I'd love to talk but I just can't.
December 19, 2017 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I have a visible enough profile through social media and community activities that people always want to reach out and chat on the phone or in person. I love meeting people but I've been getting really overwhelmed by this demand for my attention. Especially because I've put in a lot of effort to make myself visible in order to get paid work, but almost none of these conversations actually lead to paid work.

I really like people and want to be polite about not having the time. Or about needing a meaningful agenda before the call. Or about needing to be hired in order to give my time.

I've tried offering "getting started" consulting packages where people get a couple of sessions of my time plus a proposal for further work, and I even made an on-line training which include a session of my time, but people react pretty badly to being asked for money before any type of conversation. I've also tried postponing conversations, or trying to have an e-mail exchange instead. I'm just really overwhelmed with requests to just talk that lead nowhere.

It's not JUST about needing money, it's also an issue of not having this kind of free time (maybe like, 5-10 requests to talk a month)

Please help me think through how to manage this! Thank you!
posted by cacao to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I once sent an email a long time ago to the economist Paul Krugman and got back a form letter email saying that he read it, but didn't have time to answer my questions. I wasn't thrilled with that response, but looking back I understand better now how everyone's time is precious and if you don't know someone then you don't really owe them a whole lot.
posted by Gosha_Dog at 11:18 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but it's not clear to me--are people requesting to talk as a potential preliminary to hiring you, or to try to get your thoughts on something, or just because they seem to think you'd be cool and would like to be your friend? Like, without giving too much detail--are you like a therapist and they want to get a quick session disguised as getting to know you, or a marketing person and they want to pick your brain, or an artist and hey want to talk about your work?

I guess the question is what they're looking for in getting together to talk with you. If they are trying to get your services for free, then don't feel bad when they are snippy about being asked for money; people who do that deserve it. But if they are "fans" who want to interact with you and you need to spend the time on money-making things, then it makes sense to say something more like "unfortunately, the time I have to discuss these things needs to be devoted to my clients. I have an introductory package XYZ, if you're interested, but I just don't have any time to have non-work-related meetings."
posted by gideonfrog at 11:22 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This happens to me. I consult but I also have a lot of background experience in topics so people find me and want to talk to me for, say, half an hour so they can write some 500 word piece on whatever it is. I've got sort of a patter down. Initial contact almost always happens over social media or email. I usually tell people "While I prefer email and don't mind exchanging a few emails for free, I've got time for a 15-20 minute phone call about $TOPIC. More that and we're getting into "this is my job" territory and I can send you a rate sheet or we can set something up ahead of time." And then I have a few timeslots (convenient for ME) I put people in per week, and when they're full, no more phone calls for that week. If people are paying for my time, they can make it time that is more convenient for them. I also talk to reporters from places I've heard about and don't talk to bloggers from websites I haven't heard from unless they're library students and then I'll talk to most of them.

Basically this does a few things

- shuttles people to email which I prefer
- indicates the amount of time they can expect from me
- reiterates that even me just talking about stuff is something people pay me for and my time has value

There has been a huge shift, I've noticed, in people (often but not always younger) who just do a lot of "research" for whatever it is they're working on, often start-up funded stuff, where they expect to get people's experienced time for free because they're a "lean" start-up. They just like to spend time on the phone learning things. Which, hey, that is fine for what it is but that doesn't mean you have to spend work time catering to them.

Having serious boundaries doesn't mean you can't flex them for the right conversation or the right people. I have found though that most people respect that you're on work time and people who are serious about the value of your time will not usually be offended if you bring up money, even if they're not able or willing to pay. I wrote this about my feelings about the phone.
posted by jessamyn at 11:27 AM on December 19, 2017 [77 favorites]

Jessamyn's response is excellent. and free! I'll just add that letting calls go to Google Voice mail, and responding with a text seems like a way to pre-screen a bit.
posted by theora55 at 11:50 AM on December 19, 2017

I get about the same number of requests per month. If they are from someone I have no ties to, I tend to just ignore the email unless they have a really compelling profile themselves. In my world this seems to be the acceptable thing to do. If we ave a mutual connection who is someone I care about, and the request comes through that connection, I typically schedule a 30m phone call. No in person or hour long convos for “picking my brain.”
posted by amaire at 12:18 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've tried offering "getting started" consulting packages where people get a couple of sessions of my time plus a proposal for further work, and I even made an on-line training which include a session of my time, but people react pretty badly to being asked for money before any type of conversation.

In my experience with 10+ years of consulting, people who react badly to paying you to explore ideas they have are never intending on paying you for any of your time in the future, so I would consider this reaction a feature rather than a bug.

One of the things mentally that helped me say no was to accept that politeness does not mean being beholden to other people's desires. The phrase "I'm sorry, that's not possible" that gets used here on AskMe is very polite and can be said in a gracious way that leaves most people understanding that you respect the importance of their request however do not have time to be part of it.
posted by notorious medium at 12:18 PM on December 19, 2017 [10 favorites]

Oh man, do I love Jessamyn's linked article!

"I think people want to hear a voice saying “I will do the thing.” While I have no problem giving and keeping my word where work is concerned, what I want is a piece of paper saying “Here is our agreement about the thing.”
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:22 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you pay someone to spend, like, 1 hour per week responding to these requests on your behalf?

I used to work for a #HouseholdName and part of my job was responding to these types of requests, roughly 99% of which we declined. I think having the responses come from me instead of him was powerful in two ways:

1) It "proved" that he was busy -- busy enough that he needed someone to read his email!

2) It protected him from future back-and-forths - if they didn't like being politely denied a pick-your-brain session, they could either whinge to me (which I learned to shut down quickly) or just go on with their life. Appealing to him was impossible because I protected his direct email address.

Whether you hire someone for this or continue handling it yourself, I found it really useful to include a sentence of roughly this flavor: "Dr. #HouseholdName is so disappointed to have to decline your kind invitation. Given all of his other engagements, he doesn't feel he could devote adequate attention to your idea." People liked the idea that he wanted to do their thing but couldn't!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2017 [16 favorites]

Best answer: You might enjoy this podcast and associated blog post with links from The Broad Experience titled "When Women Work for Free." It touches on those folks who want to have a coffee or chat to "pick your brain" and what to do about that.
posted by amanda at 3:04 PM on December 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

+1 to having someone else answer your mail, even if it is you wearing a mustache (digitally, of course).
posted by arnicae at 8:22 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers! I feel a burden lifted off my shoulders.

Gideonfrog- part of the problem is that their requests to meet are very vague, and asking for more clarity often feels rude or unappreciative of how *awesome the other person is*.

Schroedingersgirl's advice is right on, and I've thought about doing something like this and tried to put in place a couple of solutions, but ultimately I don't have the resources or the right person to make this work right now.

A combination of Jessamyn's response plus insights gotten from amanda's links has helped me put together a customizable response to send anyone requesting my time. It basically says 'YES I want to get to know you, but would like to get to know you first to maximize the value of in-person time. If you are a potential client or partner, do X, if you want to get to know me generally, let's chat on social media accounts y and z, and if you want something else, please send me an e-mail with the following info."

I feel good about this approach, because it feels warm enough to me to not insult anyone, yet no-nonsense and business like. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by cacao at 1:00 PM on December 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

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