A Friday Thought to Chew On: Value What You Do

A Friday Thought to Chew On: Value What You Do

When I was a much younger professional in the marketing world, long before I finally entered the media realm, I didn’t know how to say no. I had a tendency to share my skills and talents with anyone who seemed to need them at the time. It didn’t dawn on me that I might not have the time to devote to helping someone. Or that my abilities were worth something in monetary value or some other equally valuable exchange in return for my skills. It probably never even occurred to me that there may be some instances where I shouldn’t be helping out someone at all. I simply made myself available. All the time. Over and over.

After a while of constantly saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ and offering my skills and talents pro bono, a realization hit me one day:  if I’m always offering my talents complimentary, whether it was my writing or editing background or my creativity and marketing knack, I was de-valuing myself. After all, if I would have charged a business for the same project or my time, didn’t I recognize that all of this volunteering on my part was stripping away the value I would normally apply to my professional time?

That’s not to say that I could not do favors for people who meant a lot to me personally or who perhaps had been very generous to me professionally, and who I wanted to repay by offering my talents to benefit them in some way. I’m all for finding ways to help each other in professional circles. But simply agreeing to proof this for someone as a favor or write up some little blurb or press release for someone else because I am capable of doing it and they know me, so therefore, I’m expected to deliver “free” services… well, that’s just not a smart use of my already limited time. And I know that this frequent dilemma I’m faced with is not a unique one. I know quite a few professionals who struggle with how to handle such a request. And interestingly enough, I find many of my fellow female friends share with me that they have a hard time saying no, more so than I hear this from my male colleagues.

I can tell that I’m getting older because I had such a situation arise earlier this week, and the old me would have simply said ‘sure, I’ll do it,’ even though I really didn’t know the person that well and had nothing to gain from it whatsoever. But I was actually rather relieved that I stood my ground and nicely explained that I was just not able to provide proofing help due to my existing deadlines – which was 100% true. It did also come to mind that the actual assistance they were seeking is something I would normally charge clients to do, so why should this situation be any different?

We all want to be viewed as nice and cooperative, helpful and generous. And we can be. But when we start to offer things free that we would otherwise charge customers to do because it requires skills we’ve spent years developing and improving, we do ourselves a disservice and also run the risk of setting a very bad and unrealistic expectation for future requests not only from that person but from other people they might know, as word begins to spread that ‘oh no problem, Chris can look that over for you.’  If you’re someone with particular professional talents and find yourself constantly being asked to just take a few moments and do this or look this over, please heed my advice: don’t let yourself fall into the trap of trying to be the ‘nice guy’ because that is a truly slippery slope.

I’d love to hear from other professionals – whatever your industry – who might often be solicited for free advice or services. How have you typically handled such requests? We may feel funny saying ‘no’ but the long-term benefits of respecting the value of what we do for a living are far too great to sacrifice.

And with the weekend finally here, I think I am going to value my much-needed free time and stop thinking about work right now so I can start thinking about how to spend a little downtime. Enjoy your weekend, too! ~ chris

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