In nearly every kind of profession, a person gets asked about his or her expertise. Some more often than others. In many cases, we know before we ask that it is bordering on unethical behaviour. For instance, if you have a friend who is a doctor and you are always calling them about this or that bump or bruise, with Woody Allen type hyperbole, then you likely know, deep down, that what you are doing is asking for something for free from someone who doesn’t give his or her product (their skills or service) for free during their work day.
A doctor however, is a clearly defined role. It is easier to see where the line ends between the hospital and their back yard. This is less likely with the burgeoning multitudes of entrepreneurs who work from their back pocket, uploading content to their Posterous accounts in an airport or writing their blog posts in their pajamas. The world is changing and so is the way business is done.
Not everyone has caught up yet.
The other day I was asked to an ‘important’ meeting and I looked at my schedule and wondered how on earth I’d be able to jam it in, but I responded to the level of need and made it happen. The meeting quickly devolved into a training session, with me as the trainer, completely un-related to the subject that was in the meeting request. I obliged–what else could I do? These were nice folks, and they were newbie’s in communicating with new media and they were just really wondering if….?
Therein lies the rub. Would someone call a doctor out from their practice to an important meeting then ask if he could look at a rash on the person’s back? I’m not comparing myself to a doctor, but rather trying to shift the paradigm a little here as to what we consider ‘work’ and what we value as expertise.
While thinking about this experience, my RRS feed delivered me an amazing post by Chris Brogan (when isn’t he amazing?) about this very issue. The title of the post is ‘Make the Ask’ and it is a good reminder to be up front about your boundaries, to value your self, and your service, and most importantly, remember your community. In other words, add value wherever possible, help when it aligns with your core values, but keep in the forefront of your mind that you are, in fact, in business, and the surest way to having no business is giving it away for free.
In the world of new media, this isn’t always going to be clear and for small business’, it’s likely to be a bit of feeling it as you go journey. Here are five top things to remember when someone asks you for your expertise and some suggested answers to have on hand in these circumstances:
- Establish your boundaries. Know your answers before someone asks. “I would love to come to lunch. Is this social or business? If it is business, why don’t you come to my office and I can give you a free consult there?”
- Keep a tight focus. “I am focused on consulting with small business on SEO and am building this as my differentiator. Sounds like you need a web designer instead, let me put you in touch with a colleague of mine.”
- Don’t give away the farm. “I would love to come and meet with you for a coffee and talk about ways to integrate social media into your existing strategy, however, I’m pressed for time. Check out my free resource page on my website, this might get you started at least.”
- It’s not your emergency. “I hear you are really in a difficult situation. I think you likely need something more in depth and related to your overall business strategy. I would prefer to help you with this in my capacity as a consultant. Would you like to make an appointment for next week when I am more available?”
- Ask. As Chris says, ‘make the ask’. “I think I can help you and I’d like to work with you. I have a proposal. Would you like to read it?”
The key is to stay human, and flexible and be transparent about your boundaries. Before you diagnose anyone’s issue, ensure you have a vibrant, robust plan to cure and coach that will also deliver long-term health to you and your company.