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I am a freelance computer programmer. I have a former client with whom I did a very successful project with a few years ago. We have mutual friends, I enjoy his company and his company does really interesting stuff, so I occasionally see him for a beer.

However, his company hasn't given me work for a while. Instead when we meet this guy has started to ask for free advice. After some chat, he'll tell me what he's working on, then say something like: "what product would you use for that task? Would you use. ElasticSearch? How about Redis?" - and so on.

I suspect he's taking my advice, and either using my recommendations to do the work himself, or with cheaper, less experienced programmers.

What should I say next time this happens? I feel like I'm possibly doing myself out of work by sharing my expertise, and I have to say I feel slightly used. (It's usually a bit unclear whether there's any work on the table or not - I think he's exploiting that a bit to get free advice, too.)

Here are some options I've considered:

That project sounds really interesting! I can't give you a proper answer here though. I'd be happy to look at it as a freelance project though, if you want to email the details?

He's a persistent guy, so what do I do if he says something blunt like "There's no budget! Could you just give me an answer? It only takes you a second".

I think perhaps I need to be a little tougher about thinking of him as a client rather than a friend, and say:

I'm really sorry, but acquiring that kind of knowledge is a lot of work, and I can't share it for free - even for someone I respect as much as you.

I have mild Asperger's, so I have a hard time knowing what to say in social situations. (If it was a purely client situation, it would be much easier - I'd just be polite and super-clear about the boundaries.)

In fairness to the guy, he may not know that that kind of market knowledge takes years to acquire. Of course, I do sometimes give free advice, but I just prefer to do it on my own terms.

It's just awkward to suddenly say "no, I can't give you advice on that" over a beer. Maybe I should just stop seeing the guy socially, but I'd like to find a better solution if possible.

  • What is the main reason you get together to have a beer? To talk business or to have a pleasant time, or a mix? – DarkCygnus Aug 28 '17 at 21:33
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    @GrayCygnus The reason I do it (i) I want to hear what his company's up to, because it's interesting (ii) to have a pleasant time. Can't answer for him! – Richard Aug 28 '17 at 22:18
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Lots of friends bounce ideas off of each other. If you feel you're being exploited, the best response would be to keep things somewhat ambivalent.

Friend: What would you use? ElasticSearch?

You: Sure, ElasticSearch could work.

Friend: Or redis?

Your: Yeah, redis could work there, too.

If the friend persists in trying to get your professional opinion, and you think there is some work to be done there, you can respond in a very friendly way...

There are lots of options on the table. They can all work. I don't know enough about what you're doing to tell you which option is best. Do you want to bring me in for a day or two to do some consulting and figure it out with you?

This lets him know that you take your work and your recommendations seriously, and it's a reminder that you get what you pay for.

  • Thanks - that's really helpful. (One thing about Asperger's is that you kind of forget that you don't have to answer every question in full detail!) – Richard Aug 28 '17 at 22:20
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I have encounterd this many times.

Sometime I am fortunate enough to be in an evironment outside my profeission. For example, I was at a social gathering of medical professionals, doctors mostly. When they found out what I did, I immediately got bombarded with questions about how to solve this problem or the other. My response was simply:

Thats a great question, but before we get there, I just have really quick question I wanted to ask you. When I bend my arm like this it hurts me over here.....

They got the message pretty quickly. I would then tell them I would love to help them out with their needs, but let's schedule something for such-and-such a date while firing up my Calendar app.

In situations with my peer groups, I don't have that luxury, so it requires a bit more tact. In the case, like yours, I am told that "it only takes a second or a minute" I usually respond with something

I can see that you appreciate my hard work makes things look easy, but it does take a considerable amount of effort. Like you, I enjoy stepping away from my work to enjoy social engagement with others. Tell you what, let's set up a time to meet so we can go over the specifics of the project and scope out your work....

Again, I fire up my Calendar App and start asking for time slots making it look like a formal engagement.

If they persist, I usually have to remind them just once that we are not in a contract/engagement, but you are happy to draw one up. When push comes to shove, I responded with

You wouldn't want me to give away the product that puts food on my table for my family, would you? I would never expect that of you.

Smile and let the silence become uncomfortable; the message will get through.

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Every time he asks you this type of question he is literally asking you to pitch your solution to him. This is your opportunity to impress him with your solution and land some more business.

There's no budget! Could you just give me an answer? It only takes you a second.

The answer to this is: I could but it would not be fully analysed or well thought out. But X does look interesting. If you decide you want a full analysis send me an Email with the details of what you are trying to accomplish.

If he is just making small talk that's all it really is. You don't even have to believe in your response. But this opens up the channel for a new project. If he probes further just say "I don't have enough information right now. I know I make it look easy but there really is a lot of research and thought that goes into a project analysis. That's why you pay me so much money for what I do."

If he keeps pushing just say "Tell you what I have some free time {MTWRF} in the {Morning/Afternoon} how about I come to your office and we can talk about the specifics. That will give me a bit of time to do some research and we can discuss the specifics of the project."

Your goal here should always be pushing for the official business meeting where you can hopefully land some work.

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