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Does Doing Something For Nothing Pay Off?

by Lisa Chilvers

posted in Business

Syndicate This Article
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About six months ago, a contact of mine - we'll call her Jane - asked for help to launch her new product. Although she already has an established business, it's not doing as well as she'd like and so the new venture was intended to broaden her offering and hopefully boost profits.
She also explained that, given the state of the existing business and the fact that the new venture was essentially a start-up, could I see my way to helping her out for nothing - money was clearly very tight.
Now this is something I often don't mind doing. I know start-ups can struggle with poor cash flow and this was no different. However, as my "friend" explained, there'd hopefully be money available as the project got off the ground and then we could talk about working together on a more formal basis. I.e. I'd actually get paid.
Oh, go on then (regular readers will know I'm rubbish at saying no anyway!)
So I did the work, put in the hours, the product got to market and things started to improve. "We'll sit down and talk about money really soon", she said, "Just let me get these first few months over with". By this time I worked out I'd given her around £600 of "free" consultancy. Not that I expected that back, of course, just it gave me an indication of what might come in the future.
Fair enough. But you know what's coming next...
Surprise, surprise, no paid work ever materialised from Jane. Unfortunately, it's a common story and yes, I know, I should've been better at asking for a fee at the beginning, but helping people is what I do and I often struggle to put things on a more formal footing with those I already know. So really, I've no one to blame but myself for that one.
However, all was not lost, or so I thought. A few months later I found myself in a spot where I really needed some help. So I called Jane and asked her if she could possibly do me a favour. Could she help me out, I asked? Yes, she said, of course, and promptly sent me a bill for £150...
Now I know I maybe should've asked her for a fee when I did work for her in the first place and, as she's running a business of her own, she's perfectly entitled to charge me for her services, but in the circumstances, wouldn't you have thought she'd have offered to do it for nothing?
Maybe I'm too soft. Maybe I'm too helpful. But then maybe I've got it right and she's got it wrong.
What I do know for certain is that I'll never do business with her again on any level. I'm a great believer in the saying "one good turn deserves another" and it's usually a good way to build relationships.
I often do favours for colleagues - it's always good to know you've got a few in reserve, should you ever need to ask for help in the future. But I do expect those favours to be repaid in full.
Makes me feel like the Godfather all of a sudden...
About the Author: It's very easy to find people taking advantage of your good nature if you constantly do things for others and don't charge them a fee.
So before you do that, decide what's in it for you and make sure you're going to get a fair return
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