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Are you networking or giving away the crown jewels?


I’m often asked to provide advice to people starting off in the industry about freelancing, social media and/or publishing. Generally, I am happy to help. After all, I received a great deal of assistance from others when I was just starting out, and I believe in paying it forward.

But occasionally, a request for advice can turn into exploitation. Take, for example, the successful businessman who asked me to meet with him to ‘discuss a project’, and ended up picking my brains for an hour about how to promote himself on social media. Needless to say, no project was forthcoming. What’s more, no thank you was forthcoming, either.

And take the writer who asked me to read one of her pieces, and then repeated that request over fifteen times over the course of the next year.

So how can you stop a one-off consultation becoming annoying at best, and exploitive at worst?

  • Determine the agenda before agreeing to meet with the other person. Are they interested in doing business or are they just seeking information?
  • If a person is simply seeking information, is this someone to whom you are happy to impart your knowledge for free? If yes, go ahead. If not, provide your rates as a paid consultant.
  • If a ‘business meeting’ turns out to be a brain picking exercise, don’t hesitate to cut it short. A simple “It’s clear you need a great deal of information. I offer consultancy at $…. per hour,” is sufficient.
  • With genuine favours, be selective. It’s better to give one or two people a real hands-up in the industry than to throw tiny little tidbits at everyone who asks. I try to focus my time on people who have real potential; writers, for example, who are clearly talented but who just need advice about moving forward.
  • Be clear about what you can offer and your time constraints. Set a time limit upfront; forty to fifty minutes is generally long enough for a mentoring chat. And if the questions continue, or if an initial email turns into an endless series, offer other alternatives – either a paid consultation, or referral to a course or mentoring program.
  • Be generous with your time, but remain conscious of your worth, and listen to your gut. If you are feeling good about yourself and your ability to help others, continue. But if you feel you are being exploited, you probably are.

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