Seth Godin observes in “Maybe I’m just cranky” the demand on his time and assistance from people who have no relationship with him — forget a paying relationship — not a relationship AT ALL. In my experience Seth is dead-on accurate with his observations.
I love helping people as much as the next guy, particularly because I absolutely love what I do. But if I gave into all the demands placed on my time for “free help” I’d have nothing left to give those who pay me for advice. And that just isn’t fair to my paying clients who I appreciate and value enormously. In my own life, I’ve adopted several strategies to cope with this:
- I’ve gone to a strict policy where I never answer the phone live. Everything is filtered through either voice mail or an assistant.
- My E-mail is carefully screened. People with a personal relationship or who are clients have a different, non-public address to reach me at than the rest of the world.
- I set up the expectation in advance that I do not and never will respond instantly to requests. E-mail has made communication sloppy. Whereas someone used to have to put time and thought into a FAX or telegram, with E-mail I’ll often get half-conherent thoughts and brainstorms that I can do little with. Telling people in advance they’ll have to wait encourages them to put everything I need to answer their question in their communication. It makes for a cleaner exchange.
- My primary business is helping businesses sell to small business clients using automated marketing systems. I’ve adopted a fair-but-strict policy of politely refusing to do anything for free for a non-client. My paying clients deserve any “freebies” I give out far more.