I was once on a committee that was discussing goals. We were bouncing ideas around, as many groups do.

There was talk about having to hire someone to do project management to coordinate the lots of moving parts. Totally understandable.

There was talk of hiring a logo designer to help create a better brand. Absolutely.

‘And we can probably get someone to maintain the website for free.’ said someone.

Out loud.

With me sitting in the room.

Now, maybe this was a way to get me to volunteer…But implying that what I do is easy enough that we could get someone to do it for free, well, that’s not the way to do it.

Here are three snarky, sarcastic things I didn’t say back:

“Yes, because so many people keep their websites up-to-date, there must be tons of people doing this for free already.”

“Yes I love the free t-shirt I got that software conference so much more than the $20 one I just bought.”

“See it’s the fact there are so many people that can do this well that explains why I am practically out of a job.”

Please enjoy my restraint.

Now here’s three reasons why you should assume something is ‘easy’ and therefor someone would do it for free (Yes, even for a good cause) with maintaining a website as an example.

1) You are willing to pay for similar skills… even when it would require getting the ‘free’ person to do stuff. Project manager wants something updated on the website? Graphic designer wanted a certain kind of website header? Guess who they have to talk to. Asking one person to do it free versus paying who they are working with is like asking your new girlfriend to get your stuff from your ex. Plus it’s awkward for all concerned and won’t lead to good feelings…or results.

2) You call someone not free when something terrible happens… so why wait? I have (way more than one time) cancelled my weekend or evening plans to spend hours trying to fix the hot mess of a hacked website. So why wait for something bad to happen to hire a pro?

3) Often the folks that you are asking for free help need something to pay their bills besides ‘exposure’ or ‘good word of mouth’. You wouldn’t show up to your job if that was your ‘payment’, how do you expect this person to be equally (or even a little) reliable with little to no incentive?

Via http://doonesbury.slate.com/strip/archive/2012/04/09

Via http://doonesbury.slate.com/strip/archive/2012/04/09

My point: If you are asking someone to do something for free, ask yourself why. If you have the money to pay other people for services; are going to be annoyed if it isn’t done (or isn’t done well); and are going to be annoyed at people you pay to bail you out as needed, reconsider. Otherwise, happy bargain hunting.

P.S. This blog post has been in draft mode for two years… and every time I think of releasing it something similar happens. So if you are reading this now and think this is aimed at you in particular, I assure you it is not. This is a general idea to consider the next time someone to do some work for free that you’d normally pay someone to do.

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