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One of the downsides of answering questions on a StackExchange site is that people frequently contact us via email and Twitter DM asking for free help with their development problem[1]. And while I do like to help people here on WordPress Answers these direct contacts can get overwhelming, especially when I'm behind on my own or client projects.

I'm sure I'm by far not the only person who has experienced this issue so I'd like to hear from others how they handle this? I could:

  • Route them back to WordPress Answers and tell them to ask the community, and/or
  • I could quote my hourly rate and ask if they want to pay for help.

However I fear that both answers will have me coming across like an aloof jerk and I don't want people to perceive me that way. If I had the free time and no other current obligations I'd answer but the reality is I often don't. How do I get those who are asking questions to appreciate what it's like to get constant direct requests via email or Twitter DMs for free help?

I do really enjoy answering questions for free here on WordPress Answers but I get to do that when I decide I have the free time. How do I get it across to people who contact me directly so they can understand it's not cool to directly contact someone from here on WordPress Answer asking for free help?

[1] If they either offered to pay for the time or at least caveat it that it's okay if I don't have time to answer then getting these emails or Twitter DMs wouldn't feel like I've had an obligation placed on me that I did solicit.

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First of all, ask yourself, Do I really need to have my email on here/is it doing any good? If no, then take it off. If yes, keep reading.

I recommend doing it by the "Skeet" method. (For those of you who don't hang around SO often, he's the Chuck Norris of Stack Overflow.) Right next to his email, he links a blog post (sadly, not Wordpress). This is part of what his post says:

In the early days of Stack Overflow, this wasn't too bad. I'd get maybe one email like this a week. Nowadays, it's simply too much.

If you have a question worthy of Stack Overflow, ask it on Stack Overflow. If you've been banned from asking questions due to asking too many low-quality ones before, then I'm unlikely to enjoy answering your questions by email - learn what makes a good question instead, and edit your existing questions.

If you've already asked the question on Stack Overflow, you should consider why you think it's more worthy of my attention than everyone else's questions. You should also consider what would happen if everyone who would like me to answer a question decided to email me.

Of course in some cases it's appropriate. If you've already asked a question, written it as well as you can, waited a while to see if you get any answers naturally, and if it's in an area that you know I'm particularly experienced in (read: the C# language, basically) then that's fine.

Anyway, I'd respond with this:

Hello {Person},

I'm a professional with Wordpress that hangs around Stack Exchange quite a bit. I'm busy, and I have a life, too. Have you tried asking your question on Wordpress SE? If not, that's a great place to get started. If I help you here, then my time is spent only helping one person. However, on SE, my time could help multiple people, or even hundreds or thousands of people.

If your question got closed, have you tried researching it yourself? Did you clarify it? Did you make it the most polished you can? SE usually only closes questions that are very hard to answer. Chances are, I can't answer it if it's closed on SE.

Of course, if you need a couple hours of one-on-one time, feel free to contact me. My hourly rates start at $xx per hour.

  • Thats an excellent response, the best yet! Thanks. – MikeSchinkel Jun 9 '14 at 1:42
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I get such requests regularly, despite the note on my contact page. I always answer:

Ask where I can share my answer: on WordPress Stack Exchange. Or pay.

This isn’t rude, and everyone understands it. I ignore the few people who don’t get it.

  • Thanks for the ideas toscho. P.S. I have a similar note on my contact page. – MikeSchinkel Jun 7 '14 at 18:41
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Stack Exchange ends at border of Stack Exchange sites. This is what I figured from discussing this over with admins over out-of-site contact that was significantly less pleasant than just asking for free work.

Handling such contacts is subject to neither SE network rules or customs.

Personally I respond that I don't have resources to provide direct help. I routinely simply ignore overly demanding emails, but SE-related ones rarely fall that low.

  • Thanks for the response Rarst. – MikeSchinkel Jun 7 '14 at 18:42
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I also have a note on my sites contact page. Additional to that, I also have the same note on my StackExchange profile page. If someone ignores that, I ignore her/him as well - or tell about my hourly rate *).

The reason why I don't do 1:1 support for free is easy to understand: I have a blog, a StackExchange account and I regularly participate in MeetUps to share knowledge with as many people as possible. E-Mail/IM/PM simply is the wrong way to help someone: It is not accessible by others later on, so the knowledge is given away and then lost.

*) While most people don't even care to use words like "Hi!", "Bye", "Cheers" or "Thanks", there sometimes are exceptions. Some weeks ago I was contacted by someone named Miyamoto who had a question about Google Maps. I couldn't answer the question (bug in the API), but got a mail some days later where he actually shared the solution with me. A pleasant surprise and I highly value that.

  • 1
    Thanks Kaiser. Seems like "the answer" is to just say "Sorry, can't help you 1:1." – MikeSchinkel Jun 8 '14 at 19:33

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