There’s a bright pink Post-it note that’s been on my desk for weeks now. It’s crumpled and the stickiness has faded and the ink is smudged from a glass of water when I used it as a coaster.
But it’s been sitting there because I jotted down 7 words during a call a few weeks back that have been haunting me.
“I’m not at your beck & call”
I didn’t say they were particularly profound words or even a complete thought, but I’ve been reflecting on them for a few weeks now, because I see this is a problem with attitudes among entrepreneurs all over the world. And more than impacting your business, it will ruin your personal reputation if it persists.
Here’s what typically happens…
When you’re new to online business, things are hectic and crazed and OMG you just need some help to figure all this out. Maybe you’re not making money yet or haven’t found your “tribe” but you’ve got questions galore!
Someone might step up, answer your questions online or even be kind enough to get on the phone or Skype. You’re filled with gratitude and clarity and off you go… until the next question comes up. Maybe you’ve emailed, sent a Skype request or messaged on Facebook – it’s all innocent, right? Maybe not.
Often a request for support, advice or coaching crosses the line from a request to a demand, and that can leave the other person feeling like they’re at your beck and call (never a good place to be!).
When does it cross the line from asking for support to demanding it?
The answer will differ for each person. Once a friend of mine became upset that I wouldn’t drop everything I was working on to talk out her problems and give her advice. The “beck and call” comes into effect is when it feels like you can’t or shouldn’t say no.
Perception vs reality
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that I must have “nothing to do” simply because I’m not in an office, in a meeting or on the phone 8 hours a day. It’s true that my schedule is a lot more flexible these days and that may lead to the perception that one sits around, watching daytime tv and selfishly withholding all kinds of advice as time is squandered.
Reality is so different, my friends.
If you’ve been in business any length of time you know the demands: keeping up with software, managing finances, creating compelling marketing, working on launches, serving clients, keeping up to date with the industry, honing skills, attending conferences, planning events and getting to the bottom of the never-ending pit that is your email inbox.
So while many people might perceive that time is flexible and thus abundant, it doesn’t ring true and doesn’t require an entrepreneur to freely give away time, coaching or resources.
Many entrepreneurs provide knowledge work and services, you know, those things that we spend hours learning and perfecting to sell, not give away for free.
A client with whom I have a contract with may expect that support but it’s not guaranteed to everyone with access to email who asks.
It’s a matter of etiquette
Online etiquette is tricky but it’s damn near impossible to speak up without sounding self-important, haughty or worse.
The fact is, it is rude to ask for someone’s time, energy and expertise without compensation, at your own convenience, even if they’ve helped you in the past. Be careful, when making requests, that they are actually phrased as requests, not demands. Be grateful when someone else gives their time and energy to help you out and sure, pay it forward.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Facebook group together, attended the same event, both like the same books or have worked together in the past – if you’re not a paying client then you may not get advice and support exactly when and how you want it.
There’s value in figuring things out, working through these struggles (every entrepreneur has their own Everest whether it’s fixing a website plugin or understanding merchant accounts). And when something is beyond your skill or willingness to learn then absolutely say yes to hiring someone to do the work or solve the problem. Honor their expertise and time and skills with more than a “thanks man” or “I’ll tell my friends you’re awesome” as payment.
It’s an attitude that will impact your reputation
As much as we’re focused on getting things done sometimes, it can be hard to know how our behavior is shaping perception among our peers. So trust me when I say you don’t want to be known as demanding, cheap, rude or someone who thinks everyone is at your beck and call. So much of this industry is built on trust and mutual support that those with a selfish attitude can be quickly shunned.
Sometimes we fear that saying no to such requests can negatively impact our reputation as well, but that’s usually an unfounded fear. When someone does make a request of you, don’t be afraid to say no or “not this time”, because protecting your boundaries doesn’t make you a bad person or selfish entrepreneur – it makes you normal.
There is a very short list of people, outside my clients, who can call me up for help anytime for any reason. There’s mutual respect and understanding in those relationships, and that trust isn’t taken advantage of over many years of friendship.
In closing, I want to give you a short script to adapt and use the next time you get a request that is far beyond your boundaries:
“Thanks so much for reaching out and making this request. I’m not able to provide [this support/free consulting/a coffee meeting] at this time and wish you all the best! I hope you’ll stay in touch and we can catch up soon.”
There’s no need to apologize or justify your decision; no can just be a no. Remember that when making a request or answering one.