How to say no to friends and family who want your services for free

We all have those family members. You know, the ones who say “Oh, you write well! Please can you just rewrite this quickly?” When you look at what they want you to redo “quickly”, it’s 20 pages of a concept document that will take a day or so to research and fix.

Or how about when your new hair products are working really well and are selling out at the farmers’ market on a Sunday, and that cousin of yours who said it wouldn’t work wants to “sample” for you? It’s taken ages to make, and costs a penny or two to produce, and for some reason your cousin thinks you can just hand it out for free.

Now, these are not unique situations. They happen to almost everyone who starts establishing themselves as an expert. And it makes family gatherings and friendly catch-ups awkward when you say “sure, no problem!” when you actually mean, “no, it’s takes hard work and dedication to get this right, and I deserve to be paid for it.”

So how do you say no, without offending anyone?

    1. Say no from the get-go, and stick to it
      One of the ways that I have managed to keep people from asking for free services is to say regret that I can’t help. I almost always tell people that I can’t really help as I’m far too busy to take up more work at the moment. I then offer for them to book an appointment with me when I’m more free. This usually keeps people from trying again – most of the time the “quickly do this for me” requests are last-minute and they don’t have time to wait.For those of you selling products, you need to be firm in saying that you currently don’t have any samples to hand out right now. This explains that there is a limit to how much free stuff you can give out. The important part is to stick to your decision. Don’t give in later – it gives the impression that you’re open to a bit of plying, and people will try their luck continuously. It’s a huge mistake!
    2. Propose something or someone else
      Give them an alternative. “Oh, I saw some sites on the internet offering trials for free, try them out!” or “I don’t have any right now, but I know such-and-such company has some samples they keep for would-be customers” goes a long way. Giving people a solution makes you look helpful, while at the same time protecting your assets.
    3. Don’t keep them hanging, say no immediately
      This really helps to keep your good name in check. Don’t keep “forgetting” – just say no immediately. Once that email lands or the WhatsApp has been read, say what you need to say, and say it with conviction. You don’t owe your skills or products to anyone.
    4. Don’t apologise
      You don’t have to say sorry for saying no, and you never should. And women particularly have been taught to apologise for not giving away everything they have. This is a bad habit that’s been put into our psyches, and it might take a while for us to get use to it. But the more you practise it, the better it will be.
    5. Say thank you
      It’s always good to be thankful to those who recognise your greatness (no matter how late it comes). Being grateful also leaves you feeling a bit better about acknowledging their noticing of your work.

This is not a fool-proof method, and no one is perfect. But some of these tactics can go a long way to making sure you feel you’ve done justice to your work and the people you love the most.

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