Would You Work for Free?

Willis Consulting & Communications Founder Suzanne Willis shares why it's important not to overstep professional boundaries.

Professional services are sometimes taken for granted. While everyone likes to “get a deal,” it pays to be mindful of others when asking for a professional opinion, service or product. In business, we need to be careful and not overstep boundaries. (It’s also a good idea to maintain good personal relationships by not hounding friends and family members with repeated requests for “freebies.”)

In my experience working in the hospitality industry for many years, friends/family would often ask for a special deal on a hotel rate. I always had to laugh because I’d never just call someone up and ask them to discount their services for me. I know it’s different with a hotel because the rates do vary; however, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is making a living and services must be paid for, in one way or another.

It might be tempting to ask for an opinion from a doctor, advice from an attorney, or creative material from a writer or photographer. People may do this innocently, not realizing that it may be offensive. They also may not realize that a doctor or lawyer could get in trouble for providing professional advice outside of counsel.

If you’re the one who receives the requests, the best thing to do is to be honest. One of the three pillars of good manners, according to Emily Post, is honesty. (The others are consideration and respect.) Be honest and let them know that you’d be happy to provide all the answers or services for free if you could, but that’s not possible. You need to make a living, and you need to uphold the standards of your profession.

Let’s hope that if you hold up the respect pillar, the other person will hold up the other two. Being respectful and considerate to all involved is definitely a win-win for all involved. 

Suzanne Willis is the founder of Willis Consulting & Communications in Naples, which specializes in contemporary business, social and children’s etiquette.