Professional Etiquette

I’ve been thinking about writing an article on professional etiquette. First I wanted to check myself, or at least open a dialog, to see what you all thought. I’m not sure if these experiences/reactions are local to me or indicative of a larger trend that could perhaps be course corrected with some carefully written educational pieces (not rants).

Over the past year I’ve been getting an increasing amount of requests. Examples being:

  • Can you spend a few hours with our team to educate them on your design process?
    Can we set up a 1 hour to call so I can learn how to start my own design firm like you did?
    Can you help me create a media strategy to get the same number of followers and audience you have?
    Can you get me a tour at x company you worked for or consulted for?
    Can you join our team on our off site to help us work through our product strategy?
    Can you introduce me to an executive at a company you used to work for or a client? I want to work there or consult for them too.

In all cases these requests have come from people I have never met or maybe met once or twice briefly. Looking at their profiles they all seemed to be talented and skilled designers and seemed to be overall normal, good natured people.

But, the short answer to all of these is no. No, I can’t spend time educating your team or sorting through your strategy. This is literally what I charge clients for and how I put food on the table for my family. No I can’t get you, person I don’t know, a tour of a company I used to work for or introduce you to an executive there. That ask makes me feel super uncomfortable. And no I can’t reveal all of my business practices and strategy or help you build your following. It took me years to build all of that and it is how I keep the bills paid. My feeling is that these requests are incredibly gauche.

Like I said, they seem like good enough people, just maybe not aware on the magnitude of the asks and how awkward of position that puts me in to tactfully reply no.

So, bringing it back home, is this something you are experiencing?

As a side note, I have gotten similar requests from very close friends whom I’ve known for years, have worked with, and can vouch for. In those cases, I know the person well and their is a mutually beneficial relationship there that makes the ask more comfortable and I know they would reciprocate.

Also, of course students get more leeway. We’ve all been in their shoes.

And I’m pretty open in general to “I’d love to meet you for coffee or lunch” … so maybe I’m just persnickety.

No need to write an article on the cases you mention about Professional Etiquette. Those requests are NOT professional. End of article.

I answer those type of requests with a “Sure, I can do phone meet and greet for 15min and I’d be happy to review your brief once we work together… strategy review packages start at $10,000…”


Not professional and just plain rude to assume one can donate time to suit their needs.

I play fiddle, guitar, and mandolin in 2 bands. Paying gigs exclusively. Yet I still get local requests to play at the library or for weddings (for free!), etc. I usually answer, “I quit doing solo gigs years ago and the band requires at least $200 per member to play this.” Stock answer and that’s the last I’ll hear from them :slight_smile:

Once we were playing a large contradance gig and this guy walked up and asked if we minded if he sat in on the piano that was in the hall. “um, NO”. Don’t ask a working band this, ever. Same thing for working designers.

Oh man, the art of saying no. This one is tough. Definitely feel some of these as well @yo. Although I feel split on the subject. As we all know the industry is small, I’ve come across a couple times where I’ve ended up meeting a designer in person and they said that I shorted them an answer or never even responded. I also know what it feels like to be on the other side, sending messages to people I admire and getting no response. It’s tough, obviously no one wants to be a dick, but at the same time it can really drag you down by writing a long winded “no”.

I would love an article that has a template response that we could all use. Odds are the people emailing you aren’t reading Core77, so it would be good to educate them that way.

This always gets to me. If we meet in person, and I follow up with an email, I expect a reply. ‘Nice to chat. Busy here” is ok. If I follow up after a few weeks with still no reply, that’s just unprofessional, no excuses. There’s no chance you missed 2 emails. That’s not cool.

If we message backed forth and you ghost me, that’s not cool. Especially if you are in the industry.

Heck, even if I cold email you and we don’t know each other, but there’s a relevant personal or business connection (I’m not selling toner or SEO optimization here) I expect a reply. ‘No thanks’ or even “F off” is better than nothing.

Maybe we do need a form reply to send to people like this? Where was that thread of points to reply to students seeking jobs that were out of touch from a few years back?


I’ve been small-time burned by ‘ghost’ contacts enough times (two, to be exact) that I just won’t meet someone anymore for coffee.
I’ll get on a phone call if I’m going to be commuting anyway so its at worst dead time, at best fills the time by gabbing.
Totally agree that’s what you should be getting billable hours for especially at yo’s level.
Don’t bother with an etiquette guide; the right people won’t read it, the wrong people won’t stop. Maybe the form letter like RK suggests.

Those requests seem a little extreme.

How do you feel about people asking you for general professional advice for 15 minutes? I do this sometimes. It’s always people I look up to, and I make it a point not to ask them for anything other than sharing their story. Sometimes I’ll ask them if they can give me folio feedback. Do you think this is pushing it? The last thing I want is to come off as rude or self-serving.

An aquaintance of mine uses this handy Calendly site for her requests like this: Calendly - Kate O'Reilly You choose what you want to talk about, and there’s a price listed with a time frame. Sure she’s open to quick conversations about things, but she’s also quick to draw the line to say: here’s my calendar, book a time and we can discuss further.

Of course, you’ve got close to 40K IG followers, Mike. This option may not work for you, but maybe it will for someone else who runs into this from time to time.


That is a good idea to productize it. That is really helpful, thank you so much for sharing that. It gives me another way to think about it. I did this with a young designer who was the only designer at an engineering firm. He called and emailed me for advice several times and after the third or fourth contact I told him I’d have to charge his company a monthly retainer, and they agreed to it. We did that for 1.5 years.


From my perspective, I’m often happy to help, but it can be a drain on energy and the knowledge / perspective I’m sharing is hard to come by and hard won. I guess to Chris’s point, I just need to formalize a fee structure for professionals who want that so I make my hourly rate + the additional value I’m providing… for people who want advice.

For people I don’t know who want introductions to execs that is another matter. Our reputations are one of our most valuable resources. When an executive gets an introduction from me they need to know it is worth their time so I can only introduce people who are pretty thoroughly vetted… otherwise they will just start deleting my emails.

A bit OT from the original topic but a valuable conversations re: time vs. value.

It’s always a balance putting in time for calls for networking with no immediate/clear ROI, giving back to students and the community, and of course managing time and making a living.

Balance and value I think are some of those things that you just need to “feel” out. You usually immediately know if the time in is worth it. Sure, you could charge an hourly rate for consulting here and there 30min at a time, but then you could easily spend all your time on short calls with nothing to show for it and spend more time invoicing than making money on larger contracts. You can charge everyone who comes to you to have a call but you never know when they are vetting you and there is work to be had or the size of the job.

I usually value my time with respect to tim/efort the other side is putting in.

If they are a student and just want a portfolio review, I asked if they have been active here on the core forums to get more advice. Have they done research about what I specialize in and are they talking to me just because they found me random online or have specific questions that I might be in a position to answer?

Does a potential client have just an “idea”? Have they done their homework? I have written several FAQ docs on my website that I direct them too always first to avoid the basic Q&A. Do they have a business plan? Any idea of basic budgets, time, realistic project goals? Are they just fishing?

I think all cases also deserve different levels of “professionalism”-

  1. students
  2. B2B (ie. business development)
  3. Client/Consultant


all good points. I also try to point people here if they want portfolio feedback. That way they can get feedback from multiple people and that feedback is public for other people to benefit from. It seems like with instagram and other online sources though, not many students follow through on that. While it is good to post on IG, I don’t think you are going to get the depth of feedback and it isn’t really archived and easily seen by others.

Ya, but maybe it’s only us olds here… :wink:


As you are a consultant I would have thought that most of those questions would have been suitable to ask you and the expectation would be that you would have replied with pricing. If the expectation was that you would do them for free then that says exactly how much they value you and what you do. The individual introductions would be a hard pass for me unless I have personally worked with them before as they have a bigger chance of biting you in the ass.

Overall I think there should always be a trade/reciprocation. Everyone can always offer something in exchange regardless of the level they are at even though it might not be equal to the time/effort you put in (e.g. Give a student your time for a paid lunch, gift you something they made, offer you their time, even mow your lawn).

I can see why it is confusing for some though. From listening to podcasts there are heaps of internet gurus/rich people who are telling people that they should offer free help to anyone and everyone that asks because karma. They also say to find someone you admire/is famous and ask them for help because they might say yes and you never know whats going to happen. It’s also hard to know what services cost and what don’t. A lot of what we get these days is often “free” and high quality (e.g. music, youtube).

It has been a while for some of these, but my stock answers …

  1. A half-day workshop is $xxxx, a full-day workshop is $yyyy
  2. You want me to instruct you on how to be my competitor? Why would you trust anything I say?
  3. I’ll send you a proposal. Unless you are a competitor, then see #2.
  4. I am happy to pass your card along, but I cannot give you their contact information. Unless you are a competitor, then see #2.
  5. I’ll send you a proposal.
  6. See #4.

[ Deleted ]

Oh…the woes of raising your profile and being in demand. I was given some advice years back while working in Silicon Valley.

When everyone is networking 24/7 you need to 1) show interest and 2) have a success story for each inquiry you field as a consultant. Even if it means applying your creativity in ways you are not trained for. Or sharing an anecdote that never really happened.

For example…

Question: “Can you spend a few hours with our team to educate them on your design process?”
Possible answer: "Sure…I did that last month with a company across town. They invited me for the morning and I got a tour of their facility afterwards. They were very pleased with what I had to share. They even paid my fee in less than my usual net 30. "


Question: “Can you join our team on our off site to help us work through our product strategy?”
Possible answer…“Hmmmm?..This is possible. I do that kind of thing from time to time and have seen success. In fact I did it last winter with a company in Texas for just the day. They paid my expenses and even took me out for dinner afterwards. Sure!..let’s put something together for next month…”

Keep it general and keep it optimistic.

Some would say this is lying…some would say it is just business. Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison were famous for this kind of reality distortion. At the end of the day it is a reply to a positive possibility with yet another positive possibility. If they want to plant a seed in your garden…plant one in theirs as well. This is indeed next level thinking on your feet as a pro.

And remember…you are an ambassador of the ID profession when dealing with other disciplines outside of the studio. Help your fellow ID colleagues by always being open to helping others outside the profession with their needs. We need all of the brand help we can get.

Pro Bono work is not just for attorneys and no one ever says “no” in Asia…

This reminds me of something I have seen trending on LinkedIn that says something like;

“Just because I took an hour to do it, it doesn’t mean I am just working for an hour. You are paying for the 20 years it took me to get so fast”

As was mentioned, once you rise to “Influencer” status you can expect more of these.

An acquaintance of mine is a really well known creative and something I’ve seen him do (perhaps to address this) is he has offered like 1 day a month where people can schedule a 30 minute video chat with him for free. Now can you afford to take a full day of time out of your schedule to do that? Maybe not, but maybe that makes people who ask these questions normally know there is some “Window” for free advice and if they don’t get it - tough.

Our old office space (a we-work creative knockoff) did something similar. Each month they’d have 3 professionals come in for an afternoon and you could book time to chat with them. They’d just share the persons background and you could ask them anything.

Given how much time you’ve donated to Core77 over the years, I don’t think it’s totally absurd for people to “Expect” more. But you should feel comfortable where you draw your line especially if you know it’s being used for commercial services. Another way to think about this is if you give them 30 minutes, perhaps thats enough to draw them in as a bigger client? Paying it forward might have some advantages in that space as long as you’re good about cutting them off right when they get hungry for more.

I think that is right, Mike. I need to be better about it. Once I get into helping someone it is hard to draw the line. I actually just spent an hour helping someone this week, giving them some good advice and direction. I felt it was worth it because this individual is a VP at a brand. At the end of the call he said “wow, I really need to thank you for this” to which I pivoted to “that’s all right because now I’m going to press you hard for a project” at which we both laughed and then spent the next 15 minutes talking about that.


This is the particular part that sparked me to start this conversation… that expectation was chaffing me a bit but as iab and other stated I’m just getting more comfortable with qualifying people to determine if there is an opportunity there and getting to pricing. I’ve had the luxury of being plenty busy, but I should build the practice of qualifying and converting… all of those years of pitching at frog and presenting to retail buyers is coming in handy. And if people are comfortable enough to ask, then they should be comfortable answering some qualifying questions and getting down to brass tacks on price.