Stop asking for handouts

Josh Sherman
4 min read

Rarely a week goes by that I’m not hit up by somebody asking me to do them a favor.

By favor, I actually mean handout.

Why do I mean handout? Because favors tend to be something that can be paid back and from where I’m sitting, there’s no way for me to collect.

Bloggers asking for me to link to them, but never a mention of a link trade.

Marketers requesting me to review the service they represent but are only willing to offer a limited trial to cover the time it will take to do the review.

Kids as well as adults in school and/or boot camps (most of which are for profit programs) flashing their student IDs like it’s an American Express Black card.

Not even once as anybody offered me anything in return, and it reminds me an awful lot of how open source as a whole is. People feature request and report bugs but rarely open up an editor and actually submit a pull / merge request.

It makes me happy that I’ve built things that people want to use. It tickles me that I’ve put in the work to make my blog a viable resource for information.

I don’t find joy in the one-sided handout requests.

Even worse are the few times I’ve actually replied to requests, happy to oblige, only to be ghosted.

Yes, I’ve responded to people asking for something for free, was willing to make an exception to them, only be be fucking ignored.

That makes it a ton easier for me to draw a line in the sand and just refuse any such requests. Easy freakin’ peasy.

With that, I want to discuss how people could do a way better job of asking for handouts. In nearly every scenario, all it takes is giving some incentive. Just a little something in return.

If you’re going to ask somebody to link to your site, the least you can do is offer the same for them.

This doesn’t change my mind that requesting links to improve the trust of your content is inherently flawed, so don’t bother with me.

Review Requests

If you’re going to ask somebody to review your service, don’t give them a month of free service. Bump it up to a year or more.

Even better, make this your policy for any reviews. Encourage the community to review your product in exchange for a year of free service.

Unsure if it’s still their policy, but it definitely worked for HitTail.

Free Access

For education is one example. Not for profits also make these same requests as do other organizations that probably are tax exempt while turning their own profit.

A few things to remember when asking for a handout from a service:

  1. The service may be run by an individual or small team, that may actually have day jobs to help supplement their income, and not by a rich corporation.
  2. The service may not be generating enough money to cover their server costs and are footing the bill out of pocket.
  3. The service may not even have a way to have free users in the system without having to code something new.

Know how I know these things? Because I have been all of the aforementioned and am currently “living the dream” by still being a couple of them.

A request comes in that somebody would like to use my service for free, all I can think is “wow, okay, so I work 40+ hours a week at my day job, put in at least 20+ hours a week on this service where I wear all of the hats AND have to juggle being a decent husband and father, and somehow you being in school outweighs my need to generate revenue to HOPEFULLY someday turn this into a self sustaining business that creates jobs and maybe even outlast me?”

So yeah, keep the aforementioned in my mind the next time you make a request for free access to a service. But also, think about what you could do to help the service you’re making the request to.

Perhaps you could give attribution to the service on whatever it is you’re building. Maybe you could offer up a review on your own blog. For developer related things, maybe write an SDK in a language that isn’t currently supported. Offer up your time to help be a tester.

Something, anything really.


I doubt this post will change the nature of the requests that I receive, but I do hope at least a few people get what I’m trying to say here.

Instead of asking for a handout, try to offer up something in return. When things are presented as being beneficial for both parties, your request is going to be significantly better received.

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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