By Dr. Wesley Carter
Rodney braced himself for yet another request for a favor of free consulting. His neighbor, Larry, approached him while carefully dodging the pile of freshly raked leaves. Rodney switched his rake to his other hand and gave Larry a firm handshake. Larry wasted little time before he launched into a diatribe about the trials and tribulations of owning a business in today’s economy. Within minutes, Larry asked Rodney do him the favor of reviewing his marketing plan.
Rodney stiffened at the tenth request for free consulting services in as many days. Friends, family, and even a few strangers routinely asked Rodney for consulting services without any intention of paying for the services. Rodney exhaled as he quickly calculated how much revenue he had sacrificed over the years by doing consulting favors.
Without waiting for an answer, Larry reached in his pocket and pulled out a thumb drive with his marketing plan. But, this time, Rodney was ready. He looked at Larry and said, “Larry, it is time to give your business the attention that it requires. Why don’t you call my office with a couple of possible meeting times for us to get together next week? I want to give your business my full attention.”
Larry’s hand froze in midair. He had hoped to avoid paying for Rodney’s services. But, Rodney had had one too many lectures from his accountant. Every month, he gave away enough consulting services to turn a nice profit. Instead, he continued to struggle to make ends meet. Occasionally, he had to pick up teaching jobs at the local university to supplement his income.
Larry made one last feeble attempt to persuade Rodney to look at his marketing plan over a bottle of wine later that evening. Again, Rodney declined, pleading fatigue, and repeated his request for Larry to call the office. Rodney felt a little embarrassment even as he stood his ground.
After an awkward good-bye, Larry headed back to his house, thumb drive in hand. Larry resumed his yard work and prepared himself for more of the same conversations in the coming months. Until he had satisfactorily trained his circle of family and friends, he would be having similar conversations.
Larry had already gotten thousands of dollars of consulting with his requests for Rodney to review his financials and operating model. Rodney used to look out of his office window and see that Larry’s lights were out while he toiled over Larry’s documents. Rodney was tired of taking time from his paying clients to work on nonpaying projects for family and friends.
Rodney recognized that he was to blame for making it so easy for others to take advantage of him. More importantly, Rodney finally realized he had devalued his services by giving them away so freely. He knew that Larry would probably be resistant to call his office and become a paying client. Rodney was determined to get paid for his services.
Entrepreneurs frequently suffer requests for free services from family and friends. Whether from ignorance or more unbecoming intentions entrepreneurs are often asked to provide free services or products. Entrepreneurs must respect their value to resist being taken advantage of by others.
In anticipation of requests for free services, entrepreneurs should establish a budget for the amount of free services they are comfortable with providing each month. In addition to a budget, it is wise to establish criteria to assist with decision making regarding the requests that will likely come. Perhaps a portion of the services may be allocated to nonprofits. Services can be provided to individuals based on need or referral potential. Invoices should be provided for all services and a professional services credit should be reflected at the bottom. This small detail reminds that receiver that there is a cost associated with provided free services. It also establishes the foundation for requesting payment for future services.
Research indicates that 80% of small businesses go out of business within the first two years. It isn’t a stretch to consider that some of those businesses likely forfeited revenue due to the provision of free services to family and friends. It is important to remember that entrepreneurs garner respect for their products and services when they manage their business professionally. Others will respect Rodney’s services, as long as he holds to his commitment to terminate giving business away indiscriminately.
WESLEY CARTER DM, authors an advice column that leverages leadership and management strategies to solve common business problems. Carter holds a Doctor of Management (DM) degree with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership, an MBA, and a B.A. in Management. Carter is a partner at KRS Consulting, LLC in Charlotte, NC. If you have a question, email email@example.com. All submissions become the property of Wesley Carter. Call (704) 992-1211 or email to book an engagement.