How to Stop Giving Free Advice

How to Stop Giving Free Advice

Chatting Women sitting on a sofa with cupsDoes this sound familiar to you?

A well-meaning friend is struggling and asks for your help. She promises, “I’ll only need a few minutes of your time.” But you know what she really wants is free health advice.

I get this request a lot myself, however in my case, my friends want me to give them strategies to grow their businesses. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this article. Just last week a nutritionist friend of mine ended our personal conversation with “By the way? I really want to pick your brain on how to get more clients.”

I’m always flattered at first… and want to help. But after the euphoria fades, I feel more than a little peeved. After all, I make my living providing this service to others. Asking me to give away my intellectual property is no different than asking a friend who owns a clothing store to give you a free dress!

Here’s the deal… all this free advice you’re handing out? It harms more than helps.

Free Advice Yields Lousy Results

Your ability to heal people has tremendous value! In most societies, exchanging cash or other valuable asset for another valuable asset (product or service) is based on the rule of reciprocity and is foundational to how nearly all societies have evolved.

A person who commits money in exchange for your help is communicating that they are serious about you and your work. It strengthens their motivation to make changes and stay compliant with your recommendations. So not only does collecting a fee for your advice help you financially, it increases the chances of a successful engagement. 

Offering free health advice to friends typically delivers lousy results. They are not accountable for anything to anyone and have no vested interest in changing their behavior. Reciprocity is absent, the value exchange never takes place, you are out time, money, and energy and your friend doesn’t improve.

Unfortunately, once you start giving your services away, the harder it is to say no. This crumbling personal boundary steals not just from your wallet, but also from your self-esteem. You may think that what you’re doing is noble, but over time, the only race you are winning is the one toward frustration.

All those 15-minute sessions (which in reality last an hour) add up and it’s exhausting to give away energy and time in the absence of results, joy, or money. So let’s go through the fix for this.

My Method to (Gently) Say NO to Freebies

Do you find it tough to ask for cash from friends and family?

Here’s how I deal with this in my business.

When a friend asks me for a few marketing tips or to pick my brain on a direction for their practice, here’s my response:

Hey! I’m happy to help. Let’s set up a quick 15 minute chat to find out what’s going on and then I’ll let you know what I think it will take to get you back on track.

Four rules to adhere to with this approach:

  1. Avoid helping them right then and there! You want them to value your time. It also gives you breathing room to get out of a sticky situation and take control of the conversation when you do have your talk with them.
  1. Never offer solutions on that free 15-minute chat. That’s why it’s called a “quick chat” and not a consult. Control the call and remind them at the start that you only have 15 minutes and will direct the conversation in order to get to the meat of the issue. This gives you permission to gently interrupt and redirect them. Otherwise, they’ll spend 30 minutes reviewing their entire life story and you’ll get nowhere.
  1. Ask general questions like what they’ve tried thus far, what worked and what didn’t and how committed they are to resolving the problem. If they push for solutions, push back. You can’t help them yet anyway without a more thorough assessment (which is something they must pay for since it’s your intellectual property).
  1. Make this a phone call and not an in-person discussion. It’s tough to cut off a conversation in 15 minutes’ time when they’re sitting in front of you, teary-eyed and begging for help.

While on your call, the goal is to determine what you think it will take to help them. Then at the very end let them know in what ways you can work together to get the results they seek… along with the associated fees you will charge them.

If they say, “Geez, can’t you just give me a couple of quick tips now?” you can confidently let them know that, based on the conversation, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than they realize and without a full assessment your suggestions may or may not help.

They might admit, “Well, I’m a little tight on money these days. I was hoping you could just help me out as a friend.” Some options I’ve heard from others are:

“I’m sorry to hear about your money issues. I do offer discounted sessions for low income individuals. Would you like to explore this with me?”

“I regularly donate 10 hours of my time each month to the local Women’s Shelter. All of my other work is fee-based. Sorry, I just don’t have time for more free support right now.”

“This is how I earn my living and it isn’t fair to me or to my family to give away my time and expertise. I’ve worked really hard to get here. I hope you understand.”

The Harsh Truth

I am still disappointed by friends who feel their relationship with me entitles them to freely access the knowledge and skill that I have spent years and money acquiring. I volunteer hours of my time and energy to organizations and individuals of my choosing, for causes I believe in, and have done so for over 30 years. That’s how I give back to my community.

For my friends, I offer friendship and that, I believe, is a lot… and all they should expect from me.

If you are frustrated by ongoing requests for free advice, it’s time to call it quits. Value your time so that others will, too. Put a premium on your expertise and charge what you’re worth to everyone who asks for help.

I know this is not an easy thing… it takes a lot of courage at first. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it becomes quite natural.

And you will feel SO much better about yourself, too.

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