Q. Being professionals in trade, we find ourselves increasingly being asked by friends, who could well afford to use our services, how to achieve certain things. They know we depend on these skills — which have taken years to learn and perfect — for our livelihood. What do you suggest is the best way to put them in their place and, without being overtly rude, avoid these situations?
— Name and address withheld
A. Try something along these lines. Wearing an affectionate smile, respond to their opening gambit of ‘Can I pick your brains…?’ by saying: ‘That should be the title of my autobiography! Do you know, you’re the third friend to ask me that today? And I’ve already said to the other two, “I’d love you to, but then I’d have to help all my friends for free and I’d get into trouble with paying clients. But if you’d like, make an appointment and come into the office. We can give you mates’ rates.”’
Q. I am a freelancer working in the creative ‘industries’ as they’re styled nowadays. At least half of the agents, promoters, producers etc. I try to contact refuse to reply to emails or return phone calls. I’m not alone in this: many of my colleagues are being ignored. Should I continue to pester these recalcitrants or simply give up?
— N.M., London SW1
A. You should persevere but do so using more imaginative tactics. First, don’t take the discourtesy personally or let it undermine you. Those in positions of patronage are generally overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of overtures they receive. Consequently the chore of filtering is given to those lower down in the hierarchy who will block advances from potentially more talented petitioners. While it’s key to get your foot in the door, internships are only available to the children of friends, and tea ladies and secretaries are anachronisms. However, one path remains open to you.
Train as a masseur and sign up with one of the ‘at desk’ massage teams servicing high-end creative agencies. Facetious as this may sound, you will gain clarity of focus on your best targets along with access to them. Moreover, (above board) massage skills will serve you in good stead in every aspect of your life so the training will not be wasted.
Q. Neighbours are opening their garden to the public and I want to support them. My husband is refusing to, however — he’s nursing a grudge because, although their garden is ten times the size of ours, they have planted a copper beech within our field of vision. How can I break this impasse?
— Name and address withheld
A. Go to the open day and walk about grinning blandly and being supportive. If asked where your husband is, scan the acres vaguely and say, ‘I don’t know but I must go and find him.’ Your neighbours will assume he is among the throng but that they have somehow missed him.
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