Many of us do it, or know a friend who does (much to our frustration on their behalf) – help people we know and like if we can – give a bootstrapping business a hand to get going. But when you’ve been in business for a while and have a skill that people see as something readily shared and that you’re a giving kind of person (OK, a pushover) then some of us perhaps need to stop and take stock now and again. Time to check how much of your business time is spent on “charity work”.
The only expertise I have on such things is from experience and heeding what others share, combined with a solid dose of common sense which rises up and slaps me in the face now and again – unless my own misguided altruism has landed me in hot water already.
I have written about doing work for free in a few places over the years, sometimes misconstrued as a rant or a whine, but also ringing a bell with more business owners than it should. Too many of us give away time or services or products, or lower our value to meet another’s budget. But the thing is, your reputation is still going to be set by the service you give, and if you find you can only provide a cut-price service, well… That’s something I’m finding more this year. While I work hard to keep prices low, people expect more for less – indeed they expect your usual service. Can we afford that?
It’s our own fault, of course. When asked for support on networking forums, if we don’t jump in to help “because we can”, then someone else will – so the person involved gets ongoing free support and comes to expect that and devalue what you do. Does that pay anyone’s bills? I suggest not. And it takes a canny, experienced (successful!) business owner to know when to draw a line and say, “yes I can help, here are the services I offer and they cost this much”. Being available in every which way does not help this either – when people can get hold of you on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Email and on your website, never mind on the phone too – it’s all too easy to get a bit caught up and end up helping for free.
Don’t get me wrong – many will be grateful and glad and sing your praises, others will just take as much as you allow them to get away with. There is no magic formula to stop this, I know. Share yours if you have one, do.
Now aside from the effect on your business, of providing budget rate or free services, is this doing the recipient any favours, at the end of the day? Might they come to consider this to be a realistic way of doing things and so not really be building a business in and for the real world? I’m not sure that it is helpful in the long run, for either party. When you suddenly see the light and start charging sensibly, the bootstrapping client (for somehow many of them are still bootstrapping) there will another friend willing to help out. But this is just not going to be the most effective way for them to grow their business, surely. They want and need a quality service. And if you cannot afford to provide that you gain neither a strong advocate nor a happy client.
So – what to do? Charge everyone sensibly, no matter who they are. No more mates’ rates, no more quick freebies, no more cut price deals to fit in around your paying clients. Try it for 6 months and see how it goes. That’s my plan, anyway. Or am I being too harsh?
What works for you? Have you got the t-shirt and are you willing to share your tips for other business owners still misguided or just starting out? Please do…