Uncategorized Moving Beyond Anger When People Ask For Free Help Written by: Kathy Caprino

This week, my colleague Ashley Milne-Tyte, who publishes a fascinating blog and podcast series The Broad Experience, reached out to ask me my thoughts about women who are beleaguered by people asking for free help, and how to best handle it.  The question got me thinking more deeply about the situation, and when I did, I realized that over the past few years, I’ve evolved beyond my initial anger and resentment over people reaching out with their hand out, asking for help.

I remember when it first started to happen in a bigger way to me – that strangers by the hundreds would ask for free help. Two years ago, a Forbes post of mine about LinkedIn and busting the 8 damaging myths about what it can do for you, went a bit viral, and that week, I heard from over 900 people asking for help to review their LinkedIn profiles, resumes and career directions. I was stunned, and frankly, really pissed off.  I thought, “Don’t they understand that this is how I make my living, as a career coach and consultant?” And I also scratched my head at the audacity of people to reach out to a stranger asking for help, hoping for it quickly, without offering anything in return.

Now, I feel quite differently.  After speaking with Adam Grant and reading his amazing book Give and Take, I was struck by the shame and sadness I felt at not being willing and happy to help more people in deep need.  I realized that I didn’t just want to be of service to the affluent; I long to help people of all socioeconomic levels and all walks of life.  So I got going building free and low-cost programs and resources that anyone and everyone can take advantage of, and be supported.  And I feel so much better because of it.

Many of us who run service-related businesses (and many who don’t), want to be of help in the world.  Yes, we run businesses and need to earn money through these ventures, and we have to learn how to charge fairly and appropriately for what we offer, but we also want to use our talents and abilities to move the needle in some important way. I’ve found that creating free and low-cost programs (that cost me very little to produce) as well as offering my top-level services is the way I can move the needle.

Below are 5 key lessons I’ve learned these past few years about how to view, experience, and handle being asked to give free help:

Stop being mad – it’s a waste of energy.

It’s best to simply get over being mad and resentful that people reach out for free help.  We need to realize that people don’t necessarily understand our business model, and aren’t trying to be disrespectful when they ask for help.  We need to educate them on what we offer and what we don’t, and be clear, without apology.

We actually can be of great help in just a few seconds or minutes of time.

Judy Robinett (author of the great book How To Be a Power Connector) demonstrated to me that you don’t need to spend hours with someone to be of help.  Just a few minutes, an email intro, a powerful connection, an opened door  – that’s all it takes.  Finding ways to help people without exhausting yourself to the bone is the way to go.

No, I no longer let people “pick my brain” for free, but where I can, I offer quick tidbits, insights and ideas.

Developing free or low-cost programs that help people who can’t afford your services is a WIN/WIN.

I’ve now created an array of great free and lower-cost resources that I point everyone to, when they’re asking for free help. I’m excited about these resources because I’ve seen that they move people forward. The free materials include Career Path Self-Assessment, Career Success Readiness Quiz, Resume Guide, LinkedIn Primer, Study Guide for my book, etc.). I also have more affordable training programs that a larger number of professionals can take advantage of.

I’ve found that having these resources to point people to allows me to be of service at the level I wish to for folks who can’t pay my coaching fees.  It also allows me to protect my private time and my private coaching work, which comes at a premium. I recommend this step — developing great, free materials that you’re happy to give away — a teleclass, newsletter, an audio, a video, downloadable guide, etc. —  to all folks in the service business who want to help people in the largest way possible. And the kicker is that the free materials always generate a great return of some kind for me as well.

Craft an authentic, personal response that works.

Because I hear from hundreds of folks a month, I can’t respond personally to each one. But I’ve developed communications that I’m able to customize and send out to folks who reach out to me wanting free help, explaining that due to the high volume of requests I receive for free help each week, I’m unable to offer tailored recommendations to folks who aren’t my clients, because to provide effective help I’d have to know much more, and that requires time and commitment. But I’m happy to point them to my free and low-cost resources that will be of service.

I value connecting with my community and with most everyone who writes me, but I’m not developing each response from scratch.

Helping people who need it doesn’t make you a doormat.

Read Adam Grant’s book Give and Take and you’ll see that many of the most successful people in the world are the most outrageously generous givers.  Giving something for free doesn’t make you a loser, it makes you a giver. The key, however, is to give in ways that nourish, enrich, and support you, not break you down.  That requires clarity, commitment, systems that work for you, a well-defined vision of what you want to achieve in the world, and powerful boundaries to support that.

In the end, I’d ask this: What would you rather feel – resentful and angry or happy to be of service in bigger ways than you ever imagined?

What’s your biggest challenge in addressing requests for free help?



14 thoughts on “Moving Beyond Anger When People Ask For Free Help”

  1. Kathy: What a great article. You are as genuine as they come. I greatly appreciate our recent conversation. Your insights, advice, and encouragement were very helpful to me in regards to my career development. I was one of the strangers who came a calling and you delivered in a big way. I can’t thank you enough for it. I hope that I am able to reciprocate in the future. Maybe all the shares to help your article go to #1 on LinkedIn were a small repayment. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your very lovely note, John. I truly appreciate it, and it was my pleasure to connect with you. You were amazingly helpful to me regarding my LinkedIn post, and I deeply appreciate your support in getting it to #1! Glad you’re in my community, and I love your LinkedIn group Publishers and Bloggers! Thanks again.

  3. Outstanding piece Kathy and it should be totally embraced by everyone who proclaims to a be a “coach”. In this new time, when the social organizing principle has changed from being “money”, and is now clearly “relationships”, it is instruction like yours that inspires those conscious coaches to serve their constituency in lovely new ways.

    Great contribution to us all Kathy. Thank you.

  4. Thanks so much, Peter. I love how you’ve framed the issue as an outgrowth of our new world – that relationships are key, and connecting meaningfully and helpfully is the way we will make money. Thanks!

  5. What a fantastic article Kathy; thank you so much for sharing with us! I see so much of myself in your words, especially about not feeling angry when people ask for help. I get a lot of requests and I must admit that I get frustrated sometimes. Your article has inspired me to try harder. I’ve always believed that happiness is a choice! Thanks again!


  6. Thanks for your comments, Jennifer. I’m so glad the post struck a chord. I so agree – happiness is a choice. It’s time to make it, every day. Thank you!

  7. Hi Kathy
    It is really a nice piece of blog and tells lot about you and courage you have to speak the truth and try to change accordingly. I totally agree with you. I wonder though how many of us are able to practice that what they preach.

  8. Thanks so much, Premendra. I’m honored that you feel this post is courageous. It never occurred to me that these messages might seem so. I just know that when I hurt about something, then somehow find a way out of that hurt, probably thousands of others around the world are experiencing the exact same thing and might benefit. Thanks very much for your kind words, and for sharing.

  9. Hi Kathy
    Personally I am grateful that you have found a way to share your ideas and suggestions for those of us that can’t hire you.
    I am not working right now and can use all the help I can get. I can say for myself as far asking for free help, it is only a matter of having the utmost respect for you and I certainly wouldn’t mean to cross a boundary or disrespect you in any way.
    In reading the article about your experience and your anger I found myself chuckling because I have felt like that in the past. This is just my experience, my anger and resentment was towards myself because I didn’t know how to say “NO” ever, even when warranted, so I found myself doing things that I didn’t want to do and getting angry doing them. I thought I was angry with the person asking for me my help but looking back it wasn’t them I was upset with I was upset with me…..
    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge it has helped me so very much. You are an amazing woman and I will continue to follow your articles. Thank you Kathy!

  10. Thanks so much, Jodi, for your kind words. What a lovely why to express why you would reach out for free help – not to take advantage, but as a sign of deep respect. That’s a very intriguing way for me to think about it. And you’re right – when we’re angry at being beleaguered with requests we feel are unfair, it’s often that we’re angry at ourselves for not having the courage to say “NO!” I appreciate your comments. Thanks so much.

  11. Helpful article and great approach. I am an ESL tutor, and don’t get anywhere near your volume of requests, but do sometimes need to do lessons for free or at a greatly reduced rate. I make it work by conducting shorter lessons (1 1/2 hrs. instead of 2) and by doing minimal preparation. Usually I can adapt materials that I’ve already prepared.

    Thank you for your perspective and for some helpful suggestions!

  12. Thanks, Frieda, for writing. Great to hear you’ve found a system that works for you and allows you to be of help in the way you want to. Kudos!

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