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How to Tactfully Halt Giving Free Advice to Your Friends & Their Friends, Too

When we read this piece on Fortune about whether or not you should charge your friends for advice, we nodded in collective agreement.

Let’s say you’re a blogger. Chances are a friend or a friend of a friend has reached out to pick your brain about how to blog, how to use SEO, how to get hits on your own site. Or maybe you’re a graphic designer, perhaps someone in your inner circle has asked about redesigning your own site. We get it, that’s part of being a friend and knowing who to go to for what and having a casual conversation.

What happens when your friends cross the line? Granted, you may ask them for advice  depending on their expertise so it’s a give or take and that technically comes along with territory of being a friend but seriously, what happens when it gets out of hand?  

In the piece, Jodi Glickman writes:

“Just because Jonas Salk gave away the polio vaccine for free and Craig Newmark refuses to charge for Craigslist, you don’t have to be a philanthropist too. As altruistic as you may be, you don’t have to provide unlimited counsel to friends and family around the clock. You should be helpful when you can, but you are entitled to put meaningful limits on the pro bono advice you dish out regularly.”

Her advice? When you find yourself in situations that eat your time and energy, figure out the amount of the so-called free time will take. Give yourself that time limit and that’s it. If time feels like it’s stretching beyond that, give your relative or friend some options of how you can continue to be helpful after that period.

Is it flattering to be asked questions about your knowledge base? You bet. Is it part of a friendship? Yes. We’re not saying to not share your expertise because it’s not only nice, it’s good karma but we’re talking about what happens when it gets out of hand. Ten e-mails instead of two, a two hour call instead of 30 minutes, or even reviewing your friend’s nephew application to J school may be pushing it.

Similarly, if you’re on the other end of the situation and you’re seeking a friend’s input,  be cognizant and tactful about what you’re asking and how frequently. Perhaps save several questions for a cup of coffee instead of constantly e-mailing various questions which take up more time and energy.

She adds, “Just as a houseguest eventually overstays his welcome, so too do people overburden you by assuming you’ll continue your role as adviser, counselor, therapist, problem solver, or life coach, indefinitely. After sharing your initial thoughts or giving some meaningful advice for free, it’s entirely acceptable to change the dynamic.”

Further, she notes if it’s related to your livelihood and even if it’s not — maybe it’s about your improv skills or ability to line up gigs for your band — you’re “still entitled to be compensated.” Be upfront and forthright by saying you need to put together an agreement to get compensated for your time and energy moving forward.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, feel free to recommend other people who will help your friend out. For instance, as a career expert, I’m often asked by friends to review their resumes.

Sure, I’ll take a gander but when it comes down to full-on revamps and coaching when they’re more of an acquaintance, I have to put my foot down and stop giving it away for free because guess what? If I refer them to someone else, you bet they’ll have to pay for the services.

Above all, you need to value your time while being genuinely interested in your friend. Although it feels helpful to give advice, you’ll need to create boundaries so, as Glickman puts it, “You’re not in the business of being taken for a ride.”

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