Learning When to Refuse Your Community

Aside from your clients, your community is the second most important thing to have as a freelancer. The community includes your Twitter followers, blog commenters, Facebook fans, or any other website where you interact with fellow freelancers who often do something similar to what you do. This can also include your physical community like the business events or conferences you may attend.

To be seen as an expert in the community, it’s important to take the time to help others out. This can be done by helping them with issues, supporting one of their causes or just giving them some advice. People will remember that it was you who helped and will be more likely to return the favor and even to refer clients to you.

But what happens when the community asks for too much? When one person in the community is too demanding or rude? When your schedule is genuinely filled up? Sometimes you’ll find it necessary to decline the requests for help, and it isn’t always pretty.

When Someone Is Just Rude

Sometimes I get requests for help on Twitter. I enjoy helping people on Twitter and often the questions require a quick answer. Unfortunately, though, I tend to stay pretty busy during the work day, and if I’m out of the office, I normally can’t help with anything code related.

Not too long ago, I got a request from someone on Twitter that I’ve never heard of or spoken to. He asked me a question related to code. I happened to be out of the office that day and running a million errands. When I hadn’t answered after around 20 minutes after he asked the original question, he replied back:

Something about this reply really irked me, and I found it kind of rude to be accused of ignoring someone just because I hadn’t had the time in 20 minutes to answer their question. I replied kindly, that unfortunately, I was too busy to look at his question right at the moment. Instead of replying that he understood that I was busy with other work and he would be patient, he replied:

This really offended me because he obviously didn’t value my time and expected me to drop everything I was doing to help him with his problem. After that, I told him he was being rude and decided to quit talking to him at all when he responded with:

Just wow…

This is one of those times where you need to decide whether or not to help the person out. You don’t need to demean yourself to work with someone who has no respect for you or your time. No one in the community is more important than your #1 asset, your clients.

When Someone Is Too Demanding

I get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out in the freelance or web development world. I love the fact that these people trusted me enough to choose me for guidance, therefore I try to answer each and every question as soon as possible. But again, my clients take precedence over my community and sometimes it’s impossible for me to answer quickly, or even at all.

If the email is short and sweet, then I’ll always make time to answer it, as long as they aren’t asking for an entire book. However, if the person writes me a huge email, or asks for an insane amount of advice, or even asks me to fix their code or recode something for them (for free), I often won’t answer. Again, this small percentage of users in the community doesn’t respect your time. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, but you should never ask someone to do your job for you.

I used to keep all of my IM windows open, so that clients could contact me anytime they needed me. I quickly found out, however, that I was wasting so much time on my instant messengers, not because of clients, but because of people asking for help or advice. I would get a ton of IMs every day, and instead of the person asking if I had a minute or some time available, they would immediately launch into what they wanted, and would get annoyed or angry if I didn’t answer. I quickly took the IM details off my site.

Dealing with the Bad Parts

I didn’t want to write this post solely to complain about people asking me for help. I love it when people in the community come to me for advice and help. But there’s a right way and a very, very rude way to do it.

You’ll no doubt come across this problem yourself as you put yourself out there in social media. It’s important to understand how to handle the refusal without it coming back on you and making you look bad. I admit I haven’t always been the most gracious in declining a user, especially if they’ve been a bit rude to me themselves, but I have learned over time how to do it with the least amount of damage as possible.

Show the user that you appreciate them choosing you to ask for advice by starting out your reply with a thank you, or even an “I’m sorry, but.” This lets the user know you’ve heard their issue. If you plan on answering the question eventually, let them know when you think you might be able to get back to them. If not, let them know why you can’t help them, or send them to a place or person who can.

It’s important to save face in these situations, as you don’t want your spotless freelance reputation tarnished by trolls or angry users.

Your Turn

Have you ever dealt with someone in your community who was too demanding or even rude? How did you handle it?

Image by fotogail