to the online space, encouraging others to connect with your business. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the way it is. You want something from someone, so you need to compel them to engage or they’d have no reason to. In fact, in a test a colleague of mine ran with sponsored advertisements, the incentive-based campaign was much more successful than the original information-only campaign. But many individuals take this concept too far, expecting a freebie at every turn. And unfortunately, social media is at fault for breeding this mentality and causing it to spread.

Let Me Pick Your Brain for a Bit

Those of us who eat, sleep, breathe, and even bleed social media often get asked out to “free lunches” so that a “friend” can pick our brains and ultimately use this free advice to get some material gain out of it. And Chris is right: while seen as a kind gesture by the giver, it’s exploitative. After all, hourly consulting fees are typically much more costly than a “free lunch” plus the travel time it took to meet up.

It’s shocking, almost appalling, to see the reactions of individuals who are asked respectfully to pay consulting rates for these “free” brainstorming sessions, whether over a meal or on the phone. I’m not sure where we’ve gone wrong here, but something needs to change. Time is money, and inquiries are usually made to those possessing a certain level of expertise that only is available to those who have had years of training, which is also time and money (and even debt for some!). That lunch and the information provided therein will often benefit your bottom line. Making a payment for that should really not be so difficult. However, while haggling is expected in the economy of today, trying to get everything for free is downright unethical, nor is it fair to the person who poured their heart and soul into the advice that you’ll merely milk from them without any reservation.

There’s a Lot of Value Here Already

I won’t deny it: I want Techipedia to be packed with value, to show you what I know and how I can help you. A few high profile folks have even called my readers lucky for getting great content without any up front monetary commitment. (If you want great beginner social media content behind a pay wall, check out Exploring Social Media, a project I am working on with Jason Falls and some other great minds.) This comes despite people asking for more under the assumption that I “must” be making money on this site and therefore owe my readers more. (Do you see any banner ads anywhere?)

I’ve spent seventeen years in the social space. That’s a long time and before most of you probably even owned a computer that was connected to the Internet. I’ve been working in consulting for a little less, but it’s my job. It’s what I do (among other projects). And my fees pay the rent, keep me connected to the Internet so that I can serve my clients, and cover other expenses such as staff and business expenses. All of this doesn’t come for free for me either.

Books Take Time to Write

Last week, a Twitter user asked a really blunt but surprising question about how to download my book (legally) for free. It was nice to request a legal copy, but there isn’t any. My book is less than $20 on Amazon, which makes for a great deal and covers years of practice and training. The investment could benefit your business by a lot more than $20 in financial gain.

Books aren’t a breeze to write and anyone who is an author might tell you that book writing is some of the hardest and busiest work they’ll ever do. It took me nearly 1000 hours that could have been spent on other clients. Did anyone know that authors make perhaps a dollar off the sale of every book? As much as I’ve wanted to be an author since the age of 5, I understood why my mother tried dissuading me at that tender and impressionable age: most authors simply don’t make enough money. Surprisingly, some individuals who have yet to build any type of relationship with an author still expect to get a break. Whether or not it’s my choice — and in book publishing, there are other parties involved beyond just the writer — it’s just the wrong question to ask.

Last week, when the Twitter user asked the question about the free downloadable copy, I gave her a straightforward unemotional-and-without-thought “there is none” answer, which is typical of the types of responses I provide on Twitter (I’m only wordy in blog posts :) ). Consequently, I got chewed out both on Twitter and following that on her own blog, telling me that I should have responded nicely and recommended the library. Somehow, people think it’s okay to ask an inappropriate question and get a more-than-grateful response.

Life won’t always hand you breaks. Those of us who are successful in our space usually have worked really hard to get here. Social media should not continue to give off the mindset that it’s easier to get things for free. Sadly, it absolutely has.

I’ll Respect My Time. Will You?

Lisa Barone made a really good point last month when she said that her productivity went up as a result of respecting her time. While her specific circumstances were different, the premise is the same. Most of us are busy, and lately, the extent of the “busy”-ness for me is about helping a business’s bottom line. I’d like to help others but feel the need to repeat my stance against giving people who do not know me and who do not even really warm up to me the benefit of a free ride while still charging customers who have been with me for years. And time is too finite to give everyone free advice. I wish the world worked that way, because I love to help businesses. After all, that’s why Techipedia continues to provide really great informational content almost weekly. It’s why I respond to every comment on my posts. It’s why I reply to every email often within minutes. At the end of the day, though, we ALL have families to feed.

Expertise Comes at a Price

I’m sure I’m speaking for all social media consultants (and other Internet Marketing strategists) out there when I say that social media advice has come at the cost of learning through trial and error for us, and the more and more times we’re asked to give out freebies, the more numb we get to the request. I really hope this post drives the point home that freebies, even a $50 lunch, don’t really benefit anyone but the receiver. (Most of us would be eating lunch anyway!)

Not Everything is Free

I always am fascinated myself by looking at people doing dirty jobs — that guy cleaning the bathroom in Madison Square Garden definitely isn’t a happy camper — and realizing that the only thing that governs people toward these tasks is financial benefit. Almost everything everyone does in the business world, be it a regular transaction, tourism, or travel, has some financial element to it. Money makes the world go round. Chris puts it really nicely when he says, “But free is a choice, and it’s not your buyers who decide this, no matter what we like to think in social media kumbaya-ville. Free is beautiful, and costs are part of life.”

There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and there always will be. But setting up the expectation and making demands for freebies puts unnecessary stress on the giver, and that’s just not the correct way to build a real relationship.

Now it’s Your Turn

How have you handled the requests for freebies? Do you have any system that has worked? Failed? Sound off in the comments.

Photos provided by Shutterstock.

148 Comments

  • Amen, Tamar.

    There have been QUITE a few posts/rants about this lately including Chris, Peter Shankman, etc.

    It is an interesting paradox now in the biz world. Leaders are accessible. It didn’t used to be like that. Back in the day, PR firms protected, admin assistants protected, direct communication was limited. Now it is isn’t.

    And 99% of this is a GOOD thing. The 1% is where the problem is which you have outlined.

    The question becomes, how do you tactfully handle these situations? I know everyone does it a bit differently….

    • And another amen! “Leaders are accessible.” Therefore, they must be able to give me something I need. When they don’t, they’re just not nice people.

      It’s a sad truth.

  • Virginia says:

    Your comments are so on-the-mark.

    You didn’t mention people who don’t ask outright, but concoct a lie to justify a need to rob you of something that they should pay for. Some of my books come with a CD containing the code, and are later offered at the Safari Books site as a download. If you grab the free reading from Safari, you don’t get the code on the CD. The letters I’ve received from people wanting me to provide all the code on the CD so they could the free book are pretty amazing. They left the CD in Europe. The dog ate the CD. Their husband took the CD to his work. You get the idea.

    My solution has been to respond with a note that the publisher doesn’t allow me to distribute that material (that’s true) and suggest that they buy a copy of the book that includes a CD.

    • Yeah. It’s kind of disappointing.

      That said, I totally understand financial hardships in many cases! But some people don’t even preface their questions with that. They just want the freebies without being specific about their issue.

      Chris talks about making the ask, and yes, you totally should! But be specific as to the circumstances and don’t be disappointed if someone says no. Don’t beat around the bush and then tell someone they are wrong for giving you a direct and honest answer to a direct (and totally inappropriate) question.

  • Hi, Tamar — I feel really guilty now. Some time ago, I got a free review copy of your book from O’Reilly… :-( But, hey, I have recommended it to many! And featured it in a big presentation I did at an event here, too — so, trying to give back! :-) It’s an excellent book — thank you for writing it.

    Re: your post, this is something I’ve been waiting for someone to write — it’s what drives me crazy about social media. I’ve been a tech marketing consultant for 25+ years, but watching people try to take the value of advice to free just plain sucks. I actually had a client call me out on stage once, in front of like 800 people at a conference, in an attempt to pay me a compliment. In the last part, he said, “He’s a cheap date. If you want some advice, just take him out to lunch.” I could have strangled the guy.

    Kudos to you and Chris for calling b.s. on something that so richly deserves it!

    cheers,
    Graeme
    http://www.gtamarketing.com

    • Graeme, why feel guilty? I actually solicited users to review my book and I actually encouraged it! In fact, I’ll be giving away some freebies at a webinar in the near future.

      I’m not adverse to giving out the book. In fact, if the “ask” is appropriate, I’d be happy to say yes. But a review copy is usually provided under the premise that you’d be, you know, reviewing it. :) If someone wants a freebie for their own benefit, that’s fine but the answer might be no. (She didn’t quite ask that question, so how was I to know?) However, if they want a freebie as a review copy, I’d have been happy to oblige.

      (Everyone here shouldn’t get the idea I’m handing out review copies now. Actually, the last review copies I believe we distributed were in 2009. It’s a little late to ask.) ;)

  • Todd Mintz says:

    If I think the person is just after free information, I give off a “skunk smell” sorta vibe…it usually scares them away :.)

    Though I’m a bit of a sucker for a free meal (if I like the company I’m with)…

    • LOL, I do hear you. I guess I’m adverse to that since I’m not exactly local to the center of Manhattan, and on top of that, I have a baby with me! (Yet people always ask!)

    • Carri Bugbee says:

      Todd, can I buy you lunch and pick your brain??? :-)

      Better yet, let’s just chat at an upcoming industry event instead of scheduling a dedicated meeting. You can see all the places I’ll be on my FB page or Upcoming. That’s where I try to steer people now. I don’t always succeed…

      @CarriBugbee

  • Rob Diana says:

    Tamar,

    I can’t agree with you more. It also happens to us Z-list bloggers as well. How dare I not help someone for free!

    I happen to work the opposite way as well. If I know a person or they are a leader of some sort, I typically offer to pay full price for whatever advice or service. I did this with a web designer that I have chatted with often, he offered a discount and I “forced” him to take his full price. It just feels more honest that way.

    Now, about your book, can I get a free copy? I know we go way back :) Don’t worry, I already bought a copy.

    • Rob, yes, we go way back. And thus, it’s not an audacious question to ask! But some people expect a red carpet to be pulled out in front of them in response to a request for something that some people just can’t deliver.

      If people don’t have thick skin and can’t handle the “no” answer, they should not have asked at all. Or they shouldn’t be on the Internets! ;)

      I actually pay for my books too, believe it or not. And as to how much? Look at Amazon.com’s current price. Thereabouts! I don’t even get a free ride and I wrote the damn thing. :)

      • MacSmiley says:

        “I gave her a straightforward unemotional-and-without-thought “there is none” answer.”

        I know it’s galling to be so frequently imposed upon, but would it really have cost you that much time and thought to be a tad more diplomatic, even on Twitter? For fewer than 140 characters, you could have tweeted:

        “Sorry, there is none. Even *I* can’t get my own book for free.”

        That would have taken some of the sting out of the declination and perhaps prevented the heated blog entry that resulted.

        Otherwise, I agree with you wholeheartedly, with one exception: Please trash TYNT!

        http://daringfireball.net/2010/05/tynt_copy_paste_jerks

  • Wow! Really great post Tamar,

    You’ve been in social media before i was born ;).

    You really made a great point here and that is what many people don’t want to understand, sometimes, the best thing to do is to ignore them.

    The lady asking you that sort of question is really funny and I think she got the right reply :)

    Thanks a lot for the great post,
    -Onibalusi

  • Jen Wojcik says:

    3 words:

    Oh. Hell. Yes.

    My typical response to the “pick your brain” question is this: “My brain is picked clean, but I am happy to consult”. Works like a charm.

    Thank you for writing this. Good stuff.

    Jen

  • This issue is not only common, per your evidence, in the Social Media circle, but has permeated every corner of the business world. No matter your business, book writing, website building, home building, the end user expects something for nothing. We have prospects who show us what they want and then expect it for $400! Or, recently a friend who has a high-end kitchen remodeling business had clients who wanted all top end appliances, but were only willing to pay a fraction of the price. The problem has been growing for about 20 years as more and more products and services have become commoditized–and Google is the ultimate example with free search. Years ago my mentor at Merrill Lynch told me, ‘you always want to work with people who see your value, and avoid everyone else.’ How right he was!

  • Norcross says:

    I deal with this all the time. I’ve gone so far as to keep my IM on ‘invisible’ and intentionally not respond to certain emails when the request for freebies gets too much. I’m torn, however, because I know that I learned from the help of others (whether it was actual coaching or pointing me towards resources) so I want to give back. And I also know that sometimes a 30 second CSS modification for me is a 5 hour hair pulling event for someone else. But at some point it isn’t help or brain picking, but rather me doing their work. For free.

    • “And I also know that sometimes a 30 second CSS modification for me is a 5 hour hair pulling event for someone else.”

      Guilty as charged! I’ve done that to CSS gurus many times. :D

      Before I was in marketing, I was in tech support. In college especially, I was the free computer support. After I graduated, the same friends still asked for help. My mom would call. My husband’s grandfather would call. It was so crazy that I’m pleased to say now that I do not offer tech support help, nor do I know how to help. Usually, you can just search for the answer in that discipline, though.

      And usually, in others, you just need to practice. And execute. Often.

      • Norcross says:

        Oh yeah, the dreaded family tech support. I still have that role within the family (even thought I’ve never had a ‘real’ tech support job). But the family knows I don’t do phone support anymore. And they almost all live within an hour from me, so it’s not a stretch for me to go over.

        • My parents are in Florida. I’m in NY. My mom has learned that she can’t ask for help anymore, but occasionally I do use CrossLoop for remote support. Even so, she’s family. ;)

          • Norcross says:

            Haha…yep, we’re all in Florida. And with the 3 year old who wants to see his Nana and Pa (and swim in their pool) it’s hard to say no.

          • This is funny. I explicitly had this conversation with this guy this morning….and I got the sense that he was overly generous.

            I wanted HIM to bill me for things–partly so I could ask, but partly to honor his already huge generosity. (By the way, Andrew, you’ll have a response shortly for your help today).

            I want to be billed because I don’t want little IOU’s to pile up. I want to be even and equal, and done.

            I don’t EVER expect little things for free from anyone. It’s disrespectful. I give free away as gifts (without expectation of return) because kindness is the new content.

            And…I’ll say this: I used to expect favors and hold referrals over people’s heads. And that was when I was a failed business owner. Once I started being generous, I started growing my income faster than could have been believed.

          • “I got the sense that he was overly generous.”

            That’s the huge challenge in writing this. If what I’ve given already isn’t generous yet, when do I actually cross that line?!

            But I digress.

            And I might add that Norcross has already been super helpful to me as well! I’m already “wowing” that :)

          • Tamar-

            Well, when you give something with the direct expectation of a return, it’s not a gift. And when you take something without gratitude, you’re a jerk.

            It’s the gratitude: you have to be grateful as a giver and as a receiver.

            Entitlementality is a killer.

          • Very well said, Chris. :)

          • Mrinal says:

            Very cool to see you using CrossLoop Tamar!! :)

          • I knew I’d see you here, Mrinal. ;)

  • Completely with you on this one. A variation on lunch is the “let’s just have coffee to talk about how we can help each other,” which often becomes an hour-plus long commitment (plus travel, as you note) and more one-way giving of information than sharing information. I’ve had to filter a lot more of these than I’d like, simply because they become free advice sessions.

    And I agree about book writing. It’s all consuming while doing it. And after Internet Marketing for Dummies and Marketing Online for Dummies were published (not in that order), it took several years to earn out the advance and start generating royalty checks. It’s not like once a book is out there a huge pile of money is plopped onto the author automatically; it takes time, over time, to make a book a success. Just because a book has been out for a year or more doesn’t mean the author has nothing to lose by giving it away.

    I give my freebies in my public speaking (which is never a commercial, and I hope is always useful information) and in blog posts (like you). But being nibbled to death by ducks is never pleasant.

    • Thanks Frank.

      I wish being an author was more lucrative, but, well, let me put it this way: I’m glad I have a day job. I feel for people who can’t put forth the funds. I do. And asking nicely might get you a more positive response!

      • I think it was Lillian Hellman who once said that the joy is not in the writing, but in the having written. I may badly paraphrase and source the quote. Yet the sentiment is true — writing, especially long form, is hard work, and the work doesn’t end when the words are completed.

        I really do enjoy helping those who have no expectations of free advice (if I can). It’s the expectation — and, as you note, the not-asking-nicely — that can rankle.

  • Hello,

    I think this is the first time I’ve commented on one of your posts!

    I have two perspectives on this issue. One is from a vantage point outside of Social Media/marketing, and the other is as a person who considers herself a student who can learn from people like you.

    What you are talking about is not just a problem in Social Media or on the internet. If it was, I don’t think the problem would be so severe or would be spreading so quickly. What we are dealing with is a societal problem that is running wild at everyone’s peril. I have a friend who has been teaching for 6 years now. Maybe more. Her school district, like most, is short of money, so teachers were asked if they would be willing to teach WITHOUT PAY one day a week. The teachers said, like you, “But, that’s how we earn our living!” They couldn’t sacrifice all of their training and all of their expertise. Well, the parents, the district, even the governor claimed that the teachers didn’t really understand the importance of their jobs, that they were robbing kids of a day of school, etc etc. There is no longer appreciation for any kind of professional skill. I’ve even blogged about this myself.

    As a person who wants to learn from people like you and Chris and many other people, I have to say that stories like the ones you tell here make me really sad and really uncomfortable. In these times, drawing the line between “this information is complimentary, this is consulting” can be difficult sometimes, and people not accustomed to either can find it irritating, I suppose. I don’t understand the lack of etiquette, the lack of common sense, the lack of human decency, that so many people seem to be exhibiting. At some point, experts like you will have to build a protective wall around your content, and everyone will lose a great and valuable (FREE!) resource. Bad news for everybody.

    I’m sorry that there are jerk-oids who don’t appreciate what you have learned or the fact that you are educating so many people, most of the time free of charge. Hopefully there are more folks like me around who are willing to promote BUYING your books and who are happy to treat you like human beings, if not better than. I mean, really.

    @RLMadMan

    • wow, Marjorie. That’s appalling. The government can’t pay the teachers, and so the teachers have to suffer? I don’t think that this burden should be falling on the teachers. How about a little more fiscal responsibility, hmm?

      I understand your second concern. I hate putting people in a zone of discomfort, and I’ve been mulling over this post topic for awhile. I finally came to the realization that these requests aren’t stopping, and maybe when someone asks for advice in the near future, I can point them to this post and try to explain where I’m coming from.

      FWIW, someone emailed me earlier today asking for help, not long after this post was published, and maybe *because* this post was published. Without hesitation, I took the time and gave him some solid and useful responses. But I’ll cap it at a certain number of minutes and not spend an hour on it; it’s not fair to me or anyone in that position.

      Ask nicely and ye shall receive in nearly every case. Just try me. :)

  • Olga says:

    Wow! I admire your ability to write such a meaningful and yet very direct post. I have found as a young social media consultant that I have age and experience not working in my favor. A $50 lunch! Wow…I am lucky if I get a $10 coffee session. The people who ping me tend to be looking at my age and gauging that as a social media courting scale. In the beginning I thought, sure why not. As I have grown in my career, I am more and more protective of my time and it’s value. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  • lisa mcgrath says:

    Thanks for this, Tamar. I’m a never-say-no attorney to people who ask for free legal services – & I needed to hear this. Cheers.

    • Lisa, thanks for chiming in. Last week, one of my inquiries came from someone who wanted advice, and I explained my consulting rates. He actually replied with, “I know millionaire attorneys who’ll sit with you for 30 minutes, FOR FREE, to see if you have a case.” Apparently that’s a reason for me to do the same thing.

  • As a mom – and a mom coach – this was a huge guilt thing until I cracked it! I can’t tell you how many people would ask for a free spot in a class, or if I could “sneak ‘em in” when other people would register (and often sell out) a coaching program.

    I created what I call my “stray cat” fund.

    I set aside a couple of hours/products/resources/etc each month to be donated as needed to people that come along. Usually, I offer it as a contest, or by referral – so that there’s SOME kind of skin in the game. And I find that the people that really want the help but don’t have the coin will work HARDER than the people that ponied up for the full tuition.

    Like stray cats looking for a warm home there ARE pople out there that legitimately want/need a leg up. I’m all for helping folks (that’s my passion), but you’ve got to put some skin in the game – make a commitment or sacrifice SOMETHING to show me you really want it.

    And like stray cats, you can’t take them all in, nor should you – because it only lets the other stray cats know that you’re an easy mark.

    So when the stray cat fud is depleted for the month, the other strays get turned away.

    This way I can help someone that REALLY needs it and not feel guilty about doing what I can. It’s part of my tithe, if you will, to give back a portion of what I earn. That threshhold is different for everyone, but what I do seems to have served me well so far.

    Great post!
    -Lisa

    • Side point: I wanted so much to bring mommyhood into my post. Most people keep saying to me, “wow, how did you write a book while pregnant?” (I did.) And then I gave birth at the end of May (six weeks early!), and the book came to press in July, so I wasn’t quickly rebounding and going on book tours or taking clients right after I had a little one who needed more attention. But that’s a personal issue and perhaps doesn’t belong in the article.

      For me, I really don’t really ever decline a short “can you help?” email. About a month ago, though, a cooking blogger asked for help (she wanted to hire me, actually), and her budget wasn’t big enough for the types of clients I’m taking on (none at this time, actually), so I gave her some *really* good free advice. I didn’t get a reply and realized that this isn’t what I want to be doing forever. Sometimes it’s a thankless job.

      If I didn’t get encouraging comments, I wouldn’t be doing this. So thanks to YOU for “paying” me to spend the hours that I do to help others succeed online.

      And thanks for the tip, Lisa. I love your execution.

  • Been running this through in my own mind and a have been talking about it a little that we in this industry are in the trust business. We offer up what we know as a commodity that people can take off the shelf when they need it. I hearken back to the magazine rack on the street corner that had the sign if you read it you bought it.

    I find that people that pay for a consult are nice, they are respectful and thank you for your time and =generally value what you have told them. The worst case scenario is during lunch when you have given them the freebie, they tend to argue with you about your advice and tell you why they think it is wrong, causing you to provide further consultation and enabling the problem. Maybe that is just me. I always tell people that I would be happy to provide them a proposal to help them which sets out what I will do and for what fee. I have to wrestle again with those that want you to tell them the information before they want to accept the proposal. It is a rough world we have made. Thanks for participating, and now I am positive I am having some issues!

    I won’t take you to lunch, but maybe we can discuss it over a box of diapers. I remember how expensive those things were!

    • Thanks Jim. That’s right. Aaron Wall discusses his concern often on SEOBook — his “free” users complain a lot more than paid users. They clearly don’t value the investment he makes.

      (And yeah, diapers are not getting any cheaper! I SO hope he gets potty trained soon. Definitely won’t be for at least another year though!) ;)

    • Carri Bugbee says:

      Jim, I just had this experience last week! The leader of a nonprofit (that is doing great things) asked me for some social media advice. I got sucked into HOURS of consulting to show him the basics of Facebook (he was a tech luddite) and he argued with me for much of it.

      After I was done, I said “never again!” I felt a lot of compassion for his cause. I want to see that nonprofit (which helps pets — my soft spot) do good things, so I didn’t want to abandon him. But it was more exhausting and frustrating than any paid gig has ever been. I’m clearly a sucker!

      @CarriBugbee

  • Hello Tamar,
    For me, you could not have posted this on a better day. I was almost completely out of grey matter, so thank you.
    I’ve been struggling with the whole nine yards. The brain picking, the lunches, the outings, shutting down my chats, and the fake requests for proposals. I’m one of the lucky ones that went into debt learning this space. I spent the majority of my professional career in relationship marketing. I am 47 years old. A few years back, I discovered this brand new world and I consider myself extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to learn when I did (70 to 80 hours a week for the last three years). If I had to place a value on my business investment, it would be safe to assume that I have invested the equivalent of my last earned salary times three. I’m a single parent of four children. I love what I do and I especially love helping people learn to build their businesses online and turning them on to all the wonderful collaboration tools that have become our mastermind playground. I also accept full responsibility for giving up my stuff for free. Ultimately, it’s my personal choice. Although I recognize what you’re saying as 100% true and correct.
    “And Chris is right: while seen as a kind gesture by the giver, it’s exploitative.” So what do you do? What do I do? You all have far more experience than I do here…I’m truly at a loss. I have arrived at the place where I can say no to the freebies, but it’s the fake RFP’s that’s got my skin crawling.

    Thank you! Awesome work, Tamar! But now I feel like I’m picking your brain. : (

    Before I go, I also have to thank Chris Brogan for tweeting about this and bringing it to my attention. TY Chris!

  • Even your consulting rate won’t cover it. if I spend an hour or two giving you a distillation of all I have learned and you give me $150 per hour, who is the winner?

    The world does not value intellectual property. Full stop.

    • I guess not, Skeptic. But I do give short phone consultations which usually give good actionable information to boot. It won’t teach everything — only weeks/months/years of practice will — but it’s a good way to figure out what direction you’ll take in your business.

      p.s. please please please use your real name. ;)

  • Tamar,

    It’s my first time visiting and commenting your blog, which I found on a tweet from Guy Kawasaki.

    I had a former supervisor tell us on the first day of a sales job, “Yes, our company helps people and we do it very well. Which is why we charge as much as we do. Remember men, we’re not a f*cking charity or Walmart, so we don’t discount or ‘hook people up’. We’re professionals.”

    He was also a complete sociopath, so you must consider the source. But the point was valid. If you’re good at something, you should be compensated in proportion to the value you deliver.

    I like Lisa’s “stray cat fund”, and will probably implement something similar in my business.

    When you’re ready to potty train, jelly beans and the Peter Potty Flushing Urinal for boys = Success. Wife and I potty trained our twins in 2 days.

    Looking forward to reading more!

    • Exactly. And all throughout this, it’s really important to respect that this is hard work. If I could do it for free, I’d love to. But that’s why I go to my last point that money makes the world go round, since without it, we’d all be pretty darn lazy. :)

      And LOL, I’ll have to keep that potty training advice handy in about 12-18 month’s time!

    • Yemi,

      That reminds me of the “Boiler Room” when Ben Affleck has everyone in the conference room.

      Jim

  • Tamar… first time I visit your site and must congratulate you. Great post!

  • Jon Buscall says:

    Amen! I recently got a request from a PR company in the US (I’m based in Sweden) for a review of their social media marketing campaign on a Thursday night because they were meeting with their client on the Monday. Their results had been poor and they wanted some ideas to give them.

    Now I offer a free first brief consultation as a lead in to my business. But their approach was to send me 8 documents to review. In that first approach.

    As their client was a Fortune 500 business I was interested in the project and possible benefits of winning over this prospect. I therefore spent a bit of time reviewing their work. We talked on Skype and I gave them some pointers – without giving them everything – and then gave them my usual sales pitch.

    They clearly didn’t have much experience with using social media and had made a number of key errors so their response was to immediately seize on a couple of points I made and enthuse about their value.

    I asked them, even if they chose not to proceed to bring me in, to give me a 1 line recommendation about the value of our conversation that I could use. They gushed that they would be delighted because of the value of my review. And duly promised to get back to me.

    A week later I’ve not heard a single thing.

    So how do you turn a “free lunch” or “free chat” into business when people are so snotty about paying for anything up front and want to see evidence of your value.

    I’d value any thoughts on this issue.

    • Wow, Jon, yeah, I’m glad you stood your ground! If a PR firm needs advice, they need to hire an outside consultant. Bottom line. I’m not sure I’d have even given them as much as you did. Reading 8 documents isn’t something that takes 5 minutes.

      And as far as my recommendations, it gets tricky and I welcome other commenters’ advice. In most cases, I’m willing to forfeit the business if they can’t value my time to start.

      • Wow is right. What I find uncanny are the similarities of the collective experience. Ha!

        Carrie mentioned nonprofits. I also consider this a “tithe” and give 12 months to a different np each year. I’m currently working with one now. Very grateful to have wonderful people to work with – an animal advocacy organization.

  • It’s interesting to watch people start to realize that creative and intellectual work has value, both intrinsic and monetary. Artists have always been expected to give away their creations for free, often with the old, worn out promise: “you’ll get great exposure”.

    In the freewheeling, egalitarian, crowdsourced world of the internet we are accustomed to, and actually feel entitled to get music, art and books for free. This was pretty cool for a number of years until publishers, newspapers, magazines, art galleries, museums, professional photographers, and numerous other cultural gatekeepers started to fold.

    Now we are looking at a changed cultural landscape which demands creative and intellectual content such as artwork and writing, but refuses to pay for it. After all, when thousands are willing to upload artwork, photos and writing for free, why should anyone pay for it?

    • Yup! That’s the big question. Since some people don’t mind Creative Commons licenses, that means everyone should! The person who tweeted at me last week about this was especially into open source for her own reasons, so all of the sudden, this meant that I should have given her a freebie. I don’t see the correlation.

  • Jason Arican says:

    Since so much information from people working in this space is freely accessible (through their blogs, twitter accounts, online presentations), I can see how someone would initially not find it inappropriate (intentional double-negative there) to ask to “pick your brain” over lunch.

    This is certainly not to say that it actually is appropriate. Just saying that it’s understandable for someone to be naive in that respect.

    I sometimes get turned off with perceived snobbery in this field. And this is absolutely no indictment on you, Tamar, as I agree with everything you said above.

    I just think it’s important to remember that sometimes people just don’t know any better.

    • Hey Jason, thanks for your comments.

      “A penny for your thoughts” is a good idiom that comes to mind.

      I don’t mind people not knowing any better. It’s more of the appalling response to the “I charge $X per hour, so if you want to talk, please note” that has brought me to the point of writing this post.

      As mentioned, I give out a ton of value already for free. So people think it’s okay to take the finger, the hand, the arm, the leg — because I’ve already put it out there. Perhaps it was my fault for giving up so much already. I’m not going to stop, but I am going to stick to my guns when it comes from asking TOO much, and if someone isn’t happy with it, I’ll just point them to this post. :)

  • Tim Staines says:

    Hi Tamar,

    I completely understand your position. To me, being relatively (compared to you) new to this business, accepting a free lunch is often a way for me to increase my network of potential clients. I spit out some knowledge, they leave with a good impression and tell other people how much I helped them. Often the information I provide is already out there, they just didn’t know where/how to find it or were too preoccupied to look, so I’m really just putting it in a more consumable format.

    On the other side of things, when I offer to buy lunch/dinner, my agenda is simple. I’m there to build a relationship and/or say thank you for something (knowledge, advice, services, etc.) that has already been delivered to me. Any additional “consulting” that happens during the meal is merely a part of the conversation that people within a common industry would naturally engage in, and I would hope to contribute to that conversation, not just ask questions and expect answers.

    • Tim, thanks for your thoughts. I actually have been doing that for a long time myself; I love building relationships online or offline. It just becomes a challenge when these requests come in large quantities. That’s where I’m at now. :(

  • Joel Libava says:

    Tamar,
    Fantastic post!

    In my case, even with business being down big-time, I’ve started to charge for franchise consultations. In my business (franchise matchmaking)–well actually one of my businesses-roles-whatever, it’s commonplace to provide “free consultations.” 90% of the brokers/consultants in this super-crowded market don’t charge a thing.
    Well, I do, and I’m comfortable with my decision.

    I have a couple of eBook style franchise guides. I spent a lot of time writing and producing them. I introduced them at a pretty inexpensive price point. The, I raised the prices. A few folks said, “Joel, I wouldn’t advise raising your prices in this economy.”

    Again, I’m comfortable with my decision.

    I’ve spent countless hours with folk who just wanted free info. I’m happy to supply a few tips, but there comes a point in which I’ll ask them if they’d like to schedule a consult with me. I think that’s a nice way to do it.

    Do you agree?

    The Franchise King®
    Joel Libava

  • Roger Dooley says:

    Tamar, service providers have been dealing with this forever. I’m sure the stone carvers for the pyramids got hit up by their buddies for “just a little bench, you know, from pieces you don’t use.” If you were a dermatologist, you likely couldn’t attend a party without someone rolling up their sleeve and asking you to check out a weird-looking mole.

    I think being firm, friendly, and professional is the key. Figure out what your policy is, and stick with it. I’m not doing SEO client work now, but in the past I’ve occasionally taken a look at people’s sites for free. In some cases, with just a small effort I was able to help someone who needed it but could never afford to hire me. In other cases, my small amount of free help turned into a paying gig later. These efforts were MY choice, though – I wasn’t blackmailed into them by someone playing on friendship.

    Lawyers offer a good model for dealing with leeches. They always provide a free consultation, which includes a preliminary analysis of the client’s situation and demonstrates their own experience and skill in that particular area. They don’t generally provide enough assistance, though, for the client to run off and solve his own problem. And, if they occasionally tell a client, “you don’t need a lawyer for this,” they will establish themselves as credible and fair. The next time that client needs legal help, the lawyer who was honest and helpful will be at the top of the list.

    Roger

    • Very good point, Roger.

      You know, I’ve always wondered what a “free consultation” in the legal field entails. Can you get much actionable information out of it? Probably not. On the other hand, in Internet Marketing, you sure can, so I wonder if it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

      I have no idea, really. I haven’t asked a lawyer for a consult. :)

  • Roger Dooley says:

    It’s not a perfect comparison, Tamar, because most people wouldn’t attempt to do their own legal work, while any doofus can get on Twitter and Facebook. Still, I think it’s possible to talk to someone in a way that they learn about your field and your own expertise without providing a detailed action plan. It’s tough – if you seem too cagey and nonspecific, you can come across as shady or even dumb.

    One approach that I’ve employed in the past is to offer an entry level service that compensates me for the effort of analyzing the client’s situation and needs and for making recommendations. First, this screens out the folks who are just fishing for freebies. Second, if the client takes the info and runs with it himself, I’ve still been fairly compensated. Often, though, the client will say, “Great, let’s move ahead with this.”

    Another approach is used by service providers like landscape designers. They know they are providing valuable information if they lay out a detailed design, and that the homeowner might buy plants at Home Depot and install them himself. So, they charge a design fee which is credited against the installed price. This weeds out :) the tire-kickers, and at least covers their design time if they don’t get the deal.

  • I hate to say it, but we’re dealing with a reality of our own creation. As a technologist and startup guy, I’ve been continually vexed by the problem of free. You’re expected to give away tremendous value, bear the weight of the costs of servers (and your own development time) and when you dare suggest pay-for-premium services or advertising, HOWLS OF INDIGNATION.

    We’re all guilty of it, the sense of free entitlement that’s slowly creeping to encompass more and more. This is the problem with the the whole “Free” movement. We’re expected to give away part of our creative output so we can leverage it to charge for other things (time, writing, consulting, speaking engagements), but the nature of the beast is that to distinguish yourself you end up having to give away more and more of your creative value. The more you give away, the more that becomes the baseline of what’s expected, slowly moving up the chain. We’re racing to the bottom, devaluing all of our own creative outputs.

  • Alison Dwyer says:

    I agree with you completely Tamar. This has been something I’ve battled with my entire professional career in PR. Friends and people I don’t even know think that it’s absolutely fine to ask you how to achieve a better profile or ‘some PR strategy’ like this are the equivalent to free samples. Indeed, even clients have been known (thankfully not current clients) to take an afternoon of your time ‘brainstorming’ (translate as strategy / business management) and then rant on the phone when you bill them for. It comes to no surprise to me that social media ‘advice’ is being maligned in the same way. Because that is exactly what is happening. When someone thinks it’s fine to picks your brains for some free advice it’s because they don’t really value this expertise or even your skills – you don’t see them taking a heart surgeon to lunch for free advice. I think that anyone who has skill, experience or any level of expertise in social media or in anything should be the gatekeeper of this ability and managed its value, and be very straight forward when declining ‘free’ lunches. I have a friend who consults for an awful lot of money (her daily rate brings super models to mind) and once when I asked her for some ‘free advice’, she kindly pointed out to me that ethically she couldn’t help me as she would be doing her clients a disservice who were paying her a high premium for the same advice.
    Alison

    • “…you don’t see them taking a heart surgeon to lunch for free advice.”

      That’s because that isn’t a social profession! ;) I guess it comes more frequently to ask this question of those whose jobs descriptions require them to be more “social.”

      “she kindly pointed out to me that ethically she couldn’t help me as she would be doing her clients a disservice who were paying her a high premium for the same advice.”

      Yup. That’s a good way to put it.

  • A thought provoking video regarding free I shared a few months ago. It’s tangentially related but interesting in terms of value exchange and creativity. http://mikepk.com/2009/11/an-interesting-video-from-the-web-2-0-expo-on-currency/

  • Amy Oztan says:

    Hi Tamar, excellent post. I come across this hourly in my little world of mommy blogging. I was building my worth at the same time I was becoming aware of it, and once I was in a position to start charging for what I had been doing for free, I was afraid that all offers would disappear. And while this change did scare away many people I’d worked with before for free or very little, it was more than made up for with better-quality, paying offers.

    I’m not sure I could have skipped over the part where I worked for free lunches and products of little value, since I was nobody from nowhere and was building a brand, but once I had something of real value to offer I found that other people valued it too. It’s a nice feeling.

    • I think free lunches are a great place to start … heck, it’s a great way to get good food. ;)

      Maybe everyone should start that way. That’s how you break the ice and get into the space. It’s how you build relationships. But after a certain point, especially when you don’t need to seek out new ventures, you should stop. Otherwise you’ll get stepped on.

  • An excellent article Tamar and one many of us can relate to. I have dealt with a lot of people who complain about having to pay for advice about “Free Social Media”. I generally find those that really react strongly to the idea are maybe not the kind of people who are going to do well with Social Media anyway. Those that “get it” understand that to get anything out of Social Media you need to invest time or money and in the case of businesses both are required.

    Social Media may be free to use but if you expect to use it effectively as a marketing/communication tool then the word free should make people run for the hills. How many businesses out there expect to see any return from their marketing and communication efforts if they invest nothing?

    Businesses and individuals should ask themselves, if I really place no value on the advice of a Social Media Consultant why on earth am I asking them for advice?

    • Solid point. You can’t learn social media without practicing it. It’s the premise of this post where I called SEO, which is a highly technical (and difficult) industry, easier than SMM. Why? Because you need clients for success. And you won’t get clients if you’re just giving away freebies. :)

    • Matthew: Ease up there, cowboy.

      I wrote this post with this comment in mind:

      http://genuinechris.posterous.com/tamar-free-entitlementality

      People need grace, they are well intentioned and merely ignorant. They mean to be complimenting you and Lunch is an opening offer not a final statement of their opinion of your value. They may be rubes–or even foreigners in our world. We want to embrace them with open arms, a kind heart.

      The limitation here is this: someone wants to buy you lunch, and their intent is good.

      Our job is to be cool, and introduce them to the norms of our world. Why would someone pay money to work my facebook? Well, if we don’t have an answer at the ready, we’re the ones that lack professionalism.

      The onus to defend our industry and to communicate our value is on us. If we fail to do it, if we fail to sell the benes, then we stink..it’s not their problem for not knowing, and we must educate with compassion

      • Maybe. I guess I’m bothered at the offense taken when they’re told that these things cost money. That’s really what prompted this blog post.

        Thanks for the follow up, Chris.

        • well, we need to meet people more than half way. You usually do. This post didn’t seem to fit with your ethos, but it did prompt me to buy “the new community rules” on kindle.

          • Not this comment, Chris. This one by Matthew. :)

            As far as this post, yeah, I had a hard time writing it. But let me ask you — do I not give away value? I have a serious problem with a person taking a finger, then asking for an arm, then a leg, until there’s none of me left. This is how I put my [remaining] foot down.

            You already see it. I give away a TON of value. Is it fair to be stepped on for more? You tell me.

            I’ve come more than halfway. This is a plea for people to start respecting me.

          • Tamar-

            Some people won’t. Probably 35%. And if they sulk publicly, that’s their problem. You give away value, sure.

            I’m just saying its a two way street. Someone that’s read your blog for 3 years is no more entitled to your workproduct on their terms than me.

            Just like writing a blog and putting it out there doesn’t obligate me to hit your paypal link.

            Everything is a negotiation. I might offer you lunch to solve a problem. You can counteroffer politely with “Well, as you probably guessed, I reserve custom advice for paying clients-I do thank you for the offer.”

            If my response to that is “you B!%ç#, go die,” then I’ve seriously got problems.

          • Chris, if this is the issue you worry goes against my ethos, I get where you’re coming from and I guess I conveyed myself improperly.

            I tried to make it clear that if I know you and have a relationship with you, I’ll definitely give you more than just a “hey, you have to pay.” (The article itself states “I’d like to help others but feel the need to repeat my stance against giving people who do not know me and who do not even really warm up to me the benefit of a free ride while still charging customers who have been with me for years.”)

            People who write on my blog, comment, speak to me on Twitter, and overall have a *relationship* with me don’t ever hear this from me. This blog post is from at least a dozen requests in the last month alone where I didn’t have any relationship with people who wanted everything from me. If you saw the conversation on Twitter with that person who wanted the free book, I kept telling her to read Techipedia, but she hasn’t even come here to read this post. That goes to show that she has no interest in a relationship and gaining value; she just wanted something for free. These are the people this blog post is for, not for the people who I’ve known for years and have actually exchanged more than one conversation with.

            With a relationship, asking nicely and handling the conversation appropriately is a necessity. People who don’t know me and don’t take the chance to know me don’t think they should ask nicely. That’s a true problem. In response to their question, I’m going to be up front and give them my rates or prices (for the book), and I’m going to expect nothing less than a “wow you’re rude! How could you ask for such a thing?” — because that’s what has been happening here.

            I’m not sure where you’re getting the impression that it isn’t a two way street. I certainly am not trying to give the impression that I’m not giving back. However, I don’t want to be manipulated. I think I’m within my right to ask people to pay.

            I’ve never asked people to pay just because they read my blog, but if they want more, they CAN click that PayPal link and get more. But for free? That isn’t fair to everyone else who I am serving right now who pay monthly.

  • “How much do you charge an hour?”
    “$500”
    “Can I treat you to lunch?”
    “Of course. I charge $500 for that.”

    I have encountered the above in some form or other numerous times. It makes a good point.

    You make a good point Tamar about behavior on the Internet and the expectation of free. I like free. Free is a great way to brand and attract followers. As Chris Anderson demonstrated in his book, free can be a terrific business model. Free is also a choice. You nor I nor anyone is required to do free. Free is a strategy or a tactic, a business decision.

    When I attended business school an early lesson was about barriers to entry. Whether they be costs, regulations, social or anything else, newcomers must to overcome certain hurdles before they can open their doors or become successful. Once you do open a business you have to build a reputation. Most people begin with minnows and work themselves up to the whales. Strike that, most people never get off the ground or become fish food. Still, we all begin in the womb.

    The point is, lots of people don’t want go overcome barriers to entry or grow their businesses through hard work. They want to go around. And, they see the Internet as a shortcut. The Internet flattens everything so we can get closer to successful people, even if it is like looking into a fishbowl. The Internet also fosters transparencies. We are seeing, on Twitter and other social sites, conversations that would have been private 5 years ago.

    On our flat transparent Internet it’s pretty easy to learn that Archie helped Jughead or that Betty helped Veronica. Naturally we want that for ourselves. And because Bobby reads Billy’s posts all the time and they occasionally share tweets, it becomes a lot easier for Bobby to request from Billy a freebie, a request most would agree is bad form outside of the Internet.

    It’s not surprising. Combining greed, laziness, flatness and transparency is like tossing chum into the Internet. The good thing is that we know who is and who is not a part of our networks. Those networks are not closed either. Anyone can join and enjoy the benefits…if they overcome the barriers to entry.

    • I like what you’re saying here, Tom. (And thanks for the blog post.) I think that people still feel that since they’re exposed to you often, they must know you, and they have the expectation that you must know them. It’s why I have … 938 friend requests on Facebook, all of whom I don’t really know. I make a public stance against connections with people I don’t know, yet they haven’t gotten the memo and still befriend me.

      But anyway…

  • Erika Firm says:

    Hello Tamar, I’ve really enjoyed reading your post and all the comments. I am not a social media expert (by any means), but I am a graphic designer, design and run a letterpress stationery company, and design and run an online wedding invitation business. So I get A LOT of requests for free advice, usually from people wanting to break into the stationery business.

    My standard response is to politely thank them for their inquiry, recommend a few of my favorite books about the business of being creative, and tell them that if they still have questions after reading the books I’d be happy to consult. Everyone wins this way.

  • Tamsen Reed says:

    Julien Smith and I had a very similar conversation regarding free and fees not long ago. You see, as a talent agent/broker and I have found booking social media speakers even more difficult than the traditional motivational talent as the category is still so new, broad and misunderstood AT the corporate or business level that those degrees and levels of expertise are very fuzzy lines to the hiring organization. Not to mention that the explosion of SM came so quickly to business reality and they became so hungry for understanding and getting up to speed that the demand for a speaker and the sheer ego behind being asked to speak for a group opened up a market for fees far below where an agent can make any money. It gave rise to an entirely new breed of speaker. These new talents and voices of social networking would often speak for free affecting market integrity. I am so glad to see this conversation happening among you. The value of your expertise and the definitive lines of what SM leaders deliver will sharpen. Corporate America will begin to be more discriminating in their understanding of what their audience really needs to hear, the ability of a SM speaker will become more refined, the take-aways stronger and the intent of audience engagement/education the priority. With this more sophisticated competitive spirit will come rise in the value of the content and a monetizing model should emerge. Yes, there will still be people who ask for free or discounted prices, but a broader, more educated public will know higher value, public image, and true content has a price.

    • Interesting, thank you for chiming in, Tamsen.

      Yes, I’ve been asked to speak for free dozens of times. Most of the time, they’re not local at all, but yet I’m expected to pay for a 5 hour flight and my hotel. I’ve made it clear that I don’t do anything without an honorarium plus travel reimbursements. Only a single person has accepted that request.

  • I think this is a problem that runs through different professions, especially consultants. I am a marketing consultant and deal with the “free lunch” in exchange for advice often. A good response may be in the story below attributed to Picasso.
    In Paris, there was a woman strolling along a street, when she spotted Picasso sketching near a sidewalk cafe.
    “Not so thrilled that she could not be slightly presumptuous, the woman asked Picasso if he might sketch her. Picasso obliged. In just 20 minutes, there she was: an original Picasso.”
    “And what do I owe you?” she asked. “Five thousand francs,” he answered.
    “But it only took you 20 minutes,” she politely reminded him.
    “No,” Picasso said, “It took me all my life.”

  • Eric Wichman says:

    Very good article. Found your post on a tweet by Brian Clark aka. CopyBlogger.

    People seem to feel entitled to get things for free, not realizing or caring that time is really money. It’s rather annoying when people actually get angry or upset with you when you say no. I can’t count how many times over the past 15 years in business that I’ve sold a product, or had someone request a “freebie”, when I tell them no (nicely), and still have them come back with “You’re a jerk!” or other irritating vulgarities.

    Thanks for this post!

    Regards,
    Eric

  • Chris:

    Thanks for your valid points. My post is not intended as an affront to everyone who wants to buy a consultant lunch, that as you say is a gesture of kindness. Generally speaking in the business world I believe many consultants actually buy prospects lunch for the chance to even talk to them. As you will see if you read again, I was talking about those that react strongly to the thought at having to pay anything for Social Media advice at any point. While many of these people may be naive to the world of Social Media they are not naive to the world of business and the cost of time. Careful explanation and guidance is of course is the way to go, but can be tricky.

    I offer a lot of free advice and support to my clients (one-on-one conversation, group forums etc), I do this because I love what I do and appreciate those that support what I do. However, there comes a time when you know that you are being taken advantage of and the key is to know the difference and when it is appropriate to gracefully decline.

    Do you ever find yourself in this situation Chris or do you find you can always navigate around such situations?

  • Cheryl says:

    Thanks for writing this! In my line of work I often get texts
    and mails from people wanting free readings etc and this
    includes family n friends. A no often offends but working
    takes time and I need to pay bills! Im not driven by money
    at all and I like to help people, it’s what Im here for. but I
    doubt people would work for free! A well written piece that
    had me cheering! Ta!!

  • April says:

    I loved reading this article. I totally get where you are coming from, though my talents lie more in design.

    What really gets me is this: People do searches for someone who knows about WordPress (which is what I do) because they have a site and something needs to be fixed. They follow you on Twitter, chit chat every day, and give you the impression that you are “friends” after a period of time. Then out of nowhere, they ask you to “help” them with their WordPress site. Since you are now “friends” you don’t mind helping out, right? It’s not as though it’s something that takes too long and you feel good for helping someone. Then what happens? You never hear from them again but they continue to follow you as though that is a favor. Please.

    That makes me feel angry, used, and untrustworthy of other people. It’s not right to take advantage of anyone on any level but lately it seems like if someone can get online and create a social profile, then they can use people to get something for free without caring about anyone else but themselves.

    Social media has really taken the whole “hiding behind a computer screen” to a whole other level of douche. if I was a spiteful person, I’d be more than happy to expose them for their wrongs, but at the end of the day, I fell (more than once) for the whole, “I’m a friend! Please help me!” crap and I don’t need to waste more time then I already have.

    No more, I say! Want help? I’ll be sure to forward you to my PayPal account before I spend anymore time and energy (which equals money) on you. Don’t like it? Go “friend” someone else. ;)

  • Ok I will confess I am starting to like you but don’t
    tell no one Thanks :)
    Money is over rated except when you don’t have it :)

  • Amen, Tamar.

    I’ve been a full-time freelance science writer for many years. Many, many people have asked if they could “take me to lunch” so I could tell them how to do what I do.

    I want to say, “Here’s how: spend thousands on a graduate degree, log in a few years on staff jobs, then spend a couple of years writing and sending out queries to editors who ignore you. That’s all there is to it.”

    I’m all for networking. That’s how I get 99% of my paying work. And I’m all for giving a helping hand to up-and-coming writers, esp recent graduates. But for adults who are long out of school, who probably will *never* actually take a step toward being a writer, I now suggest they read a couple of books on science writing and freelancing, and *then* we’ll have lunch. I don’t hear from them again.

    People don’t realize, too, that a “quick lunch” pretty much kills the entire work day when you work at home. And when you are not on staff anywhere, that means a day of lost income.

    I bought your book, Tamar. Great job!

    • “People don’t realize, too, that a “quick lunch” pretty much kills the entire work day when you work at home. And when you are not on staff anywhere, that means a day of lost income.”

      YES! I totally hear you. Thanks Catherine!

  • Del Williams says:

    Sadly this is not a new problem. Remember how Doctor’s used to protest people coming up to them at parties about their aches and pains trying to get free advice? People had access, so others tried to take advantage. As for the free ride, I agree totally. I have had people who wanted me to produce videos for their business for free. I have not done it. Then I think of the facade that way too many people on social networks put on concerning their finances, and how their “business” is really nothing more than a financially draining hobby, and they really can’t afford some of the stuff. To which I say, the library is free, and there is a ton of free info out there, but it doesn’t matter the cost involved if they don’t take action on it.

    It is a sad state of affairs that people don’t value people enough to realize they deserve to be paid for their time and services. Oh, but here is the irony, I wonder if the people asking for the freebies would be as willing to give their stuff away for free?

    • “People having access” is the key point.

      “Oh, but here is the irony, I wonder if the people asking for the freebies would be as willing to give their stuff away for free?”

      I bet they’d give me a hard time if I even asked. ;)

      Thanks for your comments, Del! :)

  • I read this blog today from Matt Ridings and thought it tied in nicely with what is being discussed here.

    http://www.techguerilla.com/why-should-i-pay-you-my-approach-to-how-much

  • Hey Tamar! Such a timely post! Seems to be happening to me ALOT lately! Can we meet for coffee, lunch, etc and talk about how we can help one another? I steer them to communicating with me through email and/or becoming a fan of my Facebook Page. Most of the time when you put the burden back on them for getting their thoughts cohesive and determining some initial points, they never follow through with that email! I do have to keep my chat turned off on Facebook also. I always happily talk with people when I’m speaking/presenting or in attendance at an event. It’s gotten so you know when someone’s about to ask that “Let me treat ya to . . . .” question ~

    Thanks Tamar ~ Beautifully written post!

    • Thanks Camilla!

      It’s funny. I accept every friendship on LinkedIn (though I’m starting to feel that I shouldn’t!), and one of them immediately emailed me and said “let’s chat to talk about how we can help one another?” I don’t know WHY I did it, but I bit.

      She immediately thrust me into all of her client relationships. She was going to pay, and that’s great, but whoa, hold on. What if I’m just NOT looking for a relationship like that right now?

      Via email, I kept telling her, “hey, let’s be clear about what we’re going to discuss during this call,” and she was adamant about just getting me on the phone so that she can put the burden on me. She succeeded, and it was a true wasted call for me. I simply wasn’t interested.

      Email is GREAT; I can weed out this kind of stuff before I waste my own time. But it takes two to tango. Next time, I know to say no.

      If people can’t respect that I need more information before I get on a call, then I’m not willing to have a business relationship with them, pay or not.

  • I was just dealing with issue last week. Your post was the kick in the pants I needed. So thanks! No more free lunches For me as the PR professional unless there’s a potential of that person becoming a paying client at the end of it. My time and knowledge has value.

  • Kyle Lacy says:

    Give a mouse a cookie…
    This blog speaks volumes. It’s a business even if it’s not costing you money it’s costing someone else money. I think it’s important to respect other people’s time as well as your own, which means it’s ok to say no.

  • Kwame says:

    Great points Tamar, and awesome comments. I think people need to get realistic about getting things for free online. There’s a limit to free.

    Confession, if I had a blog like yours Tamar, I’ll sell premium content in subscriptions ;).

    Thanks for all the great content.

    Kwame.

    • I’ve been compelled to do that multiple times. Did you see the discussion I linked to? Some people have nerve to demand more when I give enough of myself already.

      Time to put my foot down. :)

      • Kwame says:

        Yep, I read everything. Most of your posts have the power to make businesses lots of profits and I think selling premium content in subscriptions is a good idea.

        One thing that still remains with that income strategy is that, some of your readers won’t take your free content too seriously like they used to. But hey, the ones that see the value in both your free and paid content are the ones who really appreciate what you do.

        Kwame.

  • Dennis Baker says:

    I really think this will work itself out over time.

    From it’s humble beginnings Social Media has come a long way, but is still in the adolescent stage of development. Built on the premise of “Giving back” and “How can I help you”, the mentality of “Free” emanates from these foundations.

    In addition it seems as if everyone you meet tags themselves as a Social Media “Insert term here” (expert, guru, consultant, sherpa). The true experts will eventually separate from the pretenders through free market principals.

    True expertise in social media is no different than that of a dentist, a management consultant, your accountant or any other professional. Your time is money and you should expect to be compensated for it.

    As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch…

    • Are we sure it will work itself out over time? It happens across other disciplines as well.

      I suspect that social media isn’t considered a real profession, so it should be easy to learn a few things here or there free of charge.

      I love that old saying. Thanks Dennis. :)

  • If you want to get paid you need to show how you are going to add value.

    Normally, the most compelling way to show value is to demonstrate how you can help a business increase sales.

    If you show me how your skills can profitably increase sales for my company, I will be more than happy to pay you.

    At the end of the day if you want someone to pay you, they will be paying you from a source of income. If you can increase that source of income you will get paid more.

    This is where bloggers/writers have a challenge. How to turn your skills into money earning potential. A few bloggers make decent money selling affiliate type products, info products, training courses and software, but they tell a similar story. They’ve been doing it for years for free before making a dime and now they are cashing in on large audiences. They are also happy to sell you an info product to tell you ‘how to be as successful as they are’, but don’t forget, you probably need to do it for free for a few years before you have any chance of making decent money.

    Show me (not tell me) how you can help me increase sales and I will pay you for your services.

    • “Show me (not tell me) how you can help me increase sales and I will pay you for your services.”

      Show and tell depends on the client, you know. ;)

      That said, at the end of the day, nobody is going to show you for free. If you aren’t confident you’ll get what you are paying for, then don’t pay for it — but certainly don’t demand that it come to you for free.

  • Hi Tamar,
    When I say ‘Show me’, you could show me a case study of where you have helped another company become more profitable.

    This is a method we regularly use to show companies how we can increase sales through internet marketing. We have several successful case studies and testimonials from companies where we have produced successful internet marketing campaigns.

    Can you show me where you have helped another company increase sales as a result of your skills?
    I’m not being argumentative, I’m genuinely interested in paying people for services that can help us increase sales.
    My clients would also be interested in paying for services that increase sales.

    For bloggers to make money all they have to do is prove that they can increase sales for companies using their skills.

    When I started out building websites and doing SEO 10 years ago, I built a few websites for free on the condition that if I doubled their traffic they would then pay me the agreed amount. I only had to do this with a few companies before I had great case studies and they all paid me because I delivered on what I said I could do.
    These companies are still clients after 10 years.

    Show value and getting paid is not a problem.

    • Dennis Baker says:

      Amen – very well said.

    • Yup – and I could. I have also had long-time clients who have offered — without my suggestion — to pay more over time because of the successes of my efforts.

      I used to offer similar services to you (free/much cheaper rates). That makes sense, of course, as you’re building your company. Eventually, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, you start seeing success (and this takes TIME!), and usually that means that you’ll get more and more clients. When someone comes to you and asks for a freebie with your now jam-packed schedule, it becomes a minor commitment that you can’t really tackle because your own time is finite. That’s sort of the point of this all.

      In any event, there are bloggers and there are bloggers who also have day jobs :) I’m actually not blogging nearly as often because of the work I’m doing.

  • Kristen says:

    I was all ready to write a meaty comment about something you ‘missed’ in the post, but was glad to see you’d touched on it in the comments!
    On maybe my first or second day in my job as a community manager, I sent you an email and you actually offered to call me! The practical advice you gave me on that call was, for the most part, things I could have found on your blog and in your book, but so much more important to me was the encouragement you provided – nothing too gushy – just a good old ‘you can do it’ from someone who’d been there for a while. Six months later, I’m well into the swing of things, and have more than once, thought about how thankful I was that you took a few minutes for a free phone call. So…thanks!

  • Glad I found your blog…many interesting topics.

  • harly says:

    Sometimes free is a promotional matter, a loss leader, the chance to build some buzz, but sometimes, we get confused on how that works, too. When companies send something for free, they’re hoping that you’re so moved by trying the thing that you’ll be motivated to tell others if it’s worth it. That’s in their marketing budget. They expect that.

  • Wow, great post Tamar! I gladly bought your book, and the knowledge contained in those pages are far more than what you pay for. I too struggle with the free lunches I receive for a chat, but its also attributable to the fact that I constantly feel that I have not “made” it yet. But then again, when do you? I appreciate the post and hopefully I can draw the line myself in the near future, :( :)

    • Thanks Ruben. I’m surprised how people expect to haggle over $16. And then they justify it by saying “well I’m a big fan of the open source movement!” Yeah, but doesn’t the Open Source movement get funded?

  • From most of the article and the responses I’ve seen, at least you guys get asked out to lunches for your expertise – I literally had someone random contact me through a social media page who was asking for a 20% discount on SEO services…on the basis that he and I were both of South Asian culture and we should stick together…who does that?!

    Great post as usual Tamar – and you’re spot on about ‘trying’ and ‘testing’ methods. We’ve all worked extremely hard in our own fields to do great work for our clients, so it does get a little frustrating when a friend asks you to do that sort of work for free. ‘Free items’ should be offered, never requested.

    On the other hand though – I can see why many people ask for free services or discounted services for any form of internet marketing. People often don’t measure the amount of effort we put into our campaigns, and they also see lower prices that other companies are offering for the ‘same’ amount of work (notice the ‘same’ in quotations!). It’s sad, but people’s perceptions have differed in regards to internet marketing.

    • “who does that?!”

      It happens in religious communities too. :)

      That’s the problem — perceptions. There’s a ton of work that goes into this! It’s not as easy for us as it may seem!

  • Deb Krier says:

    Tamar,

    Great post! I came across it when researching a “polite” way to tell someone “no” who contacted me to ask for a 90 minute training session…for free, because it would be a good “investment” for me! Huh? Providing my work free for them is a good investment? The organization charges hundreds of dollars for its consulting and they had the nerve to expect that I’d work with them for free. No promise of any future work, no explanation of the “investment,” no nothing.

    I do, on occasion, discount or even waive my fees – for a nonprofit organization and only when they’ve asked about my fee rather than assuming I’ll do it for free because they are a nonprofit. This is the only exception I make. For-profits – friends or not – have to pay! And, sometimes I charge my friends a “stupid tax” to make up for the pain working with them may cause!

    • Thanks Deb! It’s really interesting. Right after this post (August 6th), someone reached out to me for help. I wanted to see what would happen so I linked him to this post. He said, “in this case you are getting some very good value back as well.”

      I have yet to see any value. I totally didn’t benefit and yet I wasted my time on a few lengthy conversations and then a Skype call where I did add a ton of value (in fact, it was a call with one other “social media rockstar” and I dominated the call… he was smart to have been quiet!)

      Honestly, I never told him how I feel but maybe I should share this comment. I’ve been bothered by it for awhile now.

      • Deb Krier says:

        I think that your blog provides a great deal of very helpful information…and it’s free! I’m looking forward to going back through your prior posts and I’m sure that I will learn quite a bit. So, THANK YOU in advance! I’m going to be able to pick your brain without actually picking it apart.

        One thing this entire issue has made me realize is that I have been the “picker” too often. I need to change how I approach people when I ask them for help. At the very least, I need to make sure that I show them how much I respect their time and their knowledge – then find out how I can help them in return, when possible.

  • Renee says:

    I found this post via google images—love the pic you used. BIG Mahalo for this post and all the great comments. This topic is currently in my face: first when I read this post http://www.randyelrod.com/why-it-costs-to-connect-with-me-and-pick-my-brain THEN the very next day I had two requests asking to “pick my brain.” (you’d think the universe was trying to tell me something *giggle*)

    Time to stop the old paradigm of “I work for food.” For some reason the grocery stores here no longer accept shells and beads for trade, they prefer green bills. Again, thank you for creating the space to explore this topic. Many Blessings to you and your family this year.

  • I like what you wrote in the topic “Let Me Pick Your Brain for a Bit” :)_
    And I agree with you too!

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