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Why I Choose to Pay It Forward in the Work World

By Delia Lloyd October 12, 2020 Managing Money

I got a call the other day from a friend who’s looking to change careers in midlife. Knowing that I was a fellow traveler, she wanted to set up a time for us to talk so that I could give her some advice.

I probably get a call like that at least once a month. And I always take them. I usually follow up those conversations with book and podcast recommendations. I also suggest exercises that can help inch them towards their ideal day.

Finders’ Fees

Someone once suggested that I start charging for those services. After all, I’m serving as a quasi-career coach. But that thought has never even occurred to me.

For starters, they’re friends. And friends don’t charge friends for advice. But I feel the same way about finders’ fees.

Clients call me fairly regularly for names of people who can provide this or that service. Whenever that happens, I always provide the names of colleagues whom I know, trust, and can do the work.

The last time I did this, the colleague I recommended asked me how much of a cut I’d like for sending business his way. I said “nothing.”

What Goes Around Comes Around

Call me naive. But I’m of the “What goes around, comes around” school of thought. If I ever needed advice from one of the friends I routinely advise on career change, I’m confident they would return the favor.

This happened just the other day. A sticky situation had presented itself at work. So, I called a friend who ran his own consulting business for 25 years and asked him how he’d manage it. He patiently spent at least an hour on the phone with me, carefully walking me through a series of scenarios.

Unbeknownst to him, his daughter called me shortly thereafter to help her rewrite her cover letter and CV. I readily obliged. To my way of thinking, there’s a certain reciprocity there.

Ditto those colleagues I’m tossing work to every so often, without expectation of a finder’s fee. I fully expect that at some point, someone will offer them a professional opportunity that’s not in their wheelhouse. Or that they’re simply too busy to take on. And when that happens, they’ll think of me.

And even if they don’t refer me work, someone else in my professional circle will. I’m a big believer in this concept of “paying it forward.” It refers to a situation where the beneficiary of a good deed repays the kindness to others, instead of to the original benefactor.

It’s another way of saying “what goes around comes around.” Where my work is concerned, I fully believe that in some larger freelance eco-system cosmos, it all evens out.

Networking as We Age: The Power of Altruism

To me, that’s why networking is useful, particularly as we age. It’s not just that we know more people who can advise us professionally – the proverbial “dinner table of confidantes” I’ve written about before. It’s that you can help a wider circle of people.

As Jonathan Rauch notes in his brilliant book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, as we age, our brains are wired to be more altruistic. We possess a much greater ability to re-direct our focus away from ourselves and towards our community.

That’s also the message in another wonderful book called The Go-Giver. Its basic premise is that you don’t succeed in life because you take more away from other people; you succeed because you give back.

To my mind, that’s a wonderful feeling – to be able to share one’s expertise and, in turn, to learn from others. How about you?

When you give a referral, do you charge a finder’s fees? Do you ever give free advice? And how does it feel? Please share your thoughts below!

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The Author

Delia Lloyd is an American writer and communications consultant based in London. Her writing has appeared in outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and The BBC World Service. She blogs about adulthood at and is a visiting fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. Follow her on Twitter @realdelia.

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