I am often asked for photography or computer advice. I have a fair bit of expertise in these areas, so it doesn’t surprise me when people want my advice, have questions, or want me to fix something for them. I don’t mind helping people. It’s my nature to be helpful. Some people only contact me when they want something from me. This used to irritate the hell out of me, but I have since made peace with their neediness. Too bad I’m not still a Christian. Maybe I would get some heavenly rewards for helping family members and friends with computer repairs.
I started my own computer business years ago, only to fail miserably. My desire to be needed and helpful made me a terrible businessman. I could not bring myself to charge family and friends for the work I did for them. More than a few of them were quite happy to have me work for free. Fortunately, some of them do realize that a laborer is worthy of his hire and will pay me for services rendered. I have a similar problem now with my photography business. People ask me to do free work all the time, and I find it almost impossible to say no or charge them money for my work. This is my fault, not theirs. Being a pastor for so many years, constantly on-call and helping people, has made me a terrible businessman. I have tried to change my ways, but more often than not I revert to the norm and either work for free or charge a nominal fee. I am currently doing work for my sister. She, at least, insisted I charge her for my work.
Years ago, I had a then-family member ask me for advice about buying a new computer. I did a lot of research on her behalf, and then let her know what I thought would be the best computer for her. I patiently explained why she needed a computer with certain specifications, and why it was usually a bad idea to buy a budget/cheap computer. After a through explanation and thinking I had satisfactorily answered her questions, she said to me, thank you for your opinion. I thought, opinion? I didn’t give you an opinion. I gave you an expert’s answers to your questions. I naïvely thought she would follow my advice, but instead she went out and bought a cheap, under-performing computer. I told her later, next time, don’t ask if you don’t want to know.
I frequently get asked sports related photography questions. People want to know why their sports photos don’t look like mine. Generally, it is not the equipment that makes a photograph, but the photographer. However, sports photography, especially poorly-lit interior events, requires fast lenses that are usually quite expensive. People often have cameras that come with slower lenses that are impossible to use suitably when taking inside sports photos. Using these lenses will almost always produce dark, noisy, blurry pictures.
One family member asked me to critique her basketball/baseball photos. She had an entry-level Nikon DSLR for which she had paid less than $500, including the two lenses that came with it. This equipment was not up to the task, and it naturally produced horrendous photos. I don’t like to critique the work of others, especially that of a family member. I tried to avoid doing so, asking her, are you really sure you want my advice? Yes, she told me. So, I sent her a long email detailing how to take sports photographs. I talked about equipment, ISO speed, aperture, shutter speed, and other settings. I talked about where to sit or stand and what the rules were for high school sports photography. It took me almost an hour to put everything together. Her response? Oh, wow. I think I will just keep doing what I am doing! I wanted to tear my mythical hair from its roots. Here I had taken the time to educate her and she blew me off with a wave of the hand, and what amounted to a thanks for your opinion, but I’m going to keep taking dark. blurry, grainy photos.
It’s not that I necessarily expect or demand people do exactly as I tell them, but when I lend them my expertise, I do expect them to at least pay attention to it. I have their satisfaction and success in mind when I give them advice. I know how frustrating it can be to use a cheap, slow computer and I most certainly know how to take shitty photographs. I have knowledge in these areas, which, if accepted, can make life easier and possibly produce photographs that are keepers.
I have always prided myself in being a writer, but it wasn’t until my editor contacted me the first time that I found out that I had great content but lousy grammar. In the early days of this blog, I tended to write like I talk. Sermons rarely make for great books, and so it was for my writing. I had to learn how to be a writer, complete with proper grammar. I like to think that my writing has gotten better over the past three years. Oh, I still make way too many mistakes, but I hope Carolyn can see my progress. When she makes a correction or suggests I change this or that in a story, I always comply. Why? Because she’s the expert, not I. I value her advice. Imagine how short our relationship would have been had I ignored her advice and corrections? The first time she contacted me, she said I love your writing, but your grammar really needs help. I was, at first, offended, but after a few edits by her, I realized she was right. Gawd, was she right! Sometime in early January, I will write my three-thousandth post. Currently, I have written 2,959 posts, totaling two-and-a-half million words. I can only imagine how my writing might be today without the patient instruction and correction of my editor. Expertise matters. None of us knows everything, and wise people realize this and seek out experts when they are lacking knowledge in a particular area. By seeking out experts and heeding their advice, we learn from them. And what is life if not a lifelong learning process?
Do you have family members or friends ask you advice about a particular skill for which you have expertise? Do you get frustrated when they ignore your advice? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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My brother-in-law started out his professional career welding repairs inside US Navy submarines, a specialty that requires considerable skill. But he had a fascination for personal computers and networking, and spent his evenings learning about them. When the local submarine repair base closed down, he opened a PC repair shop and started a high service ISP. That eventually became too much of a low margin business, so he studied for his formal certificates and became an IT professional.
As you can imagine, everyone and their pets pester BIL for free computer or network advice. Being a naturally helpful person, he used to put a lot of effort into this thankless endeavor. Now, he can either give the person a short answer, or he changes the subject. If pressed, he will honestly say that he doesn’t have time to deal with your problem. He will retire soon, and I fear lots of people will come out of the woodwork wanting help. I trust he will find a way to blow them off, and go play with his newest great-grandchild.
Holmes. Work for a smaller family owned business in a highly specialized industry. The founder is 85 years old and refuses to cede control to daughter and son-in-law (married to another daughter). Daughter os very bright with ADD bit is secure enough to openly state that we need to hire experts who are intelligent to help us grow. SIL is insecure and prefers to hire entry level people who he teaches how to do things, and positions under his umbrella have high turnover and incompetence. (Example- 6 months ago I found massive mistake by SIL that cost the company 30% of its profits for 8 months and instituted emergency corrective action). The owner is brilliant but blindly follows sycophants of whom SIL is one. I am next level down in management and have thrown my lot behind the daughter, and as a non-family member less emotional voice, sometimes I can get points across in a less heated manner. The big recent frustration was convincing the founder that we need to invest in higher level industry-trained experts who can teach us some of the industry knowledge we lack. We will lose accounts if we don’t because our ignorance is preventing us from providing our customers with the products and solutions they need. Saving money on salaries by hiring inexperienced employees is going to cost millions of dollars of business. The founder has given permission to hire these new employees, but he has a history of changing his mind and short term buyer’s remorse. We will see…..
“I used to think people were smart until I tried to teach them how to use workflows.”
Hey OC: I worked in a small business for nearly 14 years and did everything I could to bring my small but industry leading trade mag into the Interner era. At the end of the day, the 3 percent owner and managing partner who claimed he wanted to step back into the business refused and the real owner was too weak and sick to refuse him.
The 3 percenter let me go partly because he wanted to be part of a possible sale deal. However, he realized the two prospective buyers wanted me — the future — not him — the past.
The magazine was never sold, and it died about a year or two after both the owner and 3 percenter died.
At the time, I thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me and was restful about it for a very long time, but it really turned out to be a real blessing in disguise.
I hope this owner of yours allows this transition to occur, but be prepared for him to let his business die because he refused to adapt. After my repeated attempts to update the business were rejected, I did my job but gave up trying to play the game. I even introduced them to a potential buyer after I was dumped, and they ignored him too…
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