Monday, November 30, 2009

Does networking lead to people taking each other for granted?

While one of the biggest, and most often overlooked, benefits of networking is the development of a trusted network of suppliers for your business, it can become all too easy to take people for granted and have unreasonable expectations from them.

It appears that networking has generated a sub-culture of expecting people to do something for nothing. From the graphic designer friend of mine who was approached on Twitter by one of their followers to 'take five minutes to look at my logo' to organisations who ask professional speakers to plan, prepare and deliver talks for no cost, 'because it will be good marketing', people are increasingly dismissing the background work and expertise that go into providing a quality service.

Perhaps the root of this is the relationships that need to be developed as you build your network. I am continually urging my clients to build both trust and understanding among their network if they want to benefit from referrals, so it's a natural extension that they should give away their expertise to showcase their work....isn't it?

The danger, however, is that people's work and expertise becomes devalued. One of the major effects of the growth of social media is the amount of information that is given away for free, information that people would have paid for previously. Has this led to a situation where people are less likely to pay for the support they need because they feel entitled to receive it for nothing?

I was sent an interesting video last week by pricing expert Cliff Burgin. In the video, produced by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Dan Ariely talks about 'The Cost of Social Norms'. Ariely looks at how money can get in the way of social relationships and how we will happily do favours for our personal friends and family without charging for that.

In the video, Ariely says "We live in two worlds. We live in a social world where we do things for people as favours.....and we live in a financial world where we work for money. When the two worlds are seperate everything is fine. But when you try to mix things something happens, and that thing is usually not very good."

As people build relationships with people in their networks, those lines get very blurry. I have built strong friendships with people I have met through my networking, in some cases to the point where the personal relationship is more important than the professional connection. With many business-to-business service providers networking together, expectations of free support from each other are bound to grow.

And there's definitely a place for this. What is important is the definition of the term 'free'. An exchange of value that doesn't include money is common place now, with services being provided as a contra between two companies. But for the relationship to remain robust it has to be two-way.

What concerns me is that expectations of one-way support are growing, people's businesses, expertise and time are not valued in the way they used to be by others in their network and ultimately this can lead to a breakdown, rather than growth, in trust.


  1. Andy,

    An excellent blog. I receive many requests a week to come and give a speech on my area of expertise - media (both traditional and social). As a professional speaker, this is a major part of my income. However, many people are stunned that I ask for a fee. "It's just a speech" they say "if you're free that night, what's the problem?". Of course, I do give talks for no fee at times, occasionally as a favour to friends. But distinguishing the professional from the social means that my fee-paying gigs tend to be for clients that I don't know so well, or via speaker bureaus.

    I had some very interesting feedback recently on my email newsletter too. As you know, I've been sending it out every Friday, free of charge, to over 12,000 people. It's full of media advice and tips. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned my new book, and provided a link to a page where it could be purchased. I received an irate email from a subscriber saying "Could you please stick to providing information, and not try to sell me things?" Hmmm.

    Best wishes


  2. Thanks for your comments Alan.

    I was recently asked to give a talk for no fee. The talk would have taken a day to prepare and in addition would have involved giving up an entire Saturday to attend the event and deliver the talk. They were amazed when I asked what their budget was!

    Your feedback on your newsletter is very interesting. As you know, I based my newsletter on yours and I am very careful to restrict promotional messages within. The email you received does seem to underline my concern about expertise being devalued.

  3. Thank you for a thought provoking blog that raises several questions.

    My only experience of your brand has been on line. I have always found you to be very generous with answering the questions I've asked you on twitter.
    So your use of social media has created and sustained an impression of your work as consistent, trustworthy and reliable.
    I have never offered you business nor have you solicited it. And you continue to answer my questions. So I experience you not only as consistent, trustworthy and reliable but as having integrity.

    So I'm wondering if there is another issue here - when social media blurs old boundaries and makes our expertise more accessible to each other, how do we establish appropriate boundaries, and take responsibility for what we ask of each other while continuing to build trust?

    Thats all I got right now....

  4. Thanks Vena. For 'all you've got', you've posed a very interesting and complex question!

    I use Twitter as a 'Profile Building' tool, so the impression I have left is precisely what I am aiming for. Through my use of Twitter and subsequent relationships developed offline I hope that I have more people who will talk about me and refer me.

    It is the quality of those conversations and referrals which need to be managed and, as you point out, being clear where the boundaries lie.

  5. Andy,

    What would your subscribers do if you started to levy a small fee per newsletter?

  6. I have a regular client who starts each phone call with 'Can you do me a favour?' to which my reply is always 'No, but tell me what you need and I can give you a quote!"

    It was once suggested to me that when you *do* decide to do someone a favour, you send them a zero balance invoice with the usual value quoted. I've never tried that myself though.

    It reminds me of this link (also included in my latest newsletter): Please design a logo for me. With pie charts. For free.
    Warning: contains rude words.

  7. Jeremy, I fear that many would not continue to subscribe, however I may be completely wrong.

    I do feel confident that people would spend more time reading the newsletter and links than they might do at the moment.

    This is all conjecture though. It would be interesting to hear what people think.

  8. Thanks for that Jackie. The link is very rude, but extremely funny!

    I've heard the suggestion of the 'zero fee' invoice before in terms of speaking events.

  9. An interesting thread indeed - In my experience people are flexible. Each and every situation is unique and most people will consider each opportunity on a case by case basis.
    Where there is clear value in giving away expertise / time in terms of how that could extend your reach or in terms of the profile it will generate then you can take that call. And it is your call.
    When it comes to people expecting something for nothing I think it is all about managing expectations. I personally am extremely grateful when someone gives their time, support or expertise to assist me and I would usually expect to reciprocate that gesture. Is that not the whole point of a business relationship?


  10. I think you are right Clare, you should consider everything on a case by case basis and that reciprocation is key.

    The issue is one of whether there is a risk that, in some cases, the reciprocal element is not considered by the person asking for the 'favour' as Jackie puts it and it is replaced simply by an expectation of taking.

  11. Some of the best relationships that I have developed in my network have been founded on there not being a need for there to be any direct financial relationships between us. We have profited one another through just being prepared to do one another favours – introductions etc. Where things become tricky is the point at which you both know that a piece of work needs charging for. This is where the subject of money can become divisive if it is not handled sensitively.

    As a pricing consultant my advice is always to get the principle of charging out in the open as early as possible – even if it comes with a discount for them being a mate.

    We all have clients who seem to want little extras and assume that they will be free of charge. The way I teach our clients to handle these requests is to train the their people to automatically come out with this phrase without thinking:

    ‘I am sure we can help with that, shall I work out a cost?’

    This way the client has an opportunity to back out gently, knowing where he stands.

    When you sense that a close friend is in the process of asking for something that you think is your stock in trade and therefore really needs to be paid for, a similar phrase might help:

    ‘I tell you what, provided that we can fit it in when I am quiet, as it is you, I will do it for cost’

    To use the example in the clip, it is the equivalent of saying to your mother-in-law at the time she invites you to thanksgiving - ‘We would love to come…I tell you what, we’ll bring the wine and dessert’.



  12. Very interesting comments and very timely for me.
    The 'come and give a talk' wears a bit thin when it is accompanied by 'there's nothing in the training budget'.
    If I ran a shop would they come in and ask for something for free?
    Clare is right that every case is different, but it can be a difficult judgement when the person asking is a friend or former colleague.
    I am now being much more selective and giving much less away in terms of information at any session. Sounds grumpy? We need to value our expertise and our livlihoods.

  13. I guess I am lucky. No one expects a pricing consultant to do anything for free !

    There are some instances where I make a point of not charging a client. For instance, if I have just completed a project I make a point of saying something like:

    'If you get stuck with the implementation, feel free to give me a ring. Don't worry the meter won't be least not unless you want to keep me on the phone all morning.'

    If people ask me to speak for nothing and say it will be 'good for my profile' I will let them know that there are several organisations that will put me in front of a room for of CEOs and STILL pay me to speak.