broadsideblog

When Is Help Worth Paying For? The Creatives' Dilemma

In business on December 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm
A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London

Pick it, but for a price...Image via Wikipedia

Correct me, please, if I am wrong, but I suspect that engineers or dentists or plumbers or dry-cleaners, when meeting someone socially, don’t get: “Oh, can I ask your advice?” Do you actually show a DDS your molars or point to a stubborn spot on your sleeve? I doubt it. It would be weird and rude and intrusive.

Writers do get this question. All the time. Maybe because, y’know, it’s just writing.

People email me, and perhaps also to many others, out of the blue to “pick my brain” as though that were an activity I might enjoy and find satisfying. Yes, it’s flattering that people think you have something useful to offer them. Sure, one works hard to acquire some level of visibility and credibility. But I’m not emailing random Big Name Person to ask them for their help, free. I know it took them years of hard work and experience, perhaps costly travel and education and internships and apprenticeships, to acquire the very knowledge I wish I had. Why should they just hand it over to me gratis?

I also studied interior design for a few years, planning to leave journalism for that field. One of our classes was  focused on the legal issues designers face. Like being sued. We were warned, in all seriousness, not to hand out advice on anything too substantive lest the suggested curtains catch on fire or someone slips on that sisal or their kid got caught their thumb caught in the Knole sofa and they’d come after us for it. I also liked the basic message — we were experts and would bill for that time and expertise. Clients will ask for anything they think can get away with.

I’ve spent many years mentoring, helping, advising dozens of strangers, free. Not so much any more. I plan to retire and in order to do so need to retain control of my time, which, in addition to my skills, is all I have to offer in the intellectual marketplace.

Here’s the challenge. I’ve already committed to serve on two volunteer boards, for several years, that take up a fair bit of unpaid time and attention. I enjoy giving back.

If you’re someone who really likes to help others succeed, as I genuinely do, and you like to be liked, as many of us do, yet you must carve out a decent freelance income from your well-developed, otherwise uncompensated skills, when and where do you draw that line?

Do you think, or find, that women have a harder time saying “no” to such requests? Do you feel any hesitation asking such questions?

  1. Your time, Caitlin, like that of any person who labors, is your own. The skills that come to you naturally, or that you develop with experience, are yours alone, to dispense as it pleases you. But I surmise that you know this, and that it is not the problem you have in mind.
    Is it difficult to say “no” when someone asks for assistance or advice? I think only when we fear the displeasure of others or hurt feelings. It is at times difficult for all artists to acknowledge, to truly believe, that self-esteem is the infant birthed by one’s competence and never the wily or biased opinions of others. You, Caitlin, are innately too kind.

  2. palavering, you’d be surprised — or not — how often people expect you to do this, because writing looks so easy and simple and, hey, how hard can it be?

    So, kind or not, it’s also an issue of respect, or its lack, for the skills that appear so easy. Everyone’s convinced they can just start writing, but few harbor similar fantasies about most other skills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,052 other followers

%d bloggers like this: