Freeloading Downloaders

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I am a small business owner. I provide Virtual Assistant services to other small business owners. I love my business and find it incredibly rewarding. I like my clients and the variety of work they offer me. As a support (and thank you) to my clients and as a marketing technique, I’ve written a number of small e-books. Each one addresses an issue that people in business may encounter and offers a number of ways to deal with that issue.

I get great feedback from my clients about these booklets. It helps them think about what questions they want to ask me if I’m doing something for them, or simply offers them a way to think differently about something they’ve always done.

I’ve also gained several clients this way — often because they were talking to a client and their client said, hey, you know what, XYZ Virtual Assistants has a booklet on that very topic. You should pick it up. They do. They like it, and they will often work with me on a small project to test the working waters.

What’s the problem? Well not those people. What bugs me beyond belief is the people who, whether they’re surfing or have been directed to my site, hate the booklets. Not content to say, “wowza, XYZVA has nothing to offer me, what’s wrong with my friends that they work with her?” Instead they write to excoriate me on the fact that my booklet on something requires people to think for themselves and why yes, it’s true, often suggests that a well qualified Virtual Assistant may well be able to help. It contains contact information.

What galls me is that I’ve received more than one letter, email, phone call from a stranger, berating me, complaining that I didn’t give them enough information in the free download. When I politely (after all, part of my business includes responding to uncomfortable questions) remind them that this was a free booklet and intended to speak generally to a topic, they go nuts.

People persist. They’re rude. They’re demanding. I haven’t lost my cool yet, but I worry!

Do you have any thoughts about how to deal with people who, having gotten a very lovely piece of something for nothing, now insist on belittling the offering and demanding more?

Stupefied at the (Virtual) Office,

Dear Stupified,

BNP: Oh, we feel your pain!

P: What is it with people? You offer a gift (never mind that you have reasons for offering, of course you do), people take the gift and then spend time whining that the gift is not enough and being aghast that you would actually charge for your expertise if they wanted more information. Would that the Bartender and I had no experience of this.

And in between the acceptance of the gift and the complaint, there is never a passing glance at gratitude. Not even a tip-o-the-hat to common courtesy.

It’s really depressing. It’s well past time to bring back both common courtesy and common sense!

B: There’s an unfortunate truth to the notion that if you give a person an inch, they’ll go for a mile. I generally think it’s rooted in that person’s innate desire to have power. You just gave me something; now I am going to make you give me more, even if I have to bully and debase myself to do it. But that’s not your question. Your question skips the why (though sometimes, I can’t help playing the armchair psychologist) and goes straight to “How do I handle this?” Well

P: I think most people know when they encounter a freebie whether you’re the expert to take them farther. If they didn’t want more, they wouldn’t be trying to get it from you. Why they think they’re entitled to more without paying for it is really beyond me.

My version is people’s being stunned that I charge for doing weddings. “But you work for a church. Why should I pay you? This is my wedding.” “Do you go to my church?” “No.” “Do you contribute to any church?” if “No,” then I don’t work for you, and I need to be paid an honest exchange for the very good work I do. If, “Yes,” perhaps you should have your minister marry you! I, however, still need to be compensated for my time and my expertise. I’m old, um, mature. I have years of experience. You don’t get that for free.

I’ve actually had people spending a whole lot of money on a wedding who think I should marry them for free because “You’ve taken a vow of poverty.” No. I didn’t. Did you take a vow of ripping people off? Sigh. No, I don’t say that, but oh, it rises to mind.

B: Ha ha. A vow of poverty. I wonder if anyone has ever asked that of the Joel Osteens of the world. I often find people are surprised that I want to charge them for writing projects. If they asked me to come to their house and plumb their sewer lines, they’d expect to be charged for my time and effort and expertise. What makes this different?

P: I really think that the only way to deal with these people is to have a set fee for different kinds of work and practiced responses. You may want to have them on your website or FB page. If you have those things set out, there’s no reason to take other people’s silliness seriously. You answer their questions about the information they want as by telling them what that will cost them. It’s perfectly logical that they want more (because your freebie was fabulous) but more must be fairly compensated.

And then I think you really need to hang up the phone or end the email.

B: Yes, you’re in customer service and I understand that you don’t want to fly off the handle, but it is still your business. Be in control of it. You can choose to engage with a problematic freeloader, or, you can end your communication. For the freeloader, they’ll only be happy if you give them something for free. You’re not really risking the loss of a potential customer because this person was never going to pay you anyway. It’s not about the quality of your service. It’s about the quality of the freeloader’s character.

P: Once you go beyond their statement of their wants, your explanation about the price of fulfilling those desires, you’ve begun haggling. You do not need to be defensive. You’re unlikely to convince them — and they’re unlikely to be satisfied customers if you do. There is nothing worse for your sense of humor or your business than an unsatisfied customer. And if they didn’t like what you gave them for free, they’re unlikely to be satisfied with what you’ll give them for money.

If, as they say, neither courtesy nor sense are common, then perhaps it’s always been people’s tendency to see what they can get away with. You, however, do not need to take that personally. You offer what you offer, you charge what you charge for more, and other than that, unless people need a reference to 911, you’re probably done.

B: Practice this phrase: This conversation is now over. That’s it. This conversation is now over. And when you say that, follow it up with, “I am hanging up now/ending this email thread now/asking you to leave my office now.” And stick to it. You don’t need to make that the first thing you say, but it needs to be in your arsenal. Because the thing is, someone who’s going to try and bully you into giving away a piece of your livelihood isn’t going to care about a well-reasoned argument. There’s no “good way” to interact with that person. They’re not calling you so they can hear you; they’re calling you so they can extort you. And you need to understand that difference.

So learn how to tell someone no, practice ending the conversation, draft a stock email or letter to keep on hand to send out politely stating your company’s agenda (Thank you for your interest in XYZVA! As you have seen from our selection of complimentary downloads, we are a full-service virtual assisting company. Our professional services begin at the low fee of $$.00 per month; please see our attached pricing sheet for more information). And then? Call it a day. If someone persists in verbal or email abuse, make sure it’s documented so you can protect yourself. And continue to nurture the clients you do have and grow your clientele selectively. You’re not obligated to work with every single person who darkens your door, especially if they’ve shown their willingness to be irate and abusive.

P: Is it possible that there are not-for-profits that you might be willing to donate time to? Yes. Is a cold call with a demand for more of what you gave them likely to be the right charity for you to assist — I’d say the odds are small. I’ve created and celebrated rituals for people who have no resources, but they’ve been very special situations and very special people.

B: Remember, being in customer service doesn’t make you someone’s whipping boy, and you’re not in it to be taken advantage of. Be strong. Be firm. Be polite. Be unassailable. And be in charge. Good luck!

freedownloaders

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Thank you for reading.

Ann & Terri

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