I’m sorry if this blog feels like a rant, but I’m putting it out there for my own mental health.

Do you ever get asked to do things in your business for free?

I’m not talking about the people who want your advertised products or services without paying a penny for them. I’m not even talking about the people you have some kind of online connection/real-life relationship with who you’d happily chat to, knowing that they’d do the same for you at least – and champion the hell out of you in return at best.

I’m talking about the requests you get from complete strangers for the stuff you’ve probably spent a lot of time, money and hard work investing in to acquire for yourself – knowledge, techniques, processes, strategies, industry links… the stuff that’s actually of great value to person asking you, and therefore the reason that Google just didn’t quite cut it for them.

In some cases, the requests will come from people who you might recognise to some extent, but typically, you have no real clue who they are – despite how far back you trawl through their social media activity to see if they’ve ever supported, interacted with or recommended you on there (yes – I do that).

Try these on for size and see if you’ve had them turn up in your inbox:

Will you promote/share/endorse my stuff?”

“Would you give feedback on my article – and please can you comment on it in public?”

“Can I grab half an hour of your time to pick your brains over a coffee?”

I was raised in a “You don’t ask, you don’t get” family, and I’ll raise my own child in the same way, so I totally appreciate why people chance their hand. But, what I’ve also learned – and what I’ll always preach – is that this phrase doesn’t necessarily translate to “If you do ask, you definitely get“. If you’re someone who asks for those favours, you have to remember that the person you make those requests of doesn’t owe you anything other than a polite declination (depending on how you asked them in the first place, obviously). So, whilst it’s completely acceptable for you to ask, it’s also completely acceptable for someone to say no in response. End of interaction.

The way some people respond to that ‘no’, however… wow. That’s where I have the problem.

I have to say no or “sorry” to a lot of things because I don’t have the time or energy, but also because I’m not willing to give for free to a stranger something that loyal clients happily pay me for as I attempt to run a business instead of a helpline. But, to date, I have always at least given a direct but polite “no” because I’ve always felt that it’s right to acknowledge the contact.

I’ve responded, and I’ve always been polite. That’s my downfall, I feel. I’ve always responded to all of the requests with carefully considered framed language…

“I’m so sorry, but…”

“Unfortunately I…”

“I really wish I could, but…”

I used to get irked on people’s behalf when they’d publicly ‘out’ professionals who never responded to their messages. The baying crowd would all chip in to agree that the situation reeked of sh*tbaggery of self-important proportions. I completely get it now, though, because yes, maybe they are just an arrogant arsehole who cares not to bother with people who cannot serve them, but there’s also every possibility that they did once reply to all requests, but are now just sick of being where I find myself today; apologetic for something I’m not responsible for, and harshly criticised for something I shouldn’t have to justify to anyone but myself.

I’ve always apologised with great justification with every “no” I send or say, so that I don’t upset or offend anyone or make them think that the issue is ‘them’, but sadly, some of the recipients have then gone on to badmouth me, troll me, or be pretty damn sh*tty to me by way of response. If you think reading those things – or having someone tell me they’ve overheard something about me – is easy for me to deal with, then you’re wrong. Sorry about that.

I know there will be people who say you shouldn’t change who you are in these circumstances, and in some contexts I’ll always agree. With this particular scenario, however, it does make me think that I should have sacked off the sorry, avoided the apology, and saved myself so much time and energy wasted on worrying about what people will think of me purely for saying no to something I’m in no way obliged to do anyway.

The scenario where this really kicks is when the response has been to the ‘picking of brains’ enquiry (yick, I hate that phrase). I’m at the point where whatever the intention, I just feel a bit used. I’m annoyed if the person does nothing to personalise the request and show that this message is meant for me and me only, but I’m now equally as annoyed if they tell me how amazing I am and list lovely things about me, because I just think, “Well why don’t you value my time/input enough to pay for it like everyone else, then?”

If the pandemic panic-buying of early 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that I value toilet paper, so I don’t expect to wipe my backside on sheets of it for free. I know it probably does sound harsh – especially with that visual I’ve just given you – and I know that nobody likes rejection, but this is your chance to think about what you do (and don’t) value when seeking someone’s help, knowledge or advice. No doubt that one of the things that person did to achieve the success you now want to replicate was to invest money in their development, so if you’re serious about progressing in your own career or business, then you need to do the same.

And so, the only free advice I can ever give is the same as what a lot of other people in business will tell you; time is money. Therefore, although I’ll always reply to you, a no will be a no, and it won’t be framed with a long-agonised justification about why I’m sorry that I can’t help.

I’m sorry if this blog p***es anyone off.

Obviously, I’m totally not sorry.