Pro-bono work is great, though there are only so many hours in a week and at the end of the day you need to pay your bills and put off on the table. As your business grows, people will start asking you for pro-bono work and those can take up a lot of your time, so how do you politely decline pro-bono work and projects as to not hurt your image, maintain your professionalism and keep your sanity?

How To Politely Decline Pro Bono Work

Take a look at the image above, what do you see? I see two things. 1) I see that I need to work on my doodling skills and 2) a scale of free and warm-fuzzy feelings and putting food on the table. While it may seem harsh, we are professionals, experts and business owners are in the business of making money. That’s why we have 9-5 jobs, freelance, start businesses and invest: we all need money to survive.

This post comes from several recent experiences which made us think a lot about our priorities and what we want to be seen as in the market. My wife and I enjoy pro-bono work for good causes. We’ve helped New Mom’s Inc and Foundations Of Music with their complete re-brands and new websites, and are currently working with a great non-profit helping place cute puppies into good homes. Though, there’s a limit to what we can do.

If you’re interested in just the “how to” scroll down and skip these next two sections which are explanations and me ranting a little bit. How To Politely Decline Pro Bono Work

“Why limit the great pro-bono work you do? It’s for a good cause and everyone benefits!” That’s a great question, though:

  • Pro-bono work generally is very involved and time consuming.
  • We enjoy pro-bono work, but we also enjoy earning money.
  • We have our own bills to pay.
  • We also like to invest and save some money for the future and for our kid’s futures.
  • Free time for ourselves and our lives is a very nice thing to maintain our relationship, sanity and a social life … thus we have to strike a good balance between work and pleasure.
  • Which means we have to prioritize paid work, so that we can have free time, and pro-bono work gets to fill in some gaps here and there.

Money, monies … why it all about the money?

Simple: If you can’t support and help yourself how do you expect to help others?

Let’s put this another way: we have to work in-order to earn money so we can have safe shelter, have food to eat and to feed our children (and pets), and pay bills which allow us to have a place to live in this modern society (electricity, water, internet, phones, insurance, fuel, ect…).

So yes: it is about the money. We need it to live. Once we have enough saved up and enough recurring income then we’ll start devoting a bit more time to helping good causes. Until then though: we need to prioritize paid work.

Taken from another angle: Non-profits do not run on all charity work. They also have expenses, people to pay and therefore they also need income. Very small non-profits really don’t have much of a budget, but even small and medium sized non-profits have money or are able to get the money for a project through donations. If you think I’m kidding go take a look at where the money goes at large non-profit corporations. Yes, a non-profit is just a corporation that in-and-of itself at the end of the year cannot have made any money, but it could invest, spend and pay people very well (if possible).

My point here is that they are asking for pro-bono work to cut their costs/expenses. It could be because they really don’t have the money, or they want to use the money for other things…

So, how do you politely decline pro-bono work?

You’ve finally gotten an offer for pro-bono work. But oh noes! You’ve got this event coming, your cousin is getting married soon and that big project just got started … you’re stretched for time, so you really need to decline but you don’t want to sound like a pompous ass while doing so.

You know you have to politely decline pro-bono work but you’re suck at what to say. Let me get something off the table quickly:


We need to have some tact!

Here are a few ways and phrases you can use to politely decline pro-bono work you’re offered/asked to do:

“Thanks for the offer, though I’m currently all booked up for the next several month and I’m unable to accept any new projects right now.”

“It’s very kind that you’ve thought of my for this project, though I only have 5/10/[your own number] hours per month allocated to pro-bono projects and those are already set for another project.”

“Thanks. We get a lot of pro-bono requests, so we have an application process to select which projects we’re able to help for the quarter/years/half-year and for this quarter we’ve have our projects set. You can apply for our next round though at [this] link.”

“Mr. Smith, this sounds like a great project though I don’t believe that I’m the best fit for this project. I can point you to some other who you might want to talk to if you’d like.”

“Mrs. McCharity you’re project is really great, but it’s not the type of work or the type of project I’m interested in working on. I know of three people who are interested in helping on your type of project; I can ask them if they want to get in contact with you. Would that be alright?”

In the first few, we take the pressure off of us and onto our “set” schedule. In the last one we’re a bit more direct on our thoughts, though we’re very polite, professional about it. AND best of all, we offer an alternative to them. While we can’t help them directly, we at least can try to point them in the right direction. That maintains your professional and expert position all while re-directing that work to others whom may be able to help.

I’m curious if you fellow professionals get pro-bono requests and how you’ve handled them! Let me know in the comments.

Many people are natural born leaders, they are charismatic, great to be around and are respected by those around them, though they aren’t that good of a leader if they can’t make decent plans. These are things I’ve noticed about some great leaders versus people who attempt to be good, but fail at it and only serve to infuriate people (like me).

The Dire Need For Leaders To Make Plans

I must admit, I have a rather unique pet peeve: when people don’t plan or plan but suck at it. I like order, structure and thus I like a schedule and plan. I’m not the type of guy you can call up one Saturday morning and ask to go hiking with to ‘someplace’. Nope. I’m the guy who needs at least 2 weeks notice, then I’d need to plan where we’d hike, what I’d need to bring, what to pack, how long we’ll be, the trail and all that jazz.

Though in my personal life with friends and family, there’s of course some wiggle room. I’m not a hard ass about it. But when it comes to professional events, sponsorships and business I’m rather firm about needing to know the plan for the day.

The worst culprits of this are small event hosts (both the organizer and the event location sponsor). Not too long ago an assisted living and rehab facility was hosting a popular Business After Hours event, where they (the building management) were put in charge of making sure everyone got there safe, knew where to go and of course had enough food and booze to go around. The food and booze they did very well, but that’s all that did right. As you can imagine a facility like that can be rather big and is usually on a rather large lot.

I think having a large property is truly awesome, though when you fail to properly utilize that space to correctly guide people to your building … that’s when their ‘leadership’ starts to fail. At this particular event, the management put out no signs about where to turn, how to get there or where to go. Most people took about 25 minutes to find the event after they found the facility. This isn’t including finding the time needed to find parking!

The coordination, or there lack of, was appalling. Most people were turned off by the management’s lack of foresight and subsequently the facility actually lost some (not too much though) funding because of this event. Everyone thought the people were great, the food was delicious, the live music spectacular … but not too many people trusted them anymore in leadership.

From my own personal experience during our start-up phase, I screwed up in hiring. Not that I hired the wrong people, far from it. I hired too many people without having thought of the specific tasks they should be doing, the roles they need to fill and the goals they should be striving for. We all liked each other and when there was work for them they loved it … problem is most of them were getting frustrated with me, as their leader, because I failed to properly plan for their needs and to give them good orders.

People under you really do look at you for leadership. This means guidance, stability and compassion. They look to you for strength. Fail to do that and you’re role as leader is seriously in trouble.

TLDR; don’t be a fool, make proper plans!

How do you set yourself up for success? The first real question is what does success mean to you? Is it having a lot of money? Or is it to have enough money to put food on the table? What about having made it through the day? Made it through the biggest stage presentation in-front of millions of people? Success is different for everyone and it changes from moment to moment, but for every success there are several commonalities which let people achieve them.

How You Can Set Yourself Up For Success

Being ‘successful’ will mean different things to different people at different times, though there are a many things success in general has in every situation. Before that though, let’s tackle the basic human needs first. Basic needs such as shelter, food, safety will always be the most important things in life (speaking from a biological and subconscious point of view), and only after those three requirements are satisfied can you move onto the higher levels of success and happiness.

For example, if you cannot find food, shelter nor safety your ego will barely play a role in your list of needs. Without being safe and without food you most likely won’t care about the success or failure of the company project you’re working on (unless it’s success had a major impact on your immediate needs).

This is part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which is usually shown as a pyramid:

How You Can Set Yourself Up For Success

Image from Wikipedia’s article

Let’s take this a step further.

Set Yourself Up For Success Emotionally

If you don’t have the basic human needs taken care of, then you need to work on that first. This article is for those of you at the “Love/Belonging” and higher stages. Emotions are a tricky business that few people understand and even fewer people learn to control. That’s because emotions aren’t rational nor logical. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a handle on them and be happy.

For me there are two parts to being successful emotionally: being able to control my emotions (in other words: stay cool and calm even in heated situations) and be content and happy with life.

These aren’t possible if I don’t surround myself with positive experiences and be in an environment that supports a lifestyle that makes me happy (see my previous article about how It’s OK To Be Spoiled In Life). Being emotionally successful means being happy, the things below help me stay that way (and help me keep on improving as well):

  • Having time to work on client projects uninterrupted
  • Having time for my wife, dog, family and friends
  • Being able to take time out for just myself once in a while
  • Being surrounded by people who I can trust
  • An environment where I’m mostly left alone to do my work
  • Having people there to support me in the good times and the bad
  • Me taking steps forward to improve my life bit by bit
  • Meditation
  • Quality Tea & coffee
  • Some nice things / luxuries in life
  • A weekly work, personal and life schedule (with some wiggle room)

For you, it could be different things. I’ve worked my way up to this emotional state and know how to maintain this level. I do not recommend you jump in feet first into everything.

Find things one by one that improve your life and actually make you happy. And go from there. One step at a time.

Set Yourself Up For Financial Success

Finances are not a fun topic for many people, and that’s ok. We’ve all screwed up somewhere financially. It’s not the end of the world. I believe there are two things needed to getting to financial success:

  1. A budget (and sticking to it!)
  2. Earning an increasing amount of money (and in that same light: decreasing debts)

Number 1 (having a budget) is the single most important thing you can do to get moving towards financial success. To earn more monies I highly recommend you start freelancing, doing side jobs, open a business, do what you can (that is ethical) to get a raise at your job and if you’re already in business: doing what you can to improve lead generation and sales without compromising on quality and customer service.

Set Yourself Up For Business Success

Whether you’re a seasoned business professional or a budding entrepreneur you’ll need to surround yourself with people who will support you emotionally, help you in business and provide good advice. The saying goes “take the average salary of the 5 people you hang out with the most and most likely your income.” It’s not 100% true, though the logic is there.

If you surround yourself with non-starters, downers and people who ‘never seem to catch a break in business’ you’re most likely going to end up like them. On the other hand, if you’re surrounded by motivated, positive experts who love doing what they’re doing and are successful at it it’s very likely that you’ll get there too (if you aren’t there already). Do you think Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla), Bill Gates and Tony Robbins surround themselves with great people, or losers?

In business:

  1. Surround yourself with great minds.
  2. Take calculated risks to expand business.
  3. Know what you want …
  4. Make a well thought out plan to get what you want.
  5. Take action! Do the work that’s needed that will bring in business!
  6. Don’t know something? Either learn to do it well enough to get going, or partner up with someone who does.
  7. Preferably: check to make sure the product/service you’re offering is actually something people will pay for before you get going on work!
  8. Don’t assume, write everything down and think through the steps for everything where possible.

What all 3 have in common:

Common sense, planning and a supportive environment. What set yourself up for success by placing success if your path and within your reach. Just like training a dog: you don’t leave your shoes out if you want to train him to not eat your shoes. Don’t put bad things in your path.

It’s ok to be spoiled, though I’m not talking about being a spoiled brat. Those are two different things. There is nothing wrong with liking a life of luxury, good living and good business, and everything wrong with living a low quality life if you can afford to improve it.

Its OK To Be Spoiled In Life & In Business

One of my favorite saying is:

Everything in moderation.

The same goes of living a life of luxury. There are two things to keep in mind about basic finance:

  1. Have (and use) a budget.
  2. Live below your means.

If you have the basic human needs, such as safe shelter and food, secured why not be comfortable? There are many people I know who live a life of near poverty in-order to save every single penny. To some degree they are correct: you need to save money for the future and invest! Though there comes a point there the quality of lifestyle (or there lack of quality) just doesn’t make sense.

I admit it: I’m spoiled. I like nice things. I like being comfortable. I like being surrounded by nice things that are done my way.

Does this mean I spent a gazzilion dollars on things? No. Though it does mean I am willing to spend money to have a great life. I don’t remember who said this quote but it’s lived with me for a long time:

Poor minded people spend money on things, rich minded people invest in experiences.

I like having a good life experience, so here’s a quick list of some of the things I’m willing to invest in to have a better life:

  • quality internet
  • healthy, comfy chair
  • a puppy (soon not to be a puppy anymore though)
  • quality coffee and tea
  • museum membership
  • air conditioning + air filter
  • a comfy car
  • high end speakers

You might be thinking: “dude, those are all ‘things.’ To a degree you’re right, though I don’t see it that way:

  • Good internet let’s me get my work done faster and experience the world more fully and without restrictions.
  • A good chair let’s me keep my back healthy and my butt pain free. Being able to live with a healthy back gives you so much freedom in life!
  • Puppies are just so darn fun. He’s a trouble maker, though so far he’s given me so many things to be happy about. Mood +1.
  • Healthy in, healthy out: put good things into your body to expect to have your body do well. You’ve never really drank tea until you brew it yourself to perfection and go through the ‘tea’ experience. Warm tea calms me, helps me think and it’s my working companion in life.
  • Museum memberships around Chicago run about $120 a piece. For that $120 I get to go to the museum as much as I want, see their private events and learn so many great things all without having to worry about if I’ll get in each time. It’s a worth while life experience!
  • Having traveled the world I’ll tell you one thing about American’s: we take quality air for granted. I also don’t take well to hot tempuratures. I work best in colder climates, and thus having AC is essential for me to be productive, get work done and not go crazy. The air filter helps keep the air dirt free, not really essential though there is a noticeable difference with and without it! Much better with it!
  • I drive … a lot. Probably too much. Some days I spend about 6 hours in the car. I need to be safe, that’s a given, but why torture myself on a clunker car when I can be in a car that’s very comfortable to ride in, fun to drive and has all the toys I could ever want? If you commute a lot you know the pain of driving for hours on end. In my current car, all I do is turn on the latest interesting podcast, set the adaptive cruise control and kinda zonk out. The car handles most of the driving and all I have to do is steer left or right … that’s it. Makes stop and go traffic driving much more bearable!
  • I’m an audiofile. I can’t stand low quality audio to the point that poor quality music, for example, will actually make me less productive. During my creative sessions, the high quality audio helps me have new ideas, tune out the world and just experience the ‘feelings’ of the music, which in turn puts my creative mind into overdrive!

I didn’t do this all at once though. It’s taken me a while to get here. I can now afford such nice things all within my budget, all within my means and even better: all while still putting money into savings, investments, and random fun money things! There are things that I’d still like such as a sports car, but that’s out of my means at the moment. So we’ll get there when the time is right.

In the mean time, I’ll be living rather comfortably by getting luxury things bit by bit and adjusting to the new world as it comes.

The big thing to remember is that being spoiled in the correct way means staying within your budget. You’ll be surprised how many ‘nice’ things you can have if you look around a bit.

You don’t need a new sofa from that boutique store, why not see the local Good Will or thrift store? How about checking Craigslist? My personal favorite is moving sales! At one moving sale I got a full 3 piece sofa set (1 long couch, 2 arm chairs) make from high end wood, custom made … for $20. A town about 15 minutes from here has an annual ‘toss anything’ day. It’s also a rather posh area. At one of those I found a 9 very high end speaker set WITH a digital receiver, real Japanese lanterns and even some brand new filing cabinets.

It doesn’t take much to live a life of luxury. You just have to start building up for it. It takes time, but it’s well worth it. My life is much happier now that I’ve given myself these cushy life experiences.

Want to go on a sale boat? Find a yacht club and see if there are people there willing to give tours, or if you can help on the boat if they let go for some fun cruises with them. Want to have fun in nice cars? Either get to know people with nice cars, or join a car club and help out there.

Another fun one, and another personal favorite: camping and hiking. Taking a weekend trip up to Wisconsin or Michigan only costs me a bit in fuel and some basic food (and water) supplies. It’s not expensive to go hiking. But if I’m feeling especially cheap: my wife and I go into the city (Chicago) and pretend we’re tourists. We go see some great architecture, go to (other) museums on their free entry days (or find coupons/discounts … for example, with a Bank Of America credit or debit card you can free entry into the Chicago Art Museum), see free show (it’s almost fall which means it’s fall classical concert time in Millenium Park).

All of this makes for some very great living, all while being spoiled on having fun. No body said you have to be rich financially to be a wealthy person!

Ditching hourly billing rates will allow you to move away from being a commodity and an expense and into a value-based, results oriented, sought after expert. It’s easy to find someone cheaper on hourly rates, but it’s hard to justify getting someone cheaper who is getting you your monies worth and then some!

Why You Should (Mostly) Ditch Hourly Rate Billing

Pretty much everyone starts out using hourly billing rates. Why? Because that’s what everyone else does and it’s the easiest billing strategy to use. Time for money. Whether you’re freelancing, working a job or even have your own consulting firm: hourly billing is still in the rat race since you’re still trading dollars for hours.

As you can see, I’m biased against hourly billing rates. It’s not that I think it’s bad, it certainly has it’s purpose, though to move business forward there are better and more efficient ways to charge clients.

First, let’s look at why and where hourly billing is good:

  • It’s a quick and easy way to bill some itty bitty low value things.
  • It’s a good way to start when you have little experience.
  • It’s the standard way in most industries.
  • Good for short term relationships.
  • Easy to understand and comprehend.

  • Very small projects where it’s near impossible to attach a value ($).

  • Small add-on work to a larger project.
  • You’re just starting out in the industry and need some projects, these beginner project work well with hourly rates.
  • When you really want a project but you cannot pin down a value based goal.
  • Projects / industries where clients only accept hourly rates and nothing else.

But there’s the rub, for me at least. I’m not interested in small, low value, and quick projects. I’m interested in the larger, value packed (ROI inducing) and longer-term projects where we really can make a difference and do some good.

Why you should ditch hourly rate billing

While hourly rates have their purpose, when you’re trying to really grow your business and not be a commodity there are four better options: project based billing, flat fee, value based and retainer contracts.

Hourly rates put you in a commodity position as well as make it difficult to make any significant changes to your pricing. A freelancer friend had a good contract with a large firm for some web work, though he was serious under charging. Once he had enough experience and connections he tried to raise his hourly rates by about 15%. That large firm cut his contract quickly since it was their policy to never allow freelancers/contractors to increase their rates by 1-2% per year.

When you bill hourly, it’s very easy for the client to a) be looking at the clock wanting you to finish faster so they pay you less and b) be looking at their wallet and P&L statement wondering how to decrease costs. This means they’ll be on the look out for someone to do your job for cheaper.

You might have also noticed, that I did not include on-going projects in that list. You might think that if you’re doing something like web administrator work that isn’t consistent it’s best to do an hourly rate.

If you work 10 hours you get paid for 10 hours. But what if your client has no work for you? You’re SOL with no income. Remember, we’re a business here. And as a business we need steady cash flow. Instead of hourly rates why not offer a monthly retainer contract where you do up to X amount of work and services (while not being 100% strict on the timing)? That way you’re guaranteed money and the client still gets the work they’d need.

Hourly billing is a conflict of interest!

Your responsibility to the client is to get the job done as quickly and properly as possible. Your responsibility to you and your business is to make as much money as possible. Those two needs are in conflict. The longer you work, the more money you get! YEY! But the longer and longer you work the more money the client has to spend the less likely they are to keep you around if you keep taking so much time.

That’s where flat rates and value based pricing is for. You set a price you’re comfortable with and that your client sees is worth their money, and you get to work. Then it’s your responsibility, as it should be, to complete the work within the agreed upon terms.

But what if something changes? you ask … then you can amend the contract or setup a bigger contract. If something changes where the project needs to go on for much longer and it’s something you sort of can predict: you can setup the contract in a retainer form. You’ll work with them for 3 months for X amount total. If after 3 months they wish to continue you’ll both revisit the project, the needs, scope and the value given and renew the contract if appropriate.

If you’re still using hourly rates, I highly recommend you revisit your business model and see how you can change it to include flat rates, retainers or value based fees. It’ll give you more money, have your clients liking the results more and be less stressful.


There is an old saying that I never really understood until I was old enough to understand it’s real meaning. They saying goes like this:

It’s better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.

In other words: better to have started and tried, than to have never tried at all.

ninja edit: I don’t know the origin of this image. I tried to find it, but it’s been posted so many times everywhere that I couldn’t find the source. I did though see it initially up on reddit.

No more Facebook likes for freebies starting November 5th! Likes for freebies was a great promotional strategy that gave customers nice free stuff and got companies like on their pages. Facebook is changing that now as they feel that those kinds of strategies aren’t good for their marketing tactics anymore.

No More Facebook Likes For Freebies: Repercussions & Ideas

Facebook likes for freebies was a simple idea: you give us a like on your FB page and we’ll give you something cool in return. Simple right? Some people abused that idea, though in general it was a great thing for everyone involved … except for Facebook.

Companies (Page owners) got new followers, more likes and some great PR. Users on the other hand got something cool in return for very little effort on their part. For example, I entered a contest by Black Lapel where all I had to do was like the FB page. For that, I won their grand prize of a free fully custom suit. It was great for all of us.

Facebook disagrees. Now that Facebook has shareholders to report to it needs to do everything, in it’s eyes, to improve the quality of it’s data. “What is Facebook’s data” you ask? Simple: You are Facebook’s data. The more accurate data Facebook has about you, your interest, your friends, your friend’s friends and so on, the more marketable it’s advertising platform is and the more valuable it’s data is to the market. This their new marketing tactic: “no more facebook likes for freebies”.

But the freemium model skews those numbers as many of will just like a FB page just for that content and then either ignore it going forward or remove that like later on.

Starting on November 5th, 2014 you’ll no longer be able to run ‘like for freebies’ like promotions, contents nor marketing strategies.

What this means for marketing strategies:

Removing the like for freebies sucks, though it just means we marketers have to shift our marketing model a bit. Instead of asking for likes, we’ll have to ask for:

  • an e-mail address
  • a tweet follow (or retweet)
  • user content submission
  • re-sharing / re-publishing content from the page to their own timeline
  • participate in more involved contests (possibly based on content submission)

Is “no more facebook likes for freebies” a good thing or bad?

Depends. For Facebook’s profit area (it’s ability to sell quality data) it’s good. For businesses and page owners, it depends on how you run your business. It’s certainly not good that they are taking away a great way to get more market awareness so easily, though at the same time it’ll force us to get a bit more creative and offer up more quality content, promotions, contests and stuff to get people to interact more.

Overall, I think it’s a ‘so-so’ move. It’ll annoy some marketers of course, though by using a bit of your creative marketing mind you’ll be able to get some great campaigns out.

When you are creating a brand, you’ll want to lock down all the user accounts for it on as many websites as possible. There are two resources to help you do that.

How To Check Username/Brand Availability Across Hundreds Of Websites

When you have a growing brand you’ll want to protect it. One way to do that is to register your brand name on every possible (popular) website. Though checking to see what’s available and what’s not can be a rather tedious process. Below are two websites you can use to help speed this up:


Both sites work the same way:

  1. Enter your brand name (or username) that you want to search for.
  2. Click the search button.
  3. Get the list of sites that your username is already taken on and where it’s available.

Wherever it’s still available: register it … or outsource that. How To Check Username/Brand Availability Across Hundreds Of Websites We’ll be doing that soon!

Do you have any tools that can help automate this process or tools to help you find places to register your brand? Let us know in the comments.