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Turning a Favor into Income

What do you say to someone who asks for your help, but you’re not sure if they expect a favor or a contract? Whether the person is one you’d be happy to donate services to, or someone you hope will become a new paying client, I’ve collected several scripts that will help you get what you want.


  • The Best All-Time Comeback is when Mad Men’s Don Draper tells Conrad Hilton no.  (The whole scene’s great; catch the punch line at 1:10.)
  • Marie Forleo’s vlog post turns a friend’s request for help into a paid engagement.
  • I like some of my own one-liners about as much: “That’s information for which I charge,” or “Let me tell you how I work.”  Then explain your protocol and accompanying fees.
  • Or try, “Are you asking for a favor or to hire me?  My volunteer time is super limited right now, but I’d make space for a paying gig.” (This one works well when not-for-profit organizations contact you but aren’t clear about whether it’s an inquiry for pro bono work or a proposal.)

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4 Responses to Turning a Favor into Income

  1. Phil Kinen February 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    In my field I am constantly – constantly – hit up for pro bono work, especially by non-for-profit. People just assume that artists work for free – aminly because they think we need the publicity or the notoriety. I have found one thing that helps to minimze being approached with “it’s for a good cause line.” I make it extremely clear that there are only three causes that I donate my time, talent, or money: arts edcuation, AIDS prevention, and civil rights. I have been firm on that for many years and I don’t think that I’ve lost any money from it, but yes maybe some business, but not money. Rarely do I get approached for pro-bono work anymore. And crazy enough, my three causes insist on paying me for my services. My final line is that by paying me you are assured of the quality that you expect out of a Phil Kinen event or production. And then I end with “And if you are serious about using my services, then you can pick up the tab for lunch!”

    • Dodie Jacobi February 27, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Excellent Phil! Interesting that once we become clear about our commitment to earning, and have our little boundary-drawing speech ready, we rarely need it! What I explain to unsolicited not-for-profit requests is that I select a beneficiary annually – if they’d like me to consider future pro bono work, they should contact me with a request for the next year.

  2. tracydesign February 27, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Great discussion and one I think all creatives have to deal with. This past month I’ve worked on 3 pro bono jobs. I think defining one’s boundaries for not only your clients but yourself gives great clarity. More of a stumbling block for me is when it’s one of my regular ‘paying’ clients that asks for a favor. I think there’s a built-in assumption that since they’ve given you work that you should return the favor and as Phil says, they tout that it will bring me other business (which has never happened). My clients get great value from the services for which they pay and I don’t mind doing some pro-bono work (but I do have a mortgage to pay).

    Good advice to let my clients know upfront that I can only commit to ‘x’ amount of pro bono hours (or not). Therefore, they need to choose their request wisely. I can still pay it forward… and still pay my mortgage.

    • Dodie Jacobi February 28, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      Love it Jan! Being prepared with a policy script for those clients who want a bit more on the house is a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

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