You’re at a party. The second question people ask is “What do you do for work?” When they learn your profession, it isn’t uncommon for them to ask you for advice. Generally you don’t mind helping out to a degree, but there are always people who start by asking for a little advice and end by monopolizing us for the whole evening. Worse, they may assume we are now their on-call, fee-free specialist.

There are three ways to get out of this. First is the direct refusal. “Sorry, when I’m not at work, I don’t work. Here’s my card.” This is only for those who have the courage to say no and stick with it, despite anyone else’s wheedling. My cousin is a world-renowned jazz saxophonist — he would play down the “world-renowned” bit, probably at 240 beats per minute in 8/12 time with semi-quaver runs over three octaves — who was recently asked to play at a friend’s party. No, he said, that’s my work. And he does work: gigs and teaching and transposing and composing and recording. But the host didn’t get it: he’s a muso, that’s not work. No; he’s a muso and he loves his work … but it is still his work. I’m pleased to say he stuck to his guns.

The second way is for those who have two jobs. Say that you aren’t really a [whatever]; you just said that to impress them. You really just do [your second job].

The third method is my favourite. Write on your business card: “For consultation at party on [that day’s date]: $200.” Give it to them, and say “Normally I ask clients to pay within a week, but you don’t have to rush: within a fortnight will be fine”.

Of course both of these methods have their drawbacks, so if you know of any other ways to turn away spongers, I’d appreciate the advice.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2007.