Dear Annie: I make my living by helping people with computer issues, setting up, getting rid of malware, etc. I love helping clients and truly enjoy my profession. I do an excellent job for my customers and am completely devoted to customer satisfaction.
My problem lies with friends, neighbors, etc., who take advantage of my knowledge and expertise. It usually starts with a phone call or an email saying, “I just have a quick question.” These questions are not usually so quick, involving at least a half-hour and often many hours on the phone. When the problem is solved, they say “thanks” and hang up. Meanwhile, I have spent hours of my time that should have been billable.
I am looking for a professional but pleasant way to handle those who don’t offer to pay me. Should I say something upfront? I don’t mind helping when it actually is a quick question: under 10 minutes. I do it all the time and am happy to do so. But the rest of this is beginning to be a financial drain, and I really need your help.
-- Always Willing To Help
Dear Willing: You need to let people know the situation at the time they ask. Reply, “I’m happy to help, but it is only fair to tell you that I can give you 10 minutes for free, and after that, my time will have to be billed.” If you want to offer friends and family a special discount, say so. Some people will be upset regardless, but that cannot be helped. Those who are most likely to take advantage are the same ones who take umbrage when you don’t acquiesce.
Dear Annie: I have a valued, dear friend whom I really admire and enjoy talking with. However, he truly needs breath fresheners. Having a conversation with him is such a turnoff that I sometimes avoid him.
I know he reads your column every day. I’ve thought of hanging a bottle of Scope on his door but would hate to be caught. What should I do? This is becoming a serious problem.
-- A Friend Who Needs an Assist
Dear Friend: When issues such as bad breath or body odor occur with good friends or close family, it is a kindness to tell them. Yes, it is difficult and can be embarrassing, but consider the alternative — you are allowing others to avoid or insult someone you care about.
Take your friend aside privately. Ask whether he’s seen his dentist or physician lately. Tell him that breath odors are often the result of physical or dental problems that can be resolved and you thought he’d want to know. Then move on to another subject.
Dear Annie: “Feeling Exploited” was upset that a couple he invited for lunch ordered appetizers without first checking with the hosts to see whether it was OK. When my husband and I invite a couple to go out for dinner, we always tell them to order first. We don’t expect them to feel they can’t have appetizers if we are not. Why would you invite someone out and then expect them to feel nervous about what they are ordering? If you can’t afford to take them out for a proper dinner, invite them to your home.
-- Not Cheap
Dear Not Cheap: You are generous, although we suspect you might feel differently if you invited someone who ordered a $300 bottle of wine. It is incumbent upon guests to behave considerately. While good hosts should suggest appetizers, guests should not assume it is OK when they are not paying the bill.
Annie’s Snippet for Patriot Day (credit author James K. Feibleman): That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not.
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