How do you say no to friends who want you to work for free without damaging the relationship?
I doubt there’s an entrepreneur out there that hasn’t had to ask this question at some point. If you're a photographer, a designer, a developer, a writer, a personal trainer, a doctor, a mechanic, a hairstylist, a lawyer, an illustrator, a dog walker, or a billion other professions, friends are going to ask you to work for free. In this episode, I’m sharing four guilt-free soundtracks that will help you set boundaries and keep making money.
From this episode
If you don’t want to do the project, say this:
In order to honor and fulfill the commitment I’ve made to my paying clients, I can’t take on any pro bono work. I love doing it when I can, but I don’t have the time.
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Order Soundtracks, Jon's newest book available wherever you find quality books!
Hey everyone, and welcome to the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast. The best place in the entire world, including all of Canada, to learn how to build new thoughts, new actions and new results. I'm your host, Jon Acuff and today, I'm going to teach you the three words that you should say whenever someone asks you to work for free. But first, today's episode is brought to you by Medi-Share. Have you guys ever had buyer's remorse? You know that feeling of intense regret because the thing you thought you just had to have was only something used once or twice? For me it was the time I bought a really expensive road bike because I thought I was going to get into cycling. I proceeded to hang it on the wall in my garage and feel ashamed for six months. Well, I know some of you are experiencing buyer's remorse right now for something much more frustrating. You know what I'm talking about. It's the healthcare you rushed to get during open enrollment last December. 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You won't find that with any traditional health insurance provider. Guys, it only takes two minutes to see how much you could save. Go investigate that for yourself and your family at Medi-Share.com/Jon. That's Medi-Share.com/Jon. Remember Jon doesn't have an H in it. So it's a M-E-D-I, that's Medi, share, S-H-A-R-E dot com slash J-O-N. Okay. Let's be honest for a second. Not every podcast I create will make you money. Some of my episodes will help you write a book some will encourage you during a difficult time. Some will teach you practical things you can do to face your fears and doubts. Some will make you laugh. Some will even give you parenting tips. Every podcast I record, whether it's just me sharing ideas, or me interviewing someone, will help you with some part of your goals. But not every podcast that I make will help you make more money. This one though, oh, get ready. Get ready, buckle up, as they say, in the buckle up business. If you use the three words I'll teach you in this episode, you will make more money. You will! How do I know? Because I've taught these three words to 1000s of people. And they, they just work. They flat out work. Now if I were you I'd be real worried. I'd be like, "Oh, he's about to pitch me something. Like maybe, maybe he's gonna tell me the first two words. And then if you want the third word, it's right behind this paywall." Nope. There's no course. There's no curriculum. There's no upsell coming at the end of this episode. I just learned something 12 years ago, that really helps my side hustle and I think it'll really help yours. I'll never forget when my friend Megan caught up with me in a green room in Dallas, Texas, about a month after I shared these three words with her. A green room, by the way, if you're not a public speaker is just a fancy way to say "small room where they keep free granola bars at speaking events." Megan came up to me and she said, "Hey, I tried that technique you told me about and it made me $2,000." Three words, $2,000? That is a sweet ROI, return on investment. But enough about Megan, let me start things off with a question another friend asked me. A friend of mine who is an interior designer once asked me, "Hey, how do you say no to friends who want you to work for free without damaging the relationship?" It's an interesting question because it happens to so many people. If you're a photographer, a designer, a developer, a writer, a personal trainer, a doctor, a mechanic, a hairstylist, a lawyer, an illustrator, a dog walker, or a billion other professions, friends are going to ask you to work for free. I even know homeschool parents who get asked to babysit during the day because, quote, "you're already home. I mean, what's a few more kids, I just stick mine in the corner. You won't even notice them. They're very quiet children." Sometimes people describe this request as a playdate. Wouldn't it be amazing? If my kids played at your house for six hours Monday through Friday, that would be an amazing play date. The request to work for free often starts with an email that sounds like this. "Hey, sorry to bother you, but I need your opinion on something. I need a quick logo. It should, I don't know, it should only take you a few minutes. You could probably knock it out in your sleep. Is that something you could help me with? I love your style!" Now there are a few signs that you've just been asked to work for free. Number one, the promise that it will be quick. If someone says, "I just need you to tweak it," run. It's never just a tweak. tweak is actually Latin for "40 hour project." Number two, "help me" is often code for "give me something for free." And number three, there's usually at least one compliment to soften you up a bit. "You've got such a good eye. I love your eye. I love your style." Sometimes the friend will promise you great exposure. I'll do a separate podcast episode about working for exposure at some point because it's not as cut and dry as you think. Or your friend will offer to barter something you didn't want or need. "Okay, okay, you take my photos, and I'll let you have one of the moustache combs I've learned to whittle out of reclaimed farm wood. This one came from a barn outside of Pine Apple, Alabama. Isn't it nice to be able to comb a moustache with a whittled comb?" I just tried to think of the worst barter I could imagine. And that's, that's what I came up with. I also like to use really obscure examples so that the internet doesn't get angry at me. I have to believe that the moustache comb whittling community, or the MCWC, is very small and not likely to hear this episode. I mean, let's, let's be honest, they probably don't listen to podcasts. I feel like I should be able to get away with criticizing the mustache comb whittling community without much cost on my end. The email you receive with the free requests might be different. But regardless of how the request is made, how do you handle it? My old method, this is what I used to do, was to say yes, out of guilt, and then do the work filled with pure white hot rage. My word said, "Sure, no problem. I'll do that." But my face said "I would kill you in your sleep if I owned a good pair of gloves. That's the only thing stopping me is I don't have a good pair of gloves." Have you ever done that? Have you ever said yes to something, because you you just didn't know how to say no? And then you're furious with yourself. Right now. Wherever you are right now, you should be shaking your head in your car on a treadmill while walking around the neighborhood. Because everyone has said yes to something that they should have said no to. And it's not a fun way to live. After years of doing it, I came up with a really simple plan in 2008. That's when I first started building a side hustle and expanding my freelance writing and speaking. I stumbled upon a new soundtrack for my business. Now "soundtrack" is my word to describe a repetitive thought that guides your life. I wrote a book recently about overthinking called Soundtracks that teaches you how to retire your broken soundtracks, replace them with new soundtracks, and repeat them so often, they become as automatic as the old ones. so in this situation, my broken soundtracks were telling me things like, "You can't say no. You don't get to have boundaries. Other people get to have boundaries. But, but not you. You have to say yes to every request. Who are you to charge so much money for what you do? What if you say no, and this is the last opportunity you ever have, etcetera?" I just had a whole gaggle of toxic thoughts that were getting in the way. That's the definition of overthinking by the way, when what you think gets in the way of what you want. And in this moment, what I was thinking that I couldn't say no, that I had to say yes, was getting in the way of what I wanted, which was to build a successful business. I knew I needed to retire those soundtracks, and replace them with some new ones. And I wanted the new one, like, I wanted the one that helped me to be short and simple, so that it was easy to tell people. Here's what I came up with. When someone asks you to work for free, say these three words. "What's your budget?" Those are the words. That's it. Let me repeat that because I tend to talk very quickly on this podcast. I just want you to say, "what's your budget?" Now this question works because it introduces money into the equation without being offensive. Instead of saying, "Well, my hourly rate is $250 an hour," which will put your friend on the defensive, you respond with a question. The question helps your friend remember that "Oh, that's right. You're a professional." It quietly introduces the idea that you do this for a living or a side hustle. It reminds him that this is your job, not, not just a passion. We're not just talking about a hobby. People sometimes get confused by this because for them, let's take photography as an example, for them photography is a hobby. So why shouldn't it be the same for you? "Hey, it's just, it's just taking a few photos. What's the big deal? You know how you love your camera? You shutterbug, you. Wouldn't you love to spend your Saturday afternoon taking my kid's senior photo? She plays a clarinet. So if you could scout out waterfalls in the area that would look great with a clarinet. I know that's really specific, but we're really trying to focus on a waterfall that looks good with a clarinet. If you could do that, that would be awesome. Doesn't that sound like a fun way to spend your weekend? Plus, you'll get to edit all the photos later, win-win." This soundtrack also helps you remember that just because you love doing something, doesn't mean you should do it for free. Just because you love to do something like photography doesn't mean you shouldn't get paid for it. Now two things are going to happen. When you say that to somebody, whether it's to their face Remember faces? We used to just talk to people directly. Whether it's over a text message, whether it's an email, whenever you say "what's your budget?" two things are going to happen. One of two responses will be sent right back to you. They'll say one, "Okay, this is my budget." They'll tell you their budget. Or two, they will tell you they don't have a budget. If they tell you their budget. Great. That's awesome. Proceed as you wish. I mean, if the money is good, proceed. I used to ask this question when I first started speaking professionally. And the crazy thing is that often, the budget was much higher than I was going to charge. I used to be really insecure about my abilities. So when someone would ask me how much my rates were in, like 2010, 2009, I'd say "My rates? A nickel! I'll fly across the country, create a three hour custom presentation for your audience. And I'll sleep in a hostel. As long as you'll pay me a whole nickel. Doesn't even have to be a shiny nickel, just a regular old nickel will do." But then I started to ask the question, what's your budget? And the client would inevitably come back with a number that was much higher than a nickel. Hopefully, whoever you're dealing with has a budget. And they'll tell you what it is when you ask that question. But they might not have one. Even worse, they might tell you that they never pay for this kind of work, or that other people give them discounts. This is an interesting negotiation technique, because it shames you. One of the greatest struggles that entrepreneurs have, like, when you're trying to grow a business, when that's your goal is comparison. It's so easy to compare your work to someone else's. And in this moment, that's what someone is doing to you. They're comparing you to someone else and making you feel ashamed. As if everyone else is generous. Everyone else does this for free. But you're the greedy one. Now, it's important to recognize that something very telling is happening right now. I can't make this point strongly enough. A client who is a jerk during the ask will be a jerk during the task. I could probably do a whole episode on just that idea. And I'm going to say it again because it rhymed and rhymes. Rhymes on podcasts are just fun. A client who is a jerk during the ask will be a jerk during the task. That's the second soundtrack that you should write down from this episode. If a friend, client, or customer is a jerk during the negotiation, guess what? They will be a jerk during the entire project. Don't expect them to magically change into a great client all of a sudden. If they don't have a budget, and it's a free project, if it's something you want to do, then by all means, donate your time and your expertise. I love that you can use your talents that way. And I think you should support your church, your nonprofit, a family as often as you can. Do free work, but not out of shame or fear. What if you don't want to do the work for free though? What should you do, then? I'll give you the next sentence that you should say, we'll put it in the show notes. So you can just copy and paste it directly. If you don't want to do the project say this, "In order to honor and fulfill the commitment I've made to my paying clients. I can't take on any pro bono work. I love doing it when I can. But I don't have the time." That's that's all you say. Because they're not just asking you to give them something for free. If you take time away from your paying clients to work on your free clients. You're actually stealing from the people who pay you. That's terrible. That's how entrepreneurs go out of business. Saying yes to the wrong thing is one of the most expensive things you can do. That's the third soundtrack you should use. Every yes is expensive. Write that down. Every yes is expensive. There's a key distinction I need to make too. Don't say "I don't have time right now" or "I don't have time this month or this week." If you do that the friend is going to respond. "Well, what about next month? What about next week? When are you going to be available?" I was once afraid to tell someone a flat no. And I said, "I'm sorry. I'm slammed for the next six months." Like I just wasn't brave enough to tell them a flat no in the moment. And they immediately emailed me back and said "What about on March 15?" They picked the date six months and two days later and just kept pushing. Keep it simple. Keep it clear. "I don't have the time, period." End of sentence. End of discussion. Now upon hearing this, a good friend will recognize the boundary you just set and will say, "Hey, thanks for considering it. I completely understand." A fake friend will not care that you're too busy and will try to shame you into helping them. Don't give in. You do the friendship more damage when you let shame turn your no into a yes. And the bigger issue is that friends should pay full price. Can we just all agree to that? Friends should pay full price. Why should we expect a complete stranger to treat us well and pay our full fee, while people we know get to force us into discounts? Our friends should pay us the most. They should overtip. The people who love you should not try to discount your ability. They should be the ones who value it the most. Don't give up your talent, time, and energy unless you want to. Care about your craft enough to charge for it. That's the fourth soundtrack of the episode. Write that down, put it on a post it note right next to your computer. Charge for what you do or you won't get to do it for very long. So let's do a quick recap because we covered a ton today. Here are the soundtracks that I shared. Number one, what's your budget? That's the question I want you to ask when somebody asked you to work for free. Number two, a client who is a jerk during the ask will be a jerk during the task. If the negotiation is miserable and difficult. Don't expect them to be magically nice on the back end. It's probably going to be difficult the entire time. Number three, every yes is expensive. You don't have endless yeses. Every one of your yeses is really expensive. Number four, care about your craft enough to charge for it. If you want to know more about how you can create brand new soundtracks that lead to brand new actions and brand new results, check out my new book Soundtracks. The link is in the show notes. And thanks for listening today. Please make sure you follow the podcast and give me a quick review. The reviews you've been writing are awesome, and I really appreciate them. See you next week. And remember, all it takes is a goal. This episode of the podcast was brought to you by Medi-Share. Text JON, J-O-N to 474747 for more information. Huge thank you to Medi-Share for sponsoring it. J-O-N to 474747.Producer:
Thanks for listening. To learn more about the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast and to get access to today's show notes, transcript, and exclusive content from Jon Acuff, visit Acuff.me/podcast. Thanks again for joining us. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast.