Before I started consulting, I worked as a research project manager at a local school of public health. The principal investigator on my project was an incredible professional, friend, and mentor. One day in her office as we discussed all the priorities and responsibilities I was balancing, she said:
“Leah, don’t give your time away.”
We talked about how when you are a smart dependable person, you get asked to do ALL the things. People want you to take on many responsibilities outside of your position, volunteer on their committees, help students, arrive early, leave late, etc.
It is not that you should never help or volunteer. But you should be picky about the responsibilities you take on, they should support your personal and professional goals, and you should be compensated appropriately for your time and expertise.
It has been eight years since I got this advice, and I still think about it every day. It helps me be a happier and more successful consultant in a few ways:
I don’t say yes to everything
I’m approached by a lot of people with a lot of asks. Will I volunteer my time for this cause? Will I do an informational interview? Will I write a guest post? Will I do something for free in exchange for visibility or promotion of my business?
Every time I am approached with an ask, I think hard about the pros and cons. I consider the impact it will have on my time, my business, my revenue, and my stress level. I consider what I will get in exchange for saying yes and the implications of saying no.
The result: I say no to a lot of things because my time is valuable.
I have the confidence to turn down an opportunity if my time is not valued
I once had a potential client ask me to resubmit a proposal with the same scope but at a lower rate. They did not think my time was worth what I said it was worth. I thanked them for the opportunity to be considered, but politely declined pursuing the project any further. This communication from them was a big red flag.
The result: I don’t fill my schedule with clients like these because my time is valuable.
I am inspired to think of creative ways to help people while still valuing my time
Over the last 6 years, I have gotten an enormous number of inquiries about public health consulting. I would say at least 100. I was asked for hours and hours of my time to respond to emails and participate in informational interviews.
I quickly had a few realizations: (1) I could not keep up with the demand, (2) I still wanted to help, and (3) I needed to find a way to reach more people beyond these 1-1 interactions.
So I created an online course. I took everything I learned over the past 6 years: the business know how, the hard lessons, the advice I have given aspiring consultants, and I put it in one place.
The result: I have the opportunity to help more people in less time because my time is valuable.
It is incredible how one piece of advice can impact your whole life. Obviously, it is something I needed to hear eight years ago. I think so many of us go into public health because we are “helpers.” While it is wonderful to be a helper, it does not mean that you have to work for free or be burned out because you cannot say no.
So I will give you, my wonderful readers, the same advice I was given and I hope it releases some of the pressure you feel: Don’t give your time away.
What is the best professional advice you have ever received? Comment below and let me know.