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The Etiquette of Free Advice

Free advice, samples or demonstrations are part of growing a small business but at some point enough is enough. As an etiquette resource if someone kept calling you asking questions about seating arrangements or business customs for various countries, at some point you would have to tell this person, "If you'd like to hire to me to provide a seminar on this topic, I'd love to work with you." And then something to the effect of you can't just keep giving free advice because this is how you make your living. What's the best way to handle these types of inquiries? What if they offer to barter for your services, but that situation really doesn't work well for you? Is it appropriate to set a limit after their first or second call? How can one defuse a situation when the requester gets angry or insulted? When a price is quoted for services, how can one discourage haggling?

M. M., Portland, OR

There's a Yin and a Yang to free advice. At the Emily Post Institute, we balance free with paid advice: free in the form of the Etipedia and the Etiquette Daily blog. The etipedia is what it sounds like: an online encyclopedia of etiquette information. The blog is our online community where people can post a question and the community, led by several moderators, provides the advice. We use these "public," "free" options to help direct the questions that would otherwise overburden us on a daily basis. Web sites and blogs provide an excellent avenue to balance giving a service for free with getting paid for it. Paid advice comes in the form of our books and seminars. Interestingly, we believe providing the free avenues of advice doesn't discourage people from buying a book or attending a seminar.

When you encounter the person who seeks more than a quick answer or has numerous questions, your words are an excellent solution: "It sounds as if you have a lot of questions on this topic. If you'd like to hire to me to provide a seminar on this topic, I'd love to work with you." The best way to handle these inquiries is positively and confidently. You absolutely can and should be willing to set a limit and to end the conversation when you feel you are providing too much information for free.

Bartering is a personal decision. If you are uncomfortable with it, then say so, again politely and confidently.

Haggling occurs only if you let it. "John, thanks for the offer, but I don't provide discounts. My price is ?"

In all these situations the key is: It's not if you do it, it's how you do it. Politely and confidently will yield the best results. Even if the other person becomes angry, don?t respond in kind. If necessary, end the conversation. "I'm sorry John, I appreciate your interest, but I really need to go now. Good bye."

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