Assuming My Help Is Free

Tech geeks everywhere have to relate to what I am about to write. I am sure this applies to plenty of other areas of life too, but since I fit most with the geek side, I’ll share what bugs me on this one. Why is it that people assume what we do, in the tech field, is something they can get from you for free? This is what I do for a living, not tech support per se, but working on the computer. There are other things I do professionally as well, and it should be up to me to determine when I am going to give my services away, not something you can assume that by loose association to me you automatically get for free.


Did that sound kinda strong? Well, maybe my problem is that I am not straightforward when things bug me, but I have been told I wear my emotions very clearly on the face, so either some people choose not to notice, or just don’t care.

As usual, I need to backpedal a little to clarify. I enjoy sharing my abilities to help others. I have fixed countless computers, reinstalled Windows more times than likely most Geek Squad idiots down at Best Buy could even imagine, and given away plenty of old hardware I had laying around than most readers of this site have likely ever purchased. I do enjoy it, I just don’t enjoy people I hardly know making that assumption it is free. A minor point you think? I beg to differ.

How about I approach you and plan on a freebie in your chosen field for supporting your family. You’re a doctor, great! I’ll be making some appointments for my kids and family next time they are sick – and go ahead and skip the bill. Own a fledgling restaurant, I’m gonna love all that free food coming my way! I’ll be sure not to come more than once a week though so I don’t abuse our new relationship. I need to find myself a mechanic friend here soon because I think my car needs a new timing belt. I’ll cover the cost of parts though, okay? I am guessing a mechanic or two will happen upon this post and readily agree with me. I figure mechanics often get their services abused like tech geeks.

Is that the key? If you offer a service instead of something tangible, it is obviously something you can give away because it doesn’t cost you anything, right? Wrong! You know what it costs me, time! Time is our most valuable asset. Time can only be spent, never built up or received. How we choose to spend our time is what really defines our lives. That choice is mine, not yours to assume it comes without a price.

Those who know me know that my hobby in recent years is photography. Once I jumped on the digital SLR bandwagon, I have pursued it with passion and enjoyed it thoroughly. I have done a lot of professional work, but I also offer my services for free to a lot of friends & family. This is something I enjoy being able to say “no charge” to those I am closely associated with. I have donated photo shoots to local schools for fundraising and showed up for charitable causes at no expense. These are the occasions when I like to give of myself and my time. This service is also when I have been particularly irked when people assume they have new access to a great freebie. One family, in particular, has requested new family portraits and figured “thanks” was payment enough. I don’t know them all that well, but because we live within a short distance from each other, that entitles them to free access, right? Obviously, I am not bothered enough to send them a bill, but I don’t go out of my way to offer them any extras.

I guess what usually sets me off is when someone wants something for free, but they need me to go out of my way to do it rather than adjusting to my schedule. Just the other day this family had taken some photos with their own digital camera that they wanted digitally retouched. They wanted to transplant some kids heads, airbrush a few things, etc. “I’d like that done quickly too so I can get these printed up, when can you have that done?” No do you mind doing this for us as a favor? No how much do you charge since you do this professionally? The idiot that I am, I did it and kept my mouth shut. Does that mean I don’t get any “heavenly credit” because I performed the task begrudgingly? Probably so. Oh well, perhaps my confession will help me get past it all.

I have also had plenty of friends who I have specifically told I am happy to offer my services for free to them, only to have them bring by a gift certificate to a restaurant, payment or a gift of some kind to say thanks. I have a very hard time accepting these gestures in return for some strange reason. Call it yet another weird quirk of mine. I didn’t ask for it, and I said I was doing my favor for free. I have gotten better over the years in realizing they feel better for not having taken advantage of the situation either. Then they don’t feel bad using me again. It is not quid pro quo though, they just wanted to say thanks, and I appreciate that.

I also appreciate friends who know they are asking for something as a favor, so they work particularly hard to give me advanced notice, make sure I am available and generally speaking ask pointedly if I mind. Just some common courtesies when asking for a favor. That kind of things makes me more than happy to say yes, put it in my schedule and do my best to do a good job when I show up. My next door neighbor requested I take a large (extended) family photo on Dec. 23 because they will have so many people in from out of town. She asked clear back at the beginning of November if I could do this. Now that is some pre-planning that I can appreciate. In general, though, having some flexibility of when something can get done is all I really ask.
Other friends have hired my services, for weddings, events, portraits, etc. I have so appreciated them recognizing that this is a situation where I should be hired, and in return, they get a steal of a rate as my thanks. I will happily perform my services for a far reduced rate as thanks for you recognizing that I am a professional that deserves some compensation.

I think this little therapy exercise has helped me realize I just need to step up say when something is going to cost money. Whether it be photography, computer support, graphic design, etc., anything I do professionally I just need to be clear up front if I would like to offer it for free or offer up what my rates are to see how interested they really are in enlisting my services.

Once again, I need to make sure I haven’t come across as a complete idiot. I do enjoy offering free help in things I know how to do. All friends who are reading this who have had free photo work or tech support from me – don’t get scared off. If I have told you I am happy to do whatever it is for free, I mean it. I am not keeping some list of who owes me some return favors. I find real enjoyment in being able to give of myself when I so choose. I like when my talents are appreciated. This post is not some backhanded attempt at getting money out of you.

I also greatly appreciate those friends that offer back to me their free help and time when I have asked. I have a former neighbor who I still call upon whenever I build something in my house because he is an engineer and the best at getting things right out of anyone I know. This reminds me, I owe him a good thank you lunch for his recent help. I think I’ll set something up for later this week. Goodness knows I want to make sure he knows I value his time and know when I have been given a great freebie.

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