Editor's note: Lately, women have been told we need to learn to say "yes" to more opportunities, so we were intrigued when veteran business owner Pam Schoffner approached us with the idea that women business owners need to learn to say no. Read her advice on how to do that well:
"You've got to make money doing business with your friends. Your enemies don't do business with you." Those words were spoken years ago to a gentleman who spent his workdays repairing cars and his nights and weekends in his backyard garage doing the same for his buddies. Words of "thanks for helping me out" generally were not accompanied by payment.
During my 35 years as a small business owner, my views have fluctuated wildly on how to handle requests for freebies or to work for friends expecting a deal because of our relationship. Pro bono work can get your name out, familiarize people with your products or skills, and build relationships that could eventually result in new business. But if you're a soft touch, set some guidelines for how best to do your community caring when your heartstrings are forever being pulled.
Consider these five responses when you're asked to provide professional services or company products free or at reduced rates:
1. "That's a worthy cause you have, but unfortunately it's not my cause."
Know your charitable priorities and remind yourself regularly what they are. I have my list of favorite places to donate time, energy and dollars each month. Set boundaries, and don't feel guilty about having them.
2. "I do one complimentary or reduced-rate project per quarter, and I'm already booked for this quarter and next."
You pick the magic numbers and the time frame that works for you - monthly, quarterly or annually. You'll be able to provide something of value without requests becoming too burdensome on your business's bottom line.
3. "I'll need to charge you the regular rate/price, but because this is for a 501(c)(3), I will donate X percent back to your organization when I am paid."
This strategy illustrates not only the value you place on your own work or products, but also your philanthropic support of someone's cause within the community. Yes, you'll pay taxes on the income, but you also can take the federal tax deduction for dollars donated.
4. "I support those who support me."
Robyn Sloan, owner of Doherty's Flowers, gets daily requests to donate flower arrangements and gift cards, frequently from people she doesn't know. Although she'll support her good customers' causes, she often asks those she doesn't know: "Where do you buy your flowers?" Their responses play into her decision to donate. "If they're buying flowers somewhere else - at other stores, online or by calling toll-free out-of-state numbers - that's who they should contact," Sloan says. "Small businesses can only give back to the community what the community gives to them."
5. "My rate is $X per hour. I'll donate an hour of time and then we'll discuss your next step."
If the client's cause is of particular interest to you, let someone pick your brain for 60 minutes. They may learn that they can't live without you.
Pam Schoffner owns P.S. Writes and produces print and electronic materials for businesses and nonprofit organizations. She's held leadership roles in the Central Iowa chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO-CI), is a trustee of the HCI Foundation, and volunteers with grieving adults at Camp Amanda the Panda and weekly with hospice patients at Kavanagh House on 56th Street. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.