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Quid Pro Quo — The Art of Pitching In for Future Profit.

Posted by Marjorie Signer on May 19, 2009

I had an interesting experience the other day. It was something that I’d been looking forward to for almost a week and I was really excited to get started. And then my bubble burst. The air rushed out of my puffed up chest and I walked out of the meeting feeling disappointed and unappreciated.

You see, a friend had told me that he knew an organization who could really use some help getting the word out about a fantastic event. The organization was running on a small staff, a tight timeline and the idea they were implementing was huge! I knew I was in a great position to help and was more than happy to do so — for free.

In my mind, it made perfect sense, if I could lend my talents to a high profile organization and help make their event even more of a success, it would be a WIN-WIN. I was willing to use my resources and experience to take some of the workload off them, giving them the opportunity to off-load a portion of the grunt work they didn’t have expertise in and freeing them up to work on the parts where they were much more comfortable and likely to be considerably more effective.

Yet, as we sat there talking and I extended an offer to partner with them to design a strategy they liked and help them implement it to success, what they heard was “she can give us lots of good ideas, tell us how to make them happen, give us the contact information for all the people she knows who we can to work with to make the ideas a success and she’ll stand back and let us run with it.”

Now does what they thought they heard sound like a partnership to you?  Where is the WIN-WIN in that scenario?

When my friend mentioned to me that the organization (with whom he already works) was in need of some help from someone with my experience, I thought “This will be fantastic! I’ve never had an opportunity to work with this group, but I’d sure like to, and what better way then to partner with them now, let them experience the talent and enthusiasm I bring to the table and then maybe, in the future when they need someone with my skill set for a project that can afford paid experts, I’ll be on the top of their mind.”  Of course, any word that got around about my contribution to this project certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

But unfortunately, they weren’t looking for a Win-Win, they were looking for free consulting with no interest in how they might return the favor. 

In business, it’s important to help one another as much as possible because no one is successful on his or her own. We are successful because a lot of people allow us to be. But help is always a two way street. How do you set up boundaries that allow you to share your talents but not be taken advantage of?

Cincinnati consulting expert Judi Cogen of J Grace Consulting

Cincinnati consulting expert Judi Cogen of J Grace Consulting

I asked Judi Cogen of J Grace Consulting (http://jgraceconsulting.net/) for her advice about how consultants who want to offer their time and talent to an organization that they believe in can structure the relationship so that it’s a Win-Win for both parties and here’s the excellent advice she gave:

1. Before you offer your time and talent, decide if you’re offering to be a volunteer or if you’re offering your work as a consultant pro bono. The attitude, expectations and responsibilities you take on will differ depending on how you and the organization view your role.

2. Be clear in your own mind about what you expect out of the relationship and what you can deliver to the organization. Then present both in a way that makes sense and is of interest to the organization you want to help. Treat the discussion exactly as you would if you were talking to a paying client and be sure that you’re a fit for the organization and that they are a good fit for you.

3. Make sure that you are realistic about what you can deliver and that you are entering into a winable situation. If you’re offering your services as a consultant pro bono in return for being able to showcase your success, you have to be 110% positive that you will be successful. Imagine what would happen to your reputation if word got around that you worked on a project that bombed, even if it wasn’t your fault!

4. Make sure that the organization is willing to give you the support you need to do your best work. If you don’t have the people, time or resources to create a success, the end result won’t be good for you or the organization.

Helping an organization that you believe in can be amazingly rewarding on a personal level, but it can also boost your profile as a leader in your field. The key is to find the organization that is a truly a match for your personality and your skill set and has the most interest in helping you help them increase their impact.

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One Response to “Quid Pro Quo — The Art of Pitching In for Future Profit.”

  1. I can understand why you would be disappointed. Completely understandable. With what you know now, would this be something to back in and reword what you were offering? Perhaps they even had time to think about what you could bring to the table and how it would benefit them to also help you in your ventures.

    Good luck with all you do!

    Fellow CWB

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