Growing up in Michigan, spending Sunday mornings at Church was a weekly occurence that I still remember vividly. I don't recall the actual services, but what I DO remember is the 15-30 minutes it took us to actually exit the building. You see, my dad is a doctor and as you can imagine, everyone in his path had a quick question to ask him about a sore neck, bad cough or other things that don't need to be share in a blog (and probably didn't need to be shared in front of a ten year old, but I digress).
Years later, after a stint as a high school teacher, I found myself wearing the hats of both a Chief Excitement Officer and co-founder over here at Tin Shingle, as well as the founder of a public relations agency. I'm not only a service provider, but over here at Tin Shingle I work on a platform that when used correctly can propel a brand from unknown status to a filled with the power and skills to land themselves a feature segment on the Today Show or a write up in USA Today. Brand and life changing opportunities.
Though I love my calling, and part of it does consist of helping members and readers of Tin Shingle move their own DIY PR campaigns along (a role that I value and love immensely) it also means that I quickly found out I was an in demand coffee/dessert/drinks date. For my charming conversation and winning smile? Not so much (sigh). Instead, I've become quite the popular recipient of invitations to free drinks and "pick Sabina's brain time". In the beginning I said yes. A lot. In the beginning it was just friends and family, then friends of friends, random colleagues, people I met at networking events and more. When people began to catch on that I wasn't always available to meet in person they'd email and call. Some would call my cell phone directly and launch into a series of questions without even asking if I had time to chat.
The good and bad news here is that it began to annoy me. I felt bad being annoyed, as I wanted to help them. But I also began to find myself mumbling to myself "no you cannot pick my brain about what I do for a living, people picking my brain for advice IS my job." I began to wonder if they realized that there are people who pay for my work and I wondered how they (clients) would feel if I told them "oh yes, I'm going to start giving away all this PR knowledge that you pay for, for free". I began to wonder if my landlord would accept coffee/cocktails/dessert in lieu of rent. (They won't).
Then I began to chat with other service providers in public relations as well as those in fields completely different than mine and I realized that many of them were in the same boat. They were innundated with requests for advice/tips/strategy "off the clock". It was then that I really learned how to say no, and how to say it firmly and politely.
Being a service provider boils down to, in many situations, dollars for hours. Time is money. Your brain and your skills are your moneymakers. When you give them away for free, you lose money, and you lose time, which again is money. When you give it away for free, you begin to devalue what you and others in your field do, and give permission to others to do the same. It's also going to be that much harder to get someone to purchase your services if they know they can get them for the cost of a cup of coffee. As my mother always says, "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free". She may not have been talking about the service industry, but the same rules apply.
I know there are many service entrepreneurs out there who experience the same "asks" on a regular basis, and who silently stew about them instead of actively, firmly and politely saying "no". In fact, Adrienne Graham wrote a BRILLIANT piece in Forbes about it that I highly recommend reading if you find yourself in a similar position.
On my fridge at home there is now a quote smack dab in the middle of the top door that reads "Learn to say no, it will be more use to you than to be able to read Latin" (Charles Sturgeon). I wake up to it every morning.
I urge other service providers to learn and regulalry practice this same skill. Talk to others who are in your same position - it will make you feel better and help you develop tactics to deal with this that work for you. Not giving free advice doesn't mean you are opposed to helping people - believe me I still weigh in with my two cents from time to time (I just can't help myself, I love to educate and share) - but I'm more protective of my time, business and myself.
Find other ways you can provide a service to those who need your brain. If they can't afford your entire service, perhaps you can offer them an hourly consulting rate. If they don't have time to take your class, maybe they can pay for a one-off power phone call. If they STILL can't afford you, well then, they just can't afford you. I personally would love a new condo in DUMBO but no matter how many times I tell the building owners I can't afford it but I still really want it, I'm sure they aren't going to be handing me the keys anytime soon.
Still having trouble saying no? NEVER FEAR! I have provided you with a few places that will help you practice (and yes, I'm giving this all to you for free).
**Notice that many of these sites teaching you how to say no are tied to Zen/stress management/health websites. Hmmmmm...
The Mayo Clinic's Tips on How to Say No: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00039
Advice from Oprah on How to Say No: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Learn-to-Say-No
Seven Simple Ways to Say No from Zen Habits: http://zenhabits.net/say-no/
18 Ways to Say No to Children (same rules apply I say): http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/discipline-behavior/18-ways-say-no-posi...