When Time Isn’t Free

Q. I understand networking, but when is asking for a favor demanding too much? It’s that time of year when I have so many friends and friends of friends that I can’t stand it. I am a CPA and have tons of experience doing taxes, but there are plenty of other ways I’d rather be spending my spare time. I’ll do my taxes, my mother’s taxes and maybe my brother’s, but that’s it. How can I tell my friends I am not going to do their taxes, or help their friends do their taxes? Certainly not for free or for the obligatory six pack or bottle of wine I have been given over the years?


A. Networking is not the art of taking advantage of the professional skills of friends, colleagues or relatives. The good news is people see you as talented and competent; they choose to put their stamp of approval on your talents as they refer friends to you.

Be flattered and appreciate that your contacts have chosen to go public with their vote of confidence. If you were in your own business, you would value these referrals as the key to your success. Real estate professionals, gardeners, hair dressers, career consultants, doctors and many other types of professionals have grown their practices based on referrals. That is effective networking.

At the same time, they are often asked for their expertise and their time outside of a professional relationship. The degree of the ”ask” is often based on the depth or closeness of the relationship. Close relatives ask for freebies without saying so: “Will you help me with my taxes? Will you help me with my hair? Can you help write my resume,” all imply a joint activity when in fact what they’re really asking is, “Will you do it for me, and not charge me anything?”
It’s up to you to draw the line on where helping ends and working starts. Will you support immediate relatives? In-laws? Only relatives you like?
If you are willing to say yes to the request, your response to them might be, “Thank you so much for having confidence in my ability to do your taxes (or plan and plant your garden). As you know, I have a full time job and am willing to do this in my spare time. Because my mother (friend, etc.) referred you, I can give you the friends and family rate, which is $X.”
If you do not want to say yes, yes you can say no, your comment might be, ”I appreciate you asking me about the work I have done to help people with their taxes (or their hair), but I don’t have the time to do that anymore. I’d suggest you contact ABC person or company. They do great work and their rates are reasonable.”
If you are in your own business, I hope you have developed the skills to educate people on how you get paid. Your closest contacts should know what you will do and the referrals and introductions you want. They also need to know they can’t put you in a position to give away your time even for a six pack or bottle of wine.
For those of you asking for favors from professionals, you must develop the understanding of how people are paid. If you are asking for a “freebie,” do you understand who is actually paying the cost? If it isn’t you, it is someone else.
-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners
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