Don’t Sell Your Skills For Free

computer case

I’ve been a bit frustrated today. Here is something that happened quite often to me. In my circle I am known as the guy who can repair and upgrade computers or install operating systems and so on. I often did that for friends and family. It was all fine before it got out of hand. I always seen this as a favor that I make people I like.  So, generally I did that for free for family and friends all the time. But the issue with favors is that it makes a round and it doesn’t take a long time until friends of friends hear about what you can do. So, at some point it started that I was asked by a friend “Hey, I have friend and he has trouble with his computer, you probably can fix that?”. This is asked on a way as if it is taken for granted that you will do it, and that for free.

But sometimes it’s not that you are asked by a friend to fix a computer of one of his workmates. Last week I walked over a bridge and that’s where I met a person I know. We don’t know each other too well, but that guy did hear somewhere that I do things with computers. So, it didn’t take a long time until that kind of question popped up again. He asked me if I could visit him because he has trouble with watching Netflix, and his internet provider told him that the issue with his internet speed must be on his end. He thought I would be more inclined if he would mention that he buys a drink if I visit him to take a look. How could he know that I barely still drink, and how could he know that I’m sick of being asked to help people for free, because it’s my time. I told him that I don’t do that, and that’s where he made a wary expression. I didn’t care, because why should I do. I don’t even know that person very well. We know each other from the district, ok, and we had small talk. But I don’t think that this is enough to make me want to work for free, or for a beer.

Today I got a phone call by the husband of my mother. His boss gave him a computer to fix, but since he just has a bit of knowledge about computers, he couldn’t get it fixed for him. So he asked me to do it. Yeah sure, depending on the issue, I spend my whole Saturday diagnosing a PC of a stranger, and additional time to fix the issue and he brings it back to reap the rewards? No, thanks. This time I was that frustrated by the question that this was exactly what I asked him. At that point he told me that I could get 20 Euro. I replied that I would get asked all the time to fix computers of people that I don’t even know, and that I don’t do that anymore. I gladly miss out on the 20 Euro, because I knew it would be just the share. But what would he do to get his share? You see the problem.

Look, fixing computers or installing software, that is to me not a painful job. But the thing is if everyone starts to ask me to do it for their friends, workmates, family members or bosses, I might as well start taking money. And I don’t think that I would want to spend time on a computer of a stranger, unless he gives me at least a fixed price of 50 Euro, and since I worked in computer repair shops and in the IT field in general, I know that this would be still a fair price. Why? Because they can be sure that it will cost them 50 Euro per hour in a shop, and not fixed 50 Euro. They might end up with costs of 150 Euro if it took the store 3 hours to fix the problem. I’d be stupid to do it for everyone and his friends for free, or for 20 Euro. I’m not that poor that I need the 20 Euro, because compared to that, free time has a lot more value.

But you know what is worse than being asked to fix computers for free or at a poverty wage? The fact that people will be mad at you if you say no. It’s taken for granted that you will do it, and once you say no, they will be very surprised and sad about your reply. Do I care about this? Not really. I had these inner conflicts when I was still sixteen, a time when you try to feature out what is appropriate in this world, and what not. But I’m fully grown and if there is anything inappropriate, then it is to ask someone doing things but not to envisage that the answer might be no. The thing is, I did it several times and did help out friends of friends, but that’s not where it ends. Because if you did it once, next time it will be taken for granted. Yes, if you do it again and again, you’re that guy, known as someone who is doing everything for free. So, if that hits home, I can tell you that you need to learn to say no, and you need to start now!

I don’t think that I have enough time left in my life to care if computers of persons that I don’t even know work or not. And I also don’t think that I have to feel guilty about this just because the phone call ends with “Damn, man, I thought you could help me with that”. No, no, no, wait… that’s wrong, if I know you well, I might help you, and that even for free if I offer it. But if it isn’t even your computer, why to hell should I care? Why would you even accept the request to fix someone’s computer if you can’t do it on your own? Because you know someone who can? That’s not how it works, at least not for the pittance that the fixed price of 20 Euro is.

The question alone makes me wonder if people forgot what a friendly turn is, and what not. I don’t think that it is a friendly turn if I start to fix computers of all persons you know, that is in my opinion rather a job. I don’t think that it is my responsibility to make sure that every computer in the neighborhood is working. Too often did I ignore the fact that I was not doing a friend a favor, but a friend of a friend. There are no benefits, you’re just losing your time. If I would just have taken 50 Euro for each computer I repaired, I would live in a house by now. So, the reply is easy. No, just no. I won’t fix the computer of your friend, I won’t fix the computer of your boss or the computer of your brother in law. And if that is shocking for you, I feel sorry for you.

For everyone who is constantly asked to do things for free, or for a pittance. You have all rights to say no, it’s your time and these are your skills. Don’t sell yourself for free. Tell people you can’t do that for strangers, because it’s your time. You don’t have time. It’s that easy. And yes, some people might be shocked about that, but that is not your problem. You know what is much worse? If you lose your free time because people continue to demand that you help everyone and the world. So, again, learn to say no. You shouldn’t feel guilty about that, if someone needs to feel guilty, then it is the person that has difficulties to accept the no.

18 thoughts on “Don’t Sell Your Skills For Free

  1. Great post. I am also known as that guy that fixes computers for friends and family. I made it known at an early stage that I wouldn’t do it for free. If it’s for my immediate family members then fine, but everyone else has to pay.

    1. Very good! I believe this is the best way to deal with this issue. I do it for free for the closest family too, if it’s their computer. I think the husband of my mother had to learn it today… I’d fix his computer as well, just not the computer of his boss, and also not for 20 Euro, that’s low. I told him he can ask me at any time if he has trouble with his computer, I’m just not interested to fix computers of strangers unless as you said, it’s paid.

      I think this is very important. It actually inspired me to create the post, because I believe many face the same issues. I’ve heard of photographers who are asked to shoot on weddings for free and so on. While this would cost a fortune if a photographer would be hired. People think they can get everything for free. So, it really must be learned to say no.

      I’m glad you have this clear rule too. Once we offer to do things for free, we will get exploited.

  2. That’s a great resolution. A man gets a chance and then takes chances. We live in a world where privileges are been abused.
    One thing I have come to learn is; A man who cannot say NO is the most miserable of all men.

  3. Exactly. In Germany we have a similar saying that goes literally translated like “If you show one finger, someone will take the whole hand”. It’s wisdom about our society that is sadly true. So, if people can’t show their own border, they will be exploited by others.

    I’d say the man who cannot say NO, is also the most vulnerable person.

  4. Yes you are quite right Dennis. Your time is valuable and once you start doing favours for friends of friends you find yourself being expected to help complete strangers. If you wanted to do that you would be volunteering at a charity or still working in IT for a decent wage. I looked up the exchange rate and I don’t think 20 Euro would even cover an hour of your time if you were a professional. People do this, they know someone or a friend knows someone so they think they can get favours. Photographers get it a lot I think and people think it’s just a few photos and don’t realise all the time and preparation that goes into the shoot and the post processing. Doctors, I imagine get asked to diagnose people at social events but at least they can say “Take your clothes off: ” to put them off.
    If someone asks you a favour you are not obliged to accept and they have to remember it is that, a favour, and not get mad if it is refused.

    1. Yes, I saw a pro photographer on YouTube who mentioned this too. He was expected to shoot a wedding for free and said that he didn’t want to do that and everyone was mad at him. He said he can either be a guest or a professional, but when he is a professional, he will take money. You’re right, I think people don’t realize how much work it would be to shoot at a wedding for example, and the post processing and printing afterwards.

      Since there are so many different niches/interests where you can develop skills, being asked to do something for free is probably an issue for many people. It’s like when you have a hobby, people think you would have fun to make strangers a favours.

      I actually once worked in a charity IT service. It was a place with different workshops (they also had a kitchen where poor people could get free meals and so on). Our room fixed computers for a very low fee, so that people with very low income could continue to partake in modern life (Having a running computer to write applications, emails and so on). I also developed a course and was allowed to do classes and teach people about spreadsheets, because it’s useful in many jobs. I did that voluntary because it seemed like a good idea, not just the helping, but also that I could fill a hole in my résumé because I was jobless. But they got a lot of donations, so that we ended up getting some allowances too. But at that time I was totally expecting to do it for free. So, I had my reasons, I helped those with lower income, and actually also myself because I’ve done something for my résumé. So, like you said, if you want to do that… but it doesn’t mean you want to do that forever and everyone afterwards.

      Today people hear Person A can do this and that, so let’s ask to get something for free. As you said, they have no clue how much time and work certain things are. They probably just know how much it would cost them if a professional would do it, which is why they come to you. They want to save money, but they want to eat your time.

  5. Either you live by your skills (paid a living wage) or you choose to use your skills for leisure pursuits that you enjoy. I imagine in your situation I would help a close family member or good friend in need, but beyond that — go and pay a pro to get it done! Learning to say no is harder for some than others, but a valuable and liberating life lesson for all. Kudos!

    1. Exactly. That’s why I say NO. It’s not my job to help everyone. I drew a border, I just help person very close to me.

      It took me some time to learn to say NO. But I don’t have trouble with this anymore. It’s definitely liberating. When you always say YES, it doesn’t take long until people take advantage of you.

  6. Great post! I really, really agree. Well done for saying no. It’s not an easy word at all. But still, time is the most treasured thing we have, and there is so little free time today, so spending entire weekends doing things for others can be so draining, especially if it’s being taken for granted.

    1. True, but some people don’t see that. Back then I sadly often said yes, but nowadays I am not afraid to say no. It’s just my time, and I can’t see how I benefit from it when I offer my time to complete strangers. You don’t get something in return, because how often did I hear “I owe you something”, but when you needed help, these persons are not there. It’s my free time. So, nope… I can’t share my free time anymore. If at all, then only for very close persons, like the closest family members. Outside of that circle, nope. Not gonna happen.

  7. Time is precious, don’t use it for doing things for free and being taken for granted. Spend more time on your hobbies instead 😉 Those that do not value your time do not deserve your friendship or attention.

    1. I don’t do that anymore. You’re right. I refuse to offer my time when I don’t get anything in return. Exception is my close family, that’s where I gladly help.

      1. If you have a virtual machine, savvy ones could even ask you to help them host their web applications that they use for their own activities – free of charge. Sometimes, we just have to draw the line clearly.

        1. Exactly. People shouldn’t demand something, they can ask but they need to accept it if you can’t or don’t want to do it. Nobody should be angry at you if the answer is NO. I think generally, it’s sometimes possible to help, it’s just like you said… a line needs to be drawn or people start to exploit you. It’s a sad truth. If you always offer something for free, people don’t value the time or work you put into it anymore. They just think you’re always doing it, why won’t you do it this time? So, I pretty much agree, we need to make clear that this is not how it works.

          You brought up another good example. I am sure it counts for so many skills… like photography, web design, programming and so on. I’ve heard it all, people getting asked to shoot wedding photos for free, designing websites for free and so on. I’m pretty sure that many know the problem of being asked to do things for free, while those that ask don’t really value the time or work that goes into it.

  8. > So, at some point it started that I was asked by a friend “Hey, I have friend and he has trouble with his computer, you probably can fix that?”

    Yes. Been there, done that. The solution for me was to tell everyone that I don’t do Windows or PCs, only Mac. Since Apple doesn’t make consumer repairable machines, I’m off the hook.


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