We've all been there as business owners.
Someone asks to "pick your brain," or asks if you can spare 15 minutes to chat... and then they make an ask of you. You feel bad saying no, so you say yes. You regret it almost immediately and tell yourself you won't do it again, only to find yourself back at it again next time you get asked.
Sound about right?
As you become more experienced in business, this will become quite common. People will pitch to work with you, collaborate and leverage your resources/audience. Many folks just getting started in business will jump at the chance to gain value from a new audience and will gladly accept an unpaid opportunity.
This is GREAT exposure and one of the ways I multiplied my audience in my first few years in business.
BUT... it is one of the things holding you back.
I know. We hate saying no. This was always tough for me. What's the harm in saying yes, right? Bigger than you think, actually. At a certain point you need to pick and choose where you spend your time and make sure it serves your business's growth. Use your time wisely to help move you in the direction of your ideal client and position you to launch your offer.
I was missing out on several nights with my husband because I had guest coaching gigs that I said yes to without knowing only 5-10 people would be there. I have been up late at night working on content I promised someone for free just because, and allowed myself to get stressed over it. I've been there.
Opportunity not feel aligned? Here are some ways to politely decline an opportunity without coming across as rude:
"Here is a link where you can find the options to work with me." This is perfect for the prospective client who snuck into your DMs and thinks they can get free coaching on the side.
"Thank you for thinking of me. Can I confirm this is a paid opportunity?" This is perfect for those guest coaching or speaking gigs where you know the audience is less than ideal for your growth. Make sure if you are accepting speaking gigs, you gain value in audience acquisition or compensation.
"Unfortunately, I cannot take on any unpaid projects at this time." This conveys that you are too busy with client commitments to take on other work and that you are in a season of your business that demands your focus toward your existing clientele.
"That question comes up all the time in my [membership / program]. Would you like some info on how to join?" Use this when someone is trying to gain enough free value from you to go off and try to implement on their own. While I am a fan of sharing all the information you have for free, once it gets to a point, you should break off the free DM sessions with something like this.
"Let me know the best email address to send an invoice." You can always hit them with the direct ask on sending a bill. This is a bit more direct, but quite effective. Even better, use a forced choice like, "should I send the invoice to your gmail or your business email?"
"Did you have a specific budget in mind?" If appropriate, just ask what their budget is. Try to get them to make an offer for payment first to see where they stand.
If you use these strategies, be prepared to confidently communicate your rates if asked. Saying no actually feels very empowering.
Most of the time, people don't know whether someone is expecting payment or not, so they don't bring it up. Take ownership and address it head on early in the conversation so it is super clear.
What other suggestions do you have for when folks ask for a free service from you?