Earlier this week I published my guide to finding freelance work with Twitter. In the article I repeatedly stressed that helping others was the best way to build credibility and to been seen as an expert in your field.
I enjoy helping people, meeting new people, and being presented with new challenges.
There is, unfortunately, a downside to being helpful
People will make demands and take advantage of you, even unintentionally.
And I don’t always deal with this very well because my inclination is to be helpful and I can find it difficult to say no.
I also use twitter to have fun and am not always working. Don’t be shocked, but sometimes I don’t even feel like thinking about WordPress or websites. Being an American who loves British Premiere League soccer can be a little lonely. So, I’ve made friends with people around the world on twitter who also love soccer. We frequently “chat” about the games we are watching on the weekends.
So, if I am on Twitter and say “Villa scored!!!”, I don’t expect to get a message saying, “Kim, my site is broken – help!!!!!!!” Now I’m thinking that some of my readers think I’m refering to them and I want to assure you that I’m not.
Isn’t it obvious that I am doing something else? That I have a life beyond WordPress problems? Maybe not …
Last weekend I was on Twitter and then I went out for a little while to pick up a Christmas tree. When I came home there was an @ message to me saying that I had no replied to their inquiry. At first I had no idea what that was about. I then saw that I had a direct message requesting my assistance from right after I had left the house. The time between the direct message and the @ saying I hadn’t responded was 45 minutes!! Give me a break. Or send me an email.
My personality causes me to want to stop what I am doing and help. But because I can find it difficult to say that it isn’t a good time I then feel resentful as I have very little free time.
And I’m certainly not going to ignore the request – I want to respond to everyone who takes the time to talk to me.
So in the interest of wanting to be helpful and responsive to everyone while not feeling like I being taken advantage of, I have written a few suggestions to keep in mind when asking for help.
- If you’ve had contact with the person you need help from before, send a direct message or an email. Don’t send an @ message.
- Take into consideration that the person probably has other things going on in their life. They might be in the middle of something, even a leisure activity and just because someone is online, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are working.
- Also keep in mind that you are asking for free assistance. This person is probably trying to earn a living doing what you are asking them to do for free. Be polite and thankful.
I should also add that if you are on the receiving end, be stronger than me about saying that it isn’t a good time. It’s fine, really. Usually the person doesn’t expect immediate help but rather I am interpreting it that way.
Small gestures like these will likely make the person much more willing to want to offer their assistance and there will be a much better chance of you getting your question answered.
photo credit: annamon
Cath Lawson says
LMAO Kim – You mean you actually managed to find more Aston Villa supporters on Twitter? When I had my fires & flood franchise, our uniforms were Aston Villa colours. It was a disgusting mixture – pale blue shirts and burgundy jumpers.
Some folk do have a cheek. It’s like they expect you to be on 24 hour stand-by.
I had a guy on Twitter – never spoken to him before. Yet he expected me to not only decide whether he should close his business and start a new one but to also come up with a new business idea for him.
And I also get people who have paid for help from other business coaches, or consultants, then come along to me expecting free stuff done. I know it’s maybe my own fault because I don’t offer a service yet. But it is irritating.
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i like being helpful and actually i haven’t bumped into a person like the one you mentioned. if i do i’ll probably take my time to answer the question :P
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Joanna Young says
I think you need to be a lot tougher. You’re giving away free advice on your blog and your (non football) tweets. Don’t offer any more help unless it’s part of a reciprocal arrangement. Everything else is charged.
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I have the same issues – I hate to see someone floundering when I know I can help them.
I also hate being chained to my desk, so it’s a delicate balance. :D
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Dee Langdon - BloggerNewbie says
I used to get sorta the same thing in the grocery store or a call at home on the weekends when I ran an insurance business, and it always started out “I hate to bother you here or at home” No you don’t, otherwise you wouldnt.
I always had the same answer, All of your files are at my office, here’s my card, or office number, why don’t you call me tomorrow and I’ll be happy to help you!
You need to come up with some sort of automatic comfortable response to direct them to your site or your services page. It is hard, I am the same way but then you get to that point…
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David Bradley says
It can be tough being nice, it’s a mantra to work by, but if helping out n00bs is interfering with one’s own work and life, even, then it’s time to filter.
Kim Woodbridge says
@Cath – LOL No, not many Villa supporters – it seems like everyone is into ManU and Arsenal. But they know I like Villa and are happy for me when things go well. I actually like the uniforms because they are different (not red) but I’ve never seen them in person.
Yeah – I barely know the person I mentioned in the article. And I had mentioned to you before how almost strangers want to IM me for WordPress help.
@Stratos – Just wait – you will :-)
@Joanna – I know. I want to be nice and helpful but sometimes it’s too much. I’m working on the polite but firm way of handling it.
@Andrea – It’s good to see that you know what I’m talking about. It’s a difficult balance I guess.
@Dee – I had to let go off one of my very first clients for similar reasons. She would send me three emails in rapid succession and not give me a chance to respond. And she knew I had a day job. She then called me on a Sunday. That was it. I can see if at been a real emergency but she was having trouble inserting code for an ad.
@David – I can’t stop being nice but I have to figure out a way to deal with some of these people.
Great twitter etiquette! I have the same issues when I help people offline with websites. Suddenly, they have all these requests and forget that 1)They aren’t paying me and 2)I have a life and maybe don’t want to do
all that free work in my spare time. Or at least not as soon as they ask me to jump.
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Vered - MomGrind says
I completely agree with Joanna. You need to get something in return for your services. These are things people would be willing to pay for, if not with money, then with advertising space, links to your blog, whatever.
DO NOT underestimate yourself, Kim.
I am really sorry, Kim. I honestly didn’t mean to take advantage of you. I was just having trouble with getting my back up to work and you were the only person I could think of who knows about this kind of thing. I really hope you don’t view it as taking advantage of you because I never meant to do that. If you’re ever having trouble with something that I know about please feel free to ask.
That is why I didn’t want to accept help from you when I was (and still am) having problem with my WordPress upgrades. I feel that I should either do it myself and learn the hard way (even if I end up deleting my whole blog!) or pay someone.
I guess I have a hard time accepting gifts (but that’s a different issue). :)
same as carla here I’m VERY bad at accepting gifts..hell if a friend offers me a sweet I say no :p
I’m more a ‘learn from your mistakes’ person then a ‘hold my hand show me everything and now feed me’ person.
Though people who help for free unasked like yourself are great :D
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Mark Cahill says
I’ve had a similar problem for the past couple years. I get an email from an old customer.
“Hey, how ya doin’ Mark? Listen, that site you did for me 3 years ago, I’d like to have you just do a quick update on it. No more than 20 minutes work. Can you do that?”
They mean “for free” and I have a problem because if they aren’t paying for my time, I’m paying for my time. Multiply “just 20 minutes” time 30 a week and you’re into 10 hours out of the time you could be doing the paying jobs.
My stance is this: I don’t ask you to fix the brakes on my car for free, don’t ask me to fix your site for free.
Kim Woodbridge says
@Tawnya – Yep. Most people, though are great. It’s just a couple who make it frustrating. Sometimes I wonder if they expect me to do it immediately or if I just think that …
@Vered – Sometimes I don’t know what I would do without you – my confidence lives 3000 miles away ;-) Thank you!
@Wesley – I was not thinking of you at all when I wrote this article. Not one bit :-) You didn’t ask me on Twitter, you are part of this community and I encouraged you to start backing up your files. I felt bad that it wasn’t working. Really – there is no need to apologize.
@Carla – See the thing is you mentioned a problem in passing and I emailed you :-) The people who have been visiting and supportive here are not the ones taking advantage.
I have a hard time accepting help too – just ask Jim – hmm … where is he today? LOL I try to offer something in return when I do ask for something.
@Donace – Thanks! And it’s ok to take the piece of candy ;-)
@Mark – 3 years ago – LOL. And it kills me when people say it will be quick and simple. How do they know that? If it’s so simple, then just fix it.
Ajith Edassery says
bummer… I guess, twitter overusage is killing you already. I hate this modern day communication systems sometimes… crapberry’s and twitters :)
After the initial experiments I am going slow on twitter now… Perhaps only launching my twitter client only two or three times a day. I do not want to give an ‘almost always online’ feeling to anybody :lol:
(perhaps it’s a problem with my inertia)
Ricardo Bueno says
That’s the thing about giving away “free”… Someone usually finds a way (or tries to) take advantage. I’m like you, I want to be helpful all the time and give away as much as I can. But at the end of the day, I have to remind myself that I can’t give it all away for free (I need to earn a living too ya know).
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Madhur Kapoor says
I dont mind helping anyone but sometimes people take you for granted. I have faced similar situations too. A new blogger added me on there gtalk list. I helped him get started with Blogging and WordPress. But now everyday he will ask me before doing anything. He even wanted to me to check his posts for any grammatical error before publishing.
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Kim Woodbridge says
@Ajith – It’s not all bad ;-) I should do a follow-up article on the awesome things people have done after helping them. One guy made me a banner ad …
@Ricardo – Hi! Thank you for visiting and commenting. It really is a difficult balance, I think. I wish people would be a little more considerate.
@Madhur – That’s a great example of someone taking advantage and pushing it too far. I’m pretty free with my contact information but have not added people to IM. I don’t use it that much and I don’t want to the little notices popping up all of the time.
oh man, i feel your pain. if you help someone one time, it’s easy for them to impose upon you. i guess its because they are desperate, but they have to respect people’s privacy and time….you might have to draw the line on this one….
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Kim Woodbridge says
@Natural – Exactly. How do you say no to someone you’ve helped before? Maybe I should hold open office hours? Ok – ask as many questions as you can in the next half hour … go!
All these sites make business fun and easy to do AND can bring you way more “ork” then you want!
Kim Woodbridge says
Hi Marian – Most of the time being helpful works out great. But there are some people who really take advantage and are unappreciative.