I'm into web development and due to my work situation I had a lot of free time on my hands. I had been helping people with their personal projects on a volunteer basis.

I recently got a full time job (and I may still need to work my old one part time, temporarily) and I'm not sure I'll have much time. Furthermore, I know some people asking for my help can sort of not really know what they want (for example someone just asked me for help with SEO and now wants to meet for coffee to give me the details and frankly I get the impression he might not even know what SEO is).

How can I politely decline such requests? How can I gauge what the person wants if there not very technical and might not understand what they are talking about? How can I make it clear I may have to abandon the project at any point?

I'm volunteering with another group and offered to update their website. This seems to have been a misunderstanding because to them update means add totally new features when I meant simply update text and pictures. They have trouble understanding sometimes complex CSS is required to get overlapping pictures that can resize to any screen etc.

All these people I care a lot about and don't want to go back on my word/offer.


There is a simple solution to your situation. Create an off the top of your head estimate about the amount of work involved, double it, work out the cost of a normal developer doing the work and quote the time and cost involved. Then tell them how much time you currently have free.

Tell them you would love to help, but you have only 2 hours free in the next week, so apart from giving them pointers how to achieve their objectives, that is all you can do.

These pointers is what they really need, and either they can learn themselves how to amend their site, or wait till they find someone who can do the work. Unfortunately the more you devalue the work you do, and give them more than they expect, the worse you make their desire for more. I continually do this myself, because I enjoy the problem solving, but often attempt much more than I should. Also many people push themselves further than they should, when the people asking for help have no clue how complicated the solutions can quickly become.

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