when your friends try to score your services for free

No matter what profession you are in, if you love what you do, you probably also enjoy giving advice and talking about your work. (I always say that I can blab on about tarot and metaphysical business til my vocal cords are raw.)

But occasionally you’ll come across people who take advantage of that. Sometimes these are close friends…other times, people who feign interest in friendship only to get unlimited access to your mad skills.

In my work, it starts out innocently enough with a simple request: “what does your intuition say about this situation?” but then slowly graduates to “can you toss a couple of cards for me?” Nights out that were supposed to be centered around a good meal and copious amounts of wine suddenly turn into a tarot consultation.

There is never mention of pay, even though they know that this is what I do for a living.

So what’s a pro to do? Where is the balance between being friendly but keeping a boundary so that your spare moments aren’t taken up with unpaid work?

First things first: you must establish a boundary immediately. That means, if you sense that someone is trying to pick your brain or score endless rounds of freebies, you need to stop giving them that option. Remember, if you are indulging their whims and allowing them to be a moocher, you’ve trained them to expect this from you.  Stop doing it immediately.  Then,  you need to have an honest conversation.

The key: make sure they understand that this is your full time occupation and politely offer them a way to work with you if they so choose.

Let’s look a few different scenarios and how to handle them with grace (or balls). We’ll be using tarot readings as my example here but feel free to substitute the situations with your line of work.

Situation #1: Your dear buddy Ethel wants a girls night out but those nights often turn into her pushing for a free reading. In this case, turn the focus away from your work and instead towards bettering the friendship.

What to say: “Hey Ethel, I love hanging out with you but every time you ask me to toss a couple of cards (or give legal advice, or share business strategies, etc.), you make me feel like I’m working and not actually having a chance to relax and interact with you in a meaningful way. I don’t want our friendship to feel like it’s only about my work. In the future, can we agree to leave my work at home when we spend time together?”

Situation #2: A peer shoots you an email to ask you if they can take you out to lunch to “pick your brain”.  In this case, it’s best to use the “I don’t have time for this on my schedule” and a  gentle nudge towards your website.

What to say: “Hi Minerva. Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately, my schedule does not have a lot of leeway these days for brain picking sessions. However, if you’d like a consultation, here’s a link to my website: thetarotlady.com.  Pick the package that will suit your needs and let’s get you on my schedule. Cheers, Theresa”

Situation #3: You’re at a social gathering and an acquaintance immediately sidles up to you and starts attempting to get a mini-consultation.   In this case, I usually blame alcohol as a buzzkiller for biz talk – and then hand out a business card.  (And yes, when I drink, doing a reading is the LAST thing I want to do.)

What to say: “Sorry, shug, but I’m off the clock and it’s wine o’ clock right now in my world. I’m not much good when I’ve had a cocktail. Here, I have a business card in my purse – why don’t you shoot me an email and set up an appointment? I’d love to work with you!” (Always have business cards on hand for situations like this.)

Situation #4:  You’re on the phone with dear old Uncle Jerry and just as you’re about to bid adieu, he says “while I have you on the phone, could you toss a couple of cards for me about that hot date I have with that new gal down the lane?”  Time to “get busy” and get off that phone, pronto.

What to say: I always have somewhere I need to be immediately for phone hogs. “Gee Uncle Jerry, I am out the door in a hot minute here and I don’t have time to work. I’m sure your date will be great. Talk to you later.” (The key here is to remind Uncle Jerry that it’s work, not just chit chat fun time.)

Situation #5: An online acquaintance wants to ask you to look at their work (they are in a similar industry or trying to be) and get your opinion (aka give a free consultation).  While it’s lovely to reach out and help an associate, at times this can cross the line into a whole lotta work that you don’t have time for.  Offer a mini peek “just this once” and then refer them to your site for hire.  (The “just this once” lets them know that you don’t offer this service for free but is still kind and helpful.)

What to say: “Hey Shanti, I don’t have time in my schedule for this sort of thing. I’ll tell you what, just this once, I’ll take a mini peek and let you know what I think. But in the future, if you want me to be thorough, please book a session with me over at my site: thetarotlady.com and I’ll be able to serve you better. Thanks for understanding, Theresa.”

On occasion, a stranger will contact me out of the blue to seek a freebie.  Sometimes they are brazen, other times sneaky,  and occasionally, they beg.  In that case, I have an email template directing them to my payment page as well as a link to a site that offers free services. I rarely, if ever, hear back from those types.

If none of these work for you and your pal is being pushy, you’ll need to be frank: “I’m sorry, but this is my full time work and I don’t have time for freebies any more. If you want a reading, you’ll need to set up an appointment with me like everyone else.”

In most cases, people get it and will start treating your time and talents with more respect. But on rare occasion, you’re going to piss someone off when you shut down the free gravy train. I’ve had friendships abruptly end when I stopped behaving like a free tarot convenience store.  (My favorite was the “friend” who got mad and then went somewhere else and paid for it. Naturally, she bragged about how “great” that service was. Moral of the story: they didn’t really value my service when they got it for free. And yes, I stopped talking with her after that manipulative exchange.)

Always remember, your time and skills are valuable. Once you stop giving it away, you leave the door open for healthier relationships – and the respect your business deserves.  The real friends  and peers will understand that. And the ones who don’t will move on.

© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2014

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