Favor Done, Now Where’s MY Good Karma!?

We hear it all the time from clients or those who want to be clients; “do me a favor and…”

It always ends up with creatives being asked to work for free or give up something we would rather not give up. It makes us feel low, worthless and frustrated and those are feelings no human should have, especially in business. What about when it comes from other creatives? Shouldn’t we know better? Are there those that know better but take advantage of their peers?

I received a message from a friend the other day and he was despondent about fellow employees from his previous job that were ignoring him. After my disemboweling at my last position, people I worked with for seven years started ignoring me. I don’t take it personally because I have been through it too often and keep moving forward…but it still hurts and each time it occurs, I get a bit more defensive in what I will do for those I don’t know well enough to risk my career and happiness upon. Is it possible to understand the difference between friends and “office” friends and the relationships that go on…or don’t? With that in mind, set the following quote in your favorite typeface and put it on your computer:

“A good friend stabs you in the front.”

– Oscar Wilde

I have always been a big favor-doing guy. I have been rewarded and I have been screwed. I want to convince people that the high road in dealing with people is the best way by using real examples. I’m a big believer in building and maintaining a quality network. I am also the first to make an “enemies list” of those I would love to see fail.

Within that network my favors fly left and right. I consider it part of the maintenance of a quality network. The “enemies list” reminds me to carefully consider favors and who will receive the effort and trust.

Where Does The Favors And Karma Start?

I have a favorite saying that some attribute to Winston Churchill and others to Jackie Gleason…

“Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet the same people on the way down.”

I tell this to students and relay it as I shake my head in disapproval when someone looks me in the eye and screws me. Luckily, I’ve seen it come true, every time. I suppose “you reap what you sow” is another good saying but I doubt it was either Gleason or Churchill who came up with that.

From those around you in art school to fellow employees or even freelance peers, being confrontational, mean, snotty or self-absorbed will be remembered by people you may need down your career path. I know because I have been on both sides. Karma has some rules and breaking them negates the effects…which I’m still awaiting from my years of being good….with an occasional stumble.

Art School Starts Your Network.

You spend many semesters and hours with other students and if you haven’t formed a bond with most of them, you need to mend bridges before graduation. If you have no bonds, you’ve done something really wrong. Sure, there are the usual suspects in every class; the “perfectionist”…for everyone else’s work, the “shy” person who has more knives than art material in their art cases, the “critic”…who never seems to have their own work up for critique, the “tardy” student who needs to interrupt every class to make an entrance and the ubiquitous “douche bag” (I highly suggest the film “Art School Confidential” to any art school alumnus). You will not be hearing about them a few years after graduation. 90% of all art school graduates will not be working in their chosen field after two years from graduation.

You will hear from your network when there’s a job open or they have a freelance project or they know someone you should meet. Be remembered as being kind and talented and you will increase your network. My best work comes from my network as fellow art school alumni and former fellow coworkers move elsewhere but remember me…as does the dark side of my network, ready to feed off me as if I have forgotten past indiscretions that lost them credibility.

Other people seem to be more forgiving than I, or they are sugar-coating their opinions, aired on the professional networking site on which I asked for people to comment on their past and future favors. A young professional with too many descriptives in her title to print here replied;

If we all understand a “favor”, it is really to do a task for someone who is otherwise incapable of doing it themselves… while expecting nothing material in return. I recently did a little favor for a colleague of mine…. I designed a booklet for his son’s baseball team. I believe the advertising in this booklet helped to pay for their travel to a far away game – where perhaps those New Yorkers were going to know his name by the end of the game! The hidden value of my work paid off when I received a photo of his son – clearly showing his excitement and love for the game. You should always give a little more than you get.

A network Engineer, looking for employment (which depends heavily on favors from his network) imparted;

I watch out for my FRIENDS, because they are my FRIENDS (and my network is the same group). When I see opportunities for them, I pass it on. Hopefully, they are doing the same.

I’m don’t feel like I’m getting screwed by my network, because I only expect them to be friends. But occasionally you get friends who provide benefits.

An IT Security Specialist answered;

Here’s one golden rule when dealing with favors given and received among your network peers: do not keep score.

Generosity is a key aspect of being part of a network. Eventually, some of that generosity will come back at the moment you need it. Just don’t try to keep a 1:1 balance between favors given and received or you’ll completely miss the point.

Giving or receiving a favor shouldn’t be a win-lose equation. Even when you do a favor for one of your peers, at the very least you’re strengthening a network connection. And if that person gains a client or lands a better job thanks to you, s/he’ll make your network a bit more valuable just by being in a better position than before.

You may never need favors from that person in the future, but perhaps one of your connections will, and this will further strengthen the ties among your network.
Eventually, all those favors you made will pay off. Just remember, never keep score.

It can happen, though, that one of your peers screws up badly. These things happen, and in order to stay on the safe side always keep a very clear and honest communication with everyone involved.

He did also include the dark side of his experience by admitting;

Of course I have my share of horror stories as well, but I feel they’re not worth mentioning in great detail. Yes, I too had some problems with persons who were referred to me by other peers, but I never held my connections responsible for what happened. I just informed them of the problems, if I thought they had to know, and that was it.

So life’s little favors aren’t always beer and skittles, are they? I also question the public affirmation of these people and their giving attitudes. Most comments ended with;

“…and please connect with me so we can share our network!”

Sure! There is the ulterior, self-serving motive. I think we do all expect something in return. It’s not selfish; it’s realistic in the business world.

Working With People Creates A Favor Network. Don’t Break It!

People say New Yorkers are loud and rude and curse a lot. Yes, so what’s our bad points? You’re just overhearing us giving people a verbal beating for not keeping their word. It works when taken in context. Keeping your word is a responsibility and the reward is credibility. Loss of credibility means loss of you being alive in my eyes. That goes for personally and professionally.

instantShift - Favor Done, Now Where’s MY Good Karma!?

It only makes sense that a favor needs to be returned. What kind of person wouldn’t think that? Lots of people. Have you ever asked for a favor and it’s fallen on deaf ears?

When someone was looking for a new job, my phone would ring. I liked the feeling of being in that position. I was able, on one occasion to hook up an art director with a regular client of mine, for a new job with higher pay. She was so happy and thanked me profusely. I felt good. I didn’t know her all that well but I figured we would be close friends after that.

A few months later and many unanswered calls, I finally got through to her and asked why, after years of regular work each month, suddenly there was nothing.

“I’ve decided the look of your work isn’t right for my current design directions,” she told me in a very chipper voice. Then she hung up.

So, that’s good karma plus one and human disappointment minus one. Loss of a regular client – priceless. Years later I just smile and shake my head but at the time I was devastated. Why would such a favor be returned thusly? Because that was how she saw her place in the world and it didn’t include others unless they had something she wanted.

Apparently the design direction didn’t fly and she lost her job. The editor I knew had moved on and so I had lost my entire network for that client. I never heard of her again until her résumé came across my desk when I was looking for an assistant. Guess which pile it went into? Negative one karma point for enjoying the irony.

I’m not the only one who feels that a favor is your word. If someone asks a favor, it is, as others have commented, a favor done out of kindness and compassion. It is how that favor is returned or just acknowledged that separates a good friend and connection and, sorry to say, the users.

Another answer illustrates the “once bitten, twice shy” principle;

My take on favors and the whole topic is like the movie ‘Pay It Forward”. Yes, I’ve done favors for people on a consistent basis and many months down the road when they could’ve returned the favor easily, they didn’t.

I wasn’t looking for them to do that, but unless you’re as numb as a stone, it should be obvious that people who help you out should get the favor back when you have a chance and the means to help them out.

I’m a little bit jaded regarding the human race since too many pay it forwards have resulted in setting me back. But with each new person I meet, I give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

No sense in being a doormat once you’ve realized that person’s a taker and always will be a taker. That’s when I “exit… stage left!”

One designer/photographer had obviously had it with favors;

I’ve gotten to the point where, if someone wants my professional services (design or photography), well, they have to pay for them.

I’ve done work-for-free in hopes of gaining referrals, and those referrals never came. And, sorry, a link from your website to mine just isn’t going to cut it.

So, if you want me to do work for you, I don’t care how good of a friend or close of a relative you are. Just show me the money.

A graphic designer, as with most freelance creatives replayed the age-old complaint;

As a graphic designer I’m often asked by complete strangers to do a job cheap, because they have a “very limited budget right now but will need a lot of work done in the near future”. The extra work never comes, so I don’t do these jobs any more unless it’s for a good friend. Worse than the complete strangers, though are the people I’ve had very minimal contact with who think they’re suddenly my best friend when they “want something”.

A professional recruiter added a sad response;

I stopped going to weddings and birthday parties because once they got to the ‘what do you do?’ part of the evening, as soon as I mention that I am a recruiter I get all kinds of referrals from cousins and uncles and brother in laws that are out of work.

I have never been screwed for helping and I look for no rewards by doing favors. I do like helping people; that is why I am a recruiter…that is why I became a recruiter…

I’m sure he finds that grateful favor recipients remember him as he remembers them when he collects more commissions. Favors often do lead to a percentage of rewards greater then the efforts wasted on the percentage of people who don’t understand the manners that rule favors.

Do You Have Many Friends At Work?

We spend the best part of a day at our jobs…and sometimes the night. We get close to coworkers and many relationships continue outside the office with happy hour at a pub, a Sunday barbeque, etc. That’s why it is so heartbreaking when you are laid off and those friends disappear.

instantShift - Favor Done, Now Where’s MY Good Karma!?

Back to the friend who emailed me, desperate for an idea to find work. I asked about his network and he went to pieces. After so many years with the same people, he was distraught that people he considered close where now avoiding his calls and not answering emails. He wasn’t trouble and, as a union member, he left on good terms, awaiting possible reinstatement in the future.

“My network of people sucks,” he wrote. “Most of them are looking for work or secretive about projects and keep them to themselves. Most of the people I could trust in the past, I don’t now, and many former co-workers are either looking for work or have nothing to do with any of us that got laid off.”

It’s not odd for people to separate themselves from those no longer with a firm. When you are gone, you are no longer part of “the family.” The people left behind are frightened for their own jobs and it is understandable. It’s those who step up to help that will be remembered in the future.

Seven years at the same place and I’m over the hurt that some people have chosen to block me out. They may reach out in the future and I will probably treat them as if nothing wrong was done. To them, in their thinking, there might be nothing wrong with what they did. People continue to leave the company and become valued connections. I’ve “forgiven” some former coworkers who had a few bumps in our past. I chock it up to the pressure of an odd corporation with odder ways of functioning and treating employees.

When fellow employees move on, your network is even more valuable as they move to other firms you might want to approach one day. Maybe your friend Ahmed is now the head of marketing at a big firm? Maybe Rebecca moved to a huge art department and they need freelancers? With any luck, your friend, Wang, found a personnel opening you might fit!

Every expert on staffing and networking will tell you your best chance for that dream job will come from your network and not a listing on a job site.

Digital Karma Is Good!

The other day, I noticed the SVP of Creative at my dream client was no longer there. According to LinkedIn, he was gone and by the looks of things, full-time to freelance, he had been laid off. I had been introduced to him via email and he was nice enough to answer my first email to him. Beyond that — nothing. No returned emails. No returned calls. I noticed a project given to another studio and knew them to be sub-par, as I had hired them on two occasions – both bad. Would you send an email telling him to wither and die? Would you just ignore him and let him fade away? I emailed him and told him I was sorry he had left the company and hoped all was well. I offered him the use of any of my business connections and told him to keep in touch. This time he returned my email and it was apologetic for not using me for projects and grateful for my offer. I believe I strengthened my network and connection. I’m grabbing a couple of karma points on this one. So far, I think I’m breaking even.

When Does A Favor And The Best Intentions Get You In Trouble?

Have you ever referred a friend to a client and it went very wrong? How about referring a client to a friend and it also goes awry? Where does your responsibility lay?

instantShift - Favor Done, Now Where’s MY Good Karma!?

A “friend” of mine (a good sort who I know through a design organization but are just getting to know) recently referred me to an old friend who had a project. The creative brief was prepared and a fee estimate rendered. From my conversation with the client, I expected design-by-committee and gave them two fair methods and estimates, which saved them money if the changes were kept to a minimum. I left it open so they could play with the design as much as they wanted but I would just keep the meter running as long as they did.

They called me in and we discussed the project. I said that as soon as they got me the agreed upon check, I would start.

“Well, we’ll let you know,” said my designer friend’s friend.

I sat there in a bit of shock. Their office was a long trip across the city and the meeting, creative brief and estimates took up a considerable amount of time and gas money.

“Are you interviewing other designers?”

“Well, yes. We’ll let you know.”

I never heard from them but they had certainly phished enough information from me under the pretense of a “creative meeting” that I was angry…plenty angry.

I contacted my friend as she, I felt, should know her friend was taking advantage of her referrals and network. I started the message by thanking her for thinking of me and the referral and that I didn’t blame her for her friend’s actions but that she should know what was going on.

I never heard back from her. I don’t know if she felt guilt or disdain for my telling her and took it in an accusatory manner. I don’t know if the favor she did was for her friend and their relationship grew stronger through the idea phishing of her referrals. I’ve left her connected to me, for the time being but the relationship will not allow further growth and that’s always a shame.

A creative manager commented;

If I have referred a friend for a design project, my view is that my responsibility ends there, as it is up to that friend to handle the design and business aspect of the project. Not to say I won’t feel bad for my friend if there are problems (and a little relief that it wasn’t me), but they are accountable for assessing the client, producing the project and are ultimately the beneficiary of the fees. I have learned that as far as doing favors, as long as you are comfortable with putting more effort into what your time is worth, and it is for a cause or friend who you determine is worth the effort, then it can be rewarding. Just not on a financial level.

The last time I was asked for a referral from someone in my network, I made sure he understood that pay, respect and MY name was attached to his every interaction with the person I referred. Sure enough, he acted like an unprofessional jerk and I apologized to my referral and copied him on my angry letter to my connection. I never heard back from him. He has been dropped from my network. The illustrator I referred told me it was no big deal and our network connection is still strong.

We are known for what we do and what we say to others. Favors carry thanks and responsibilities. Shirk one and it’s just better to not have done the favor in the first place. Sometimes the best intentions turn out badly. No karma points lost. None gained, either.

When Does Karma Get Here?

Taking the “high road” is tough and I think it may be against human nature. It’s my hope that if he gets a better position somewhere, he will remember who offered him a hand when he was down. He might not, but all I lose is a few kind words and reason to know better the next time…before he asks for money or a kidney…or a favor.

Forgiveness through understanding is best when it comes to your network. Negativity shrinks your network and allowing those who may have ignored you back into your network is a hard step to one’s ego. Ego may truly be your worst enemy of anything in your life. How often do we allow opportunity to slip away because our pride won’t allow it? As the gangsters say in the movies, “it’s nothing personal – it’s just business!”

Perhaps the simplest but best answer to the questions of favors came from a digital media designer who said;

I’ve helped a few people. Some have helped me. I remember every singe person who helped me get started and paying that forward is not a bad thing.

Yes, always remember that someone at one point did YOU a favor and pay it forward. Favors, mentoring, speaking, etc. Favors are sometimes for an individual and sometimes a group or the industry. It is the high road to accept slights and move forward. Chances are those who have done the slighting will, as examples tell, end up in their own isolation, with no network or trust. Just like a failed child TV star without the special on VH1.

I’m sure, and hopeful that the majority of people who read this article thought it a waste of time. I think it’s better advice for those who were slapped across the face with the hard reality that favors need to be respected and returned and a simple “thank you” goes a long way. It keeps those who are in the position to do favors trusting others. Fuel that fire or freeze.

When I get fed up with rude people, I have to fall back on a quote from Mark Twain;

“Always do right- this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”

I have this quote stuck to my computer…set in Brush Script…all upper case. Please do me a favor and don’t comment how bad a type choice that is. I appreciate that and owe you one.

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  1. As a beginning designer, it might be good to do favors, just to get some of your stuff out there and show it to the people. However, when you have gained a certain amount of ‘fame’, I don’t see the point in doing favors anymore.

  2. Hi Speider. I believe it is a waste of time not to read your article. Hell’s Kitchen, I’d even give you a BIG Apple! Speider, I have heard it said and believe it to me true, that fair weather friends are no good in a stormy life. One of my favorite quotes is: “Only one life that soon is past; only what is done with love will last! – author unknown to me. Speider, just for the health of it: “Fly Eagles Fly!…” Thank YOU!

  3. Snappy thanks for sharing your quotes.I share it on my Facebook wall’s.

  4. Hey, thanks Snappy!

  5. I always want to impose on myself that perhaps I should be a little more generous, but my innate human flaws usually trip that one up all the time. Though I do try to help whenever I can, and it is especially easier if the requests comes from people that I love and are all around good people.

  6. When we are all starting out, we do favors because we want to build our networks, and get good clients and a good pool of resources for when we need it. But in time, each of us learn that at some point you have to say no sometimes.

    After toiling in the web industry for over a decade, I have a hard line on things. If I don’t know you, and you don’t come from someone from my ‘inner circle’ then sorry , you simply pay. Why would some of my clients like Canon and Disney be happy to pay me a fair price, and some person I don’t know well gets a freebie. Sorry, but I wouldn’t walk into my local auto repair shop with a set of bad breaks and ask them to ‘do me a favor on this one’. It doesn’t work in other industries, so why is it so common in our industry?

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