Recently I made the following tweet:
My gripe seemed to resonate with some of my followers, who retweeted and responded, sharing similar sentiments and lamenting about people who hit them up for favors. I’m getting a bit tired of the “Scumbag Steve” people who only get in touch with me when they need something. Last time I checked, something that does that isn’t considered a friend, it’s defined as a parasite.
I’m sure you’re all too familiar with the drill: you receive an email out of the blue from a family member, acquaintance, old high school buddy, or a distant colleague whom you’ve met once at a conference four years ago. The ballsier emails cut to the chase — no half-ass pleasantries here, they need your expertise and they can’t be bothered with a polite “Hello, how’ve you been?” The subject line is a curt “Can you help me out with something” or “Take a look at this real quick for me,” falsely insinuating that the thing they want help with is something so quick and simple that you’ll barely need to spend five minutes on it, so why wouldn’t you throw your buddy a bone?
You scan the email. All your “friend” wants is an in-depth site audit, a free copy of your book, your consulting services on the house, step-by-step guidelines for how to build a robust website that will be wildly successful, or free access to tools or code that you spent weeks or months perfecting. That’s it. Surely you can spare that for an old pal, right?
Usually I relent, feeling obligated because the person in need is a family member or an old friend. So I spend a half hour or more doing research on his or her behalf, offering up my advice in a nicely formatted email or, even better, a well organized word document. I fire off my reply and wait for a courtesy “Thanks so much! This is really helpful and I greatly appreciate it. We should get together sometime and catch up so I don’t seem like I only contact you when I need something from you!” response.
The bad parasites counter back with a simple and curt “Thanks,” while the worst offenders don’t even respond at all, because they’ve gotten what they wanted from you and can’t be bothered to act like a decent human being and show an iota of gratitude. Scumbag Steve returns to his cave to hibernate for another several months before rearing his sleepy, ungrateful head to hit you up once again for free advice.
I’ve given site audits to people who never responded, not even with a half-ass “thank you.” I’ve provided folks with references to my friends when asked if I know any good developers, designers, consultants, etc. for a specific project, tell my friends to expect to be contacted for potential work, and apologize to my friends when they’re never contacted. I’ve given advice to someone who asked me if there are any sites out there “like YouTube” and “Could I build a site that’s like YouTube but maybe 1/5th the traffic” and “Wait, how could hosting a YouTube-like video site cost that much money, that makes no sense,” and had this same person argue that “anyone who knows anything about Photoshop knows that Obama’s birth certificate is fake.” Bitch, you’re dumb enough to think a YouTube clone would be cheap to host but expect me to believe you’re some grand Photoshop wizard? I don’t think so.
Guess what? I’m tired of being used and abused, and I’m sure you are too. There’s a difference between asking someone for help and expecting it. Just because we are friends, colleagues, or family doesn’t mean I am obligated to help you. Yes, I know that I do “Internet stuff.” I know we sat next to each other in 9th grade Geometry. I know that I’m your sister and you drove me to the movies before I had my driver’s license. But I’m also a human being. I’m not some vending machine that shits out advice every time you feed me a quarter (and I don’t even get a quarter!). My purpose in life is not to sit in front of my computer waiting for you to email me for help so I can spring onto my keyboard and eagerly comply, like a doting dog waiting at the front door for its master to come home and pat me on the head.
You want my help? Here’s how you get it:
- You interact with me outside of your requests. None of this Halley’s Comet “one email every year” bullshit — you want my help, you’re gonna have to put in the time. Some sort of interaction, whether it’s the occasional “How’re ya doing” email, a tweet thrown my way, hell, even a “like” on my Facebook status will show me that you’re someone who’s at least feigning a relationship, however superficial it may be. You don’t actually need to know magic, you just need to fool your audience.
- You scratch my back. Be available for help in return. If this relationship is a one-way street, pretty soon the more useful party will go “Wait a minute, I think I’m getting a raw deal here” and realize that you’re not pulling your weight. Offer up something you’re good at. If Internet marketing or coding ain’t your thing, throw a gift card, a baked good, or a hot meal your friend’s way. If your buddy feels appreciated, he’s more likely to help you again in the future.
- You’re a decent human being. The simplest rule of all that everyone seems to forget. What happened to “please” and “thank you”? A simple follow up is common courtesy. “Hey, thanks for the referrals. They didn’t end up fitting with what I was looking for, but I really appreciate you sending those contacts my way!” “Thanks for the advice! Take a look at some of the changes I implemented after going through your notes — they really improved the look and feel, so thanks again.” And so on. Would it kill you to show some gratitude? I’m tired of a society that’s become too selfish, too egotistical, too greedy. You’re not entitled to anything; you earn that shit and you thank the people who helped get you there.
If you’re still confused, it all boils down to simple rules you learned in kindergarten: be nice, say “please” and “thank you,” and share. If you can’t even do those three little things, you’re a selfish asshole who doesn’t deserve help. If you can, then I will gladly offer you some assistance. It’s what friends are for, right?