We often give advice to friends. What to say, where to eat – even how to grow their businesses. We don’t consider this advice an invoice-worthy exchange, because our friends are asking for opinions, not consultations. There’s a difference.
Some of us are lucky enough to be forced to draw a line in the sand, and reset the expectations of our friends and peers. “This far,” we say, “I am willing to do what you ask. Beyond, it’s on you to provide me with an acceptable exchange of value.”
This line doesn’t just change the value of the work we then do for pay. It changes the meaning of the work we do for free, because there’s a ceiling. Even our gifts become transactions, once we move the line of needs-exchange. We hope that those who, in the past benefited from work we did for free will appreciate that work more, but that’s almost uniformly not the case. More often, these beneficiaries will poo poo us for the new fees on what they once considered privilege.
Want an example? Examine the circumstances like those under which JC Hutchins found himself earlier this year are more common than we think. JC, for those unfamiliar, gave away the fruits of his labour for ages – until presented with the line of needs-exchange, by publishing his first novel.
JC had a community, and they paid for the book he published and were honoured to support him, but there was a definitive thud when he took all of his “free” things away, to be replaced with products. JC absolutely did the right thing – for himself, and ultimately for his community – because the line allows us to focus, and produce better work.
But how do we avoid the possibility of retroactively penalizing of our communities?
We need to set the line firmly, clearly, and early.
We need to not allow those who want to engage us the privilege of sucking up our early resources – and to limit the liabilities which will restrict our ability to provide benefit for them in the future. By carving out the line early – whether there’s anything behind it or not – we limit our liabilities, and create clear expectations of where we are available, for what kind of work.
- My blog is free. So are the comments – any advise or insight I can provide there is public, benefits more than just one person, and thus is open.
- My twitter feed is free, as are replies in it. Public, not focused (even when directed) thus free.
- Email is not free, because it’s directed and focused and limited in visibility. Email, for me, is consultation.
- The same goes for instant messenger, unless you’re a special case like family, or legitimately a friend.
- And most of Facebook, because I moderate my friends list there.
- And phone calls.
- Lunch, or scheduled meetings, are both considered product – they cost money.
- My writing is a product. Once the Dowager Shadow is finished – even just the first volume. I’ll be selling from day one, and the free preview on that site will be coming down.
- Anything I tell you is a product, is a product. Whether it’s speaking, facilitating discussions, consultation, ebooks, or physical stuff – if it’s a product, I expect it to involve a transaction.
- If I don’t tell you we need to have a transaction for something – guess what? – no transaction.
Not difficult. I hope. You think?
Sensing a trend? What’s public and open is easy to call free. Expect limited time spent, controlled reaction, and considered value on my part. The onus is mine – and yours, if you work in the open – to create not only clear demarcation of free advise versus paid product… But also to create clear differences in value between the open and the closed.
These kinds of clear, precise markers will save us all a lot of hassle, if we only learn to use them well enough.
Am I making sense here?