The Favor Tree

freebiesThis post is long past due.  The subject is favors. How do I delicately approach this?  There is no delicate way.  If you ask for a favor be it professional or personal, don’t just be prepared to pay it back,  look for opportunities to pay it back.  If you grant a favor, don’t expect to be paid back, expect to never be paid back. Let me repeat, don’t expect to be paid back… ever.

When I was in my early twenties, it seemed one day every other weekend was spent helping a friend move.  It was a favor, you did it because when you needed help moving, supposedly your friends would free themselves up to help you and thats pretty much the way it worked out. It wasn’t exactly transactional, just sort

Probably about to drop the couch on a dog.

Probably about to drop the couch on a dog.

of understood if you’re there for me, I’ll be there for you, it’s part of friendship.  If my wife asks: Honey, do me a favor and grab the remote while your up, I do it because in any given situation she would do the same for me. These are not transactional favors, these are relational favors based on deep bonds.

In a work setting though, the wires become crossed. What is presented as a relational favor, as in, to build this relationship please shoot this (name your spec project here) thing for me. Oh yeah, and get your crew to work for free and your Mom to do craft service. This is not really relational or at least we don’t process it that way. Professional favors may seem relational, but the are really transactional.

When we do professional favors, we actually do expect something in return and why shouldn’t we? The problem comes when we never get paid back, which happens a lot.  It’s not that the person doesn’t want to pay back when they ask, they just go on to the next thing and never circle around again.  Or worse, they base most of their career on asking favors and tap you out as part of a long line of tapped out favors.  This of course requires that they  just move on to the next person that will do them a favor.  The account gets so long, no one ever gets paid back.

There’s also the person that once you do them a favor, they only come back for more favors.  The paying work that comes in goes to other people higher up the food chain than you that will help them get to the next level (or so they think.)  When they need a freebie again, it’s like somewhere in their mind they say, “Oh I know a guy that will do it, he did it for me last time.”

We have no money for crew, but it's just one shot.  It will be a short day.

We have no money for crew, but it’s just one shot. It will be a short day.

My biggest pet peeve are the celebrity favor askers.  the payment is supposed to be access to some celebrity or other that has more than enough money to compensate people in monetary terms, but feel they don’t have to because of the obvious benefits of just being near them. And it’s never the celebrity that asks for the favor.  It’s some hanger on that’s just trying to get into the inner circle. The way they see it is that they themselves are doing the favor you’re actually doing and they’ll be the one paid back someday by the celebrity. They won’t.

Now, having said that, there are people who do pay back.  There are even those who understand that if someone does a freebie, it takes two jobs at full rate to be even. The concept being 1 job at full rate makes the payback  job at half rate, thus another favor.

Having watched various incarnations of favoring throughout my career, I’ve come to the metaphor called “The Favor Tree.”  It’s simple, the tree has leaves (favors you ask,)  if you ask people for a favor you must remove a appropriate number of leaves from the tree.  To keep the leaves growing you must water the tree (favors you give.)   If you never water the tree and you use all the leaves…. well, don’t bother asking anyone for favors anymore.

I water the tree every chance I get.  I don’t wait until it looks dry, I water it regularly to keep it healthy.  I want as many leaves on my tree as I can get, whether I need them or not.  I don’t worry about other people’s trees, that’s their responsibility.  If they forget to water that’s their problem and trust me, it will become a problem.

The saying goes “It’s not show friends, it’s show business.”  However, the Favor Tree allows friendship within business to flourish and grow if handled fairly and with integrity. If everyone pays attention to the favors they ask versus the favors they owe, we’ll all be friends.

So here’s the takeaway: Do favors, lots of them, as many as you have time for.  Don’t worry about getting paid back.  See it as watering your tree.  People outside of the favor tend to notice your watering and they are the people that will make note of the character required to put favors out with no guarantee of a return.

But, also be aware of who you do favors for.  If someone asks a favor and doesn’t look for opportunities to pay you back,  they probably won’t pay back the next time either.  As George Bush famously said:  “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.

Unknown-1Don’t worry, I don’t know what that means either. You get the picture.  So endeth the lesson.

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