Materia Gratis: Articles

The Business of Helping

by T. Falcon Napier

Recently, I had a series of conversations with several of our Level 3 Professionals about a question I often ask the human development professionals participating in our study — “Are you in the HELPING business, or the BUSINESS of helping?”  Our discussions centered on how they might recognize the difference in their own businesses.


Let me make something very clear from the beginning.  I’m NOT telling you what kind of business you SHOULD have — that’s entirely for you to decide. But as someone who has exclusively coached human development professionals for the past decade, I can tell you that the vast majority I have worked with – and that’s hundreds of people — suffered a MAJOR disconnect between the business they wanted to have and the business they ended up building.

Now, I’m all for giving of my time and my resources to help those who are in need, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere — particularly in business. Otherwise, you might have been better off to set yourself up as a charity to begin with.

The difference between those two seemingly identical philosophies is VERY telling.  Whether you put the emphasis on the HELPING part or the BUSINESS part can make all the difference in the world to your bottom line.

Let’s take a closer look.

While I’m sure there are noteworthy exceptions to the rule, I’ve found that professionals who put the emphasis heavily on the HELPING part often struggle to build a paying clientele sufficient to sustain themselves. In fact, I can tell you that MANY of the professionals we’ve known who had that mindset are no longer in private practice,  and most of those that are still in business are making less than a part-time job would pay them.

Mind you, people in the HELPING business may be earning the deepest appreciation and highest admiration of others – perhaps even a particularly fluffy cloud up in Heaven — but their checkbooks here on Earth are empty!

Well, not all of them …

A strong pattern in this group is that many of them are not the sole or majority breadwinner in their households and are generally free to do as they please — keep as busy as they wish and work when, with whom, and under whatever conditions they want.  They love what they do, but don’t have the pressure to produce a steady revenue stream — so their business is more of casual practice or avocation.  That’s not a bad thing — and if you’re blessed to have that as your reality, then go Ye therefore unto the World and SERVE!  But don’t be disappointed if your bank account doesn’t grow much.

On the other hand, professionals who lead with the BUSINESS part tend to have something tangible to show for their efforts.  They may not be wealthy  (very few have amassing great fortune as their aspiration), but they are doing as well or better than they were in the corporate positions they held prior to going into private practice.

The two strongest patterns in this group are 1) these individuals NEED to produce an income for themselves, or 2) they are simply DRIVEN to succeed as a natural part of who they are. (By the way — while they’re getting paid, they STILL earn appreciation and admiration from their clients.)

Obviously, a professional who needs to generate an income should think very carefully about their business philosophy.

So, here are a few (well, a DOZEN) questions to ask yourself:

1) Do you find yourself spending more hours each week providing services for free or for a fee?

2) Do you often “throw in” additional services because YOU think your client would benefit, even though they weren’t willing to pay for it?

3) Do you hesitate to talk about what your hourly rate is — or offer your services for different rates for different people in different situations?

4) Do you provide your services for people or organizations who are NOT paying you AND don’t represent any real marketing opportunity for you either?

5) Do you feel like you’re still “paying your dues” and shouldn’t be charging what others in your field routinely charge?

6) Did you get into this line of work primarily because you wanted to A) make money or b) help people? (and you can’t say “both” when the question is about your PRIMARY motive.)

7) Is you heart’s truth that you are driven more by altruistic motives or personal gain?

8) Do you ever feel like it’s inappropriate for you to actually CHARGE people “just” for having a conversation with them?

9) Do you feel guilty when you choose not to help someone when they say they can’t pay you — particularly when you KNOW you could help them?

10) Have you been taught to give away your services as a marketing strategy?

11) Are you struggling to make the kind of money you NEED, let alone the money you WANT?

12) Have you found yourself wondering WHEN all of this GIVING of services to others will turn around and actually reward you?

I could give you another dozen points to ponder, but I’m sure you get where I’m going here.  It’s time to re-think the kind of business you’re trying to build.

If your answers to a few or more were: Free, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, BOTH, I’m torn, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes — then YOU might have a problem, because THAT’S NOT A BUSINESS!

People who are in the BUSINESS of helping hold certain beliefs and practice certain behaviors that lead them to the success they seek:

1) They view their businesses as being separate from themselves — something with a life of it’s own.

2) They understand that their #1 priority is the care and feeding of their business.

3) They’re cognizant of how people view them — a BRAND beyond themselves.

4) They genuinely OWN the truth of the value they bring to others.

5) They deliberately build relationships with people who see their value AND are in the position to help them.

6) They manage the expectations of others and operate within clear boundaries.

7) They protect themselves from those who would exploit them.

8) They don’t give away what they’re trying to sell.

9) They EXPECT to be paid because they DESERVE to be paid for the value they bring.

10) They recognize that the BEST way for them to be of service to others is to be financially strong themselves.

11) They give freely from the bounty they have earned.

12) They ultimately help MORE people and have a HIGHER impact on society.

So how good of a job are YOU doing when it comes to building and operating a Business of Helping?

One last thought —

Both the “Helping Business” and the “Business of Helping” camps have one VERY big thing in common — they want more clients.  Whether their motive is financial gain, spiritual gain or a bit of both, they want to mobilize their talents to help more people grow — and that’s a beautiful thing.

I just think you should get paid for providing such value.


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