I feel that I need to explain the phrase “paying it forward” a bit as I am pretty sure that most people think about it as an altruistic move, a gift in the hope that someday, someone will come and pay back. Spoiler: that’s a fairy tale.
You read and probably will read about this concept a lot. I wrote about it just last week, André Klein wrote about it on Learn Out Live and many successful entrepreneurs in the Valley are talking about how paying forward eventually landed them good jobs and other opportunities.
What they and I did not tell you is the mindset you need in order to make “paying it forward” work. It’s not about serendipity, it’s about business. Paying it forward means that you are giving the other person a loan that you expect to get back with interest on top. And this means that you need to calculate the risk of paying it forward in the first place.
First of all, can I afford it? Working for free takes away time that you could use to earn money right away. Therefore, you need to ask yourself if there is a chance that the time you invest in a project or person is going to result in revenue or another opportunity down the road.
Secondly, are there other side effects of paying it forward that might help you to achieve other goals? Will the work strengthen your personal brand, will you reach new potential customers or are there other positive outcomes on the horizon?
Those are of course all factors you cannot predict without fail, but you should be able to see if there is the potential that something might result out of it.
Going back to my post about Today’s Campus, I could not predict that making 200+ video interviews and other webcasts would lead me to becoming Innovation Editor but I knew from the start that it would help me build my brand in the online education space which would lead to some opportunities like joining startups as advisor, offer consulting services or talk on events, eventually. It was a calculated investment with a medium risk as I invested the time and effort in my own project. Nevertheless, it took away (a lot of) time that I could have used to teach online or work on an online course etc.
Second example: building this blog eventually led to paid columns on other blogs which besides the obvious monetary effect also helped to build my overall reputation. But again, blogging and building an audience took time that I could have used to generate revenue as an online teacher.
To sum this up: always evaluate your potential return before you get engaged into paying it forward, especially when you get involved in a project that is not yours. At least unless you are absolutely fine with investing time and effort without any potential (financial or reputational) outcome but Karma points for the afterlife.