It is a great feeling when I am able to help someone grow their business. After all, they are people just like me trying to be successful in what they do. However, I allowed altruism to go too far and unchecked in my business for far too long. One of the biggest mistakes that I have made in my technology business is to think that somehow, business altruism would contribute to my success. Instead, it was the object of much frustration. I assumed that somehow, God would produce success for my business if I kept operating in a paradigm of altruism. How wrong I was. The fruit of this affected me and my marriage adversely. Imagine spending many hours working on a project, neglecting to spend time with your spouse or children, and to make matters worse, you had very little to show for it? Something had to change.
I am a tech head and Christian minister. I have been helping people and business with computer and networking technologies for over 30 years. I have been building websites for over 20 years. I used those skills to succeed in my career as an IT professional and I used them in my own technology support business, Reggie’s PC Resources. The problem was that I allowed altruism to run out of control for over 20 years, which undermined any success that I should have had, given all of the work I did.
Being a Christian does not mean that we give everything away. In the same way, you expect to pay for your groceries, clothes, etc., even at Christian-owned stores, you should expect to be paid for the products or services that you provide. Being overly altruistic will hurt your business and perhaps cause resentment for even benevolence as you come to realize all of the time you wasted “helping” people. I wasn’t helping people most of the time, but rather allowing them to get something for nothing or very little. If something is important to someone, then they will find a way to pay for it or work something out. It is also possible that they may have to wait until they can afford it—just like you do.
Altruism is not a way to run a business, though a business can be very active in charity. Many years ago, I had a talk with my pastor about my charitable tendencies and how it was producing a lot of resentment. My pastor told me to “give away pencils, not magic markers.” She went on to explain that I had to learn to control or manage the gift that God gave me for helping others. I couldn’t just give stuff away. Instead, I had to manage what I gave away. I had to set boundaries.
I will always try to help people build their business, but at the same time, it is only fair that I am compensated. It doesn’t always have to be about money, especially with family and friends. Remember that you have to set boundaries in your business (as well as your life). These boundaries will help protect you from those who would take advantage of your benevolence, and from feeling resentful after you have given away so much with little to show for it in your business.
In the same way, you expect God to help you do the things that you need to do in your life and business, allow Him to do the same for your clients or potential clients as well. Work with people the best you can. You may be able to work something out with a client that doesn’t involve them paying you with money directly. This helps them to afford your services and it helps you to help them. I have built and hosted websites for a few publications, and they allow me to post articles in their papers in return. Those who really want your service and can see the value of it will work with you to get it done. They’ll offer you something in return for your service. These types of clients aren’t trying to use you. They may be starting out and just need some help to get going on the path of prosperity. You might work with them in stages until they are able to afford the standard rate for things.
Don’t Be Afraid To Walk Away
Sometimes you have to walk away from a client for several reasons. One reason that you may have to walk away, is because the person wants to use and abuse you by getting you to provide your services for little or nothing. I believe that there should always be a win-win situation, even if the person cannot outright afford to pay your normal rates. Be willing to work with people, and be willing to walk away from those just trying to get over on you.
Be Diligent With Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries mean nothing if you don’t stick to them. If you have a price for a product or service, then stick with that price. Don’t allow yourself to give it away because this person really needs it. Instead, stick with your price and work something out with your client if their budget is short. For example, I find that allowing people to pay for a website over several months helps them out a lot, making them able to afford it instead of having to come up with the money at one time. So, stick with your boundaries and modify them as things change in business.
Set boundaries in your business and allow yourself to prosper in what you do. Don’t keep giving everything away thinking that Christians should be nice and help people within a paradigm of total altruism. Do what you can to help others. Grow your business and you can help more. If you keep helping and giving it all away, then you will find that your business will not prosper and you may begin to resent helping people. Instead, set boundaries for your services, get a fair payment for your services and help people along the way. Control any altruistic tendencies by setting boundaries, and trusting God to help you and your clients.
About the Author
William R. Cunningham (Reggie) is a technology professional who works by day as a systems administrator. Reggie also owns and operates Reggie’s PC Resources (www.rpcr.com), Pursuing the Truth Ministries (www.pursuingthetruth.org), and My Hope in Marriage (www.myhopeinmarriage.com). Reggie enjoys working with people and helping people in whatever way that he can. He loves building websites, working on computers and networks, programming, physics, and astronomy. He loves playing his electronic keyboard and piano, martial arts, and just relaxing with a good movie. He is married for over 30 years with on son (his miracle child).