Saturday, 3 March 2018

Mercy to the Wolf Is Cruelty to the Lamb

Woah, what an attention-grabbing title. So what do I mean by 'mercy', and who is the wolf and who is the lamb?

I'll give you a straight answer, right away: mercy is cheaper (a.k.a. 'better') rates or other special concessions, the lambs are people who really need help, and the wolves are people who don't.

Now on to the titular claim. Your resources are limited. If you spend them, you won't have them. So it would be wise to keep tabs on who you spend them on.

Thus we've just covered the basic thought of this post, but if your time resources are not too limited today, how about you stay with me a while longer and we'll give it more thought? A lengthy post is coming, let me warn you.


No matter what you do, you can't work more than a dozen-odd hours a day, every day, or you'll die. This is a fact of life. Your time is limited, unless you can clone yourself. You can't afford to stop working for money and go wholly pro bono, unless you've got heaps of savings or a hefty passive income. Or a generous rich spouse. Chances are 99 to one that you have none of it.

… Hence, just like almost everybody else, you have to work for a living, and work hard indeed, restricting your ability to help others free of charge. Simply put, your pro-bono resources are limited. Make sure they go to whose who really need them, not just those who want them.

And here's the obvious truth: the needy people need them; the cool people, or the loud people, or the pushy people, in most cases don't. So it's them or them that you can help; the needy or the stingy (or pushy). You choose.

Yes, there are situations in which it's appropriate to waive your fees for someone who makes more than you do. I've done that too. But those are typically noble causes — such as assisting the victim of a vicious attack or insidious smear campaign — not the causes of rich cheapskates who just can't or won't man up and pay normal rates just like everybody else, so they start inventing excuses and buttering you up or threatening you, whatever works, stick-and-carrot style, just to avoid parting with money they don't absolutely have to part with but by all rights should part with, just like everybody else who gets a service or product.

I'll give you a real-life illustration. Some people — and perhaps it has happened even to you, so don't get offended, just ponder — will haggle with the poor people selling eggs or flowers or whatever on the pavements of big cities but then proceed to leave a lavish tip in the luxurious restaurant or at least trendy bar they go to. Or they'll decide they have no money to spare on that kid who needs a transplant or the old lady who can't pay for her medicines, but they still, somehow, have enough to buy everybody a round at the local pub, full of able-bodied people with jobs and incomes.

It's the same in translation, law practice, design work or whatever else it is you do. If you feel the need to work pro bono — and of course you should — or, shall we say, semi pro bono, as in 50% off on compassionate grounds, then pick your recipients wisely

I suppose it's probably better to be generous with at least someone than no one, so showing some compassion to your B2B clients is not a bad thing. In fact it's a good thing. But are they really the best target? And among them, not the ones with noble causes and friendly policies and strong sense of social responsibility but simply the ones who'll harangue or cajole you about rebates they don't need?

If you keep pleasing them or caving in to them, you won't have the resources to help those who really need it.

Here, allow me to reiterate and emphasize that I don't mean denying your help when they need it. By which I mean objectively need it and need it more than your other paying clients or prospective pro-bono clients. And allow me to reiterate and emphasize that the decision is yours to make.

… What I want to say is that it should be a decision, not an excuse for just giving in when they ask.

And for the record, granting them the discount on condition that they will donate the difference to a charity is always an option. It's better than just giving them the discount anyway.

Oh, and don't think they'll appreciate you for the caring and giving and helpful soul that you are when you cave in to their sweet words, nope. It doesn't work like that in real life. They're trained to do that, and the objective is to save money for their company by reducing the spend, not to establish good interpersonal relations based on reciprocity (although you'll inevitably meet some exceptions). And for the umpteenth time, if they're much richer than you, then they don't need you to charge in on a white horse and save them from their financial predicaments, nope.

… But enough's been written today, so — lest I start writing in circles — let's just stop here. Hope I've managed to give you some useful perspective, and naturally better still if we were in agreement right from the start.

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