I love giving advice. I write blogs, articles and a newsletter. I host a radio show. I tweet, Facebook and share nuggets of advice almost daily. So what is it in all of that, that would make anyone think they can still have the right to “pick my brain”? I can’t tell you how flattering it is to be approached by representatives from major companies seeking my wisdom and advice. It show they are listening and like what I have to say. But often I find the road ends when they are just on a fact finding mission.
That mission is to pick my brain to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need to make their jobs easier. Not gonna happen, sorry. My brain costs money to maintain. There’s training, classes to attend, reading (I have to buy books), gaining certifications, costs of memberships so I can network, attending conferences and mastering my skills that all cost me money. I have to protect my investment. How fair is it to me to give away all the knowledge I have acquired that I use to make my living, pay my bills and eat?
Now, don’t get offended. If you do, maybe you deserve to be offended because you’re one of those aforementioned brain pickers.
There have been many articles written and discussions formed around this very subject. With the Internet being so widely available loaded with free information, people automatically assume that you too have to provide information for free. My response to that is go ahead and read the free stuff. But when you still find yourself lacking answers, then apparently the FREE stuff doesn’t work. You can’t come to a professional and ask them to work for free. In essence, that is what you’re doing when you ask to pick someone’s brain.
How would you feel if your boss came to you and said “hey since we can get this done from information from the internet, I won’t be paying you today”. Go ahead, let it sink in. Got that visual yet? Good. That’s exactly how I feel whenever someone wants to take me to lunch or call me to pick my brain.
If you’re like (how I used to be) you’ve given away tons of valuable information. I never once minded helping people out. It’s the ones who keep coming back for more freebies and those who take my ideas, implement them, find success, then never offer to repay me for my time. And no, a turkey sandwich is NOT payment for something that helped you overcome an obstacle and either created value or additional revenue for your company. I charge my PAYING clients very good money for results. How would they feel to know that I’m giving out free advice? Not too swell I would imagine. In fact I hope they don’t call me demanding refunds!
The most prevalent question I get is how do you draw the line? Deciding the point where you begin to charge is tough, especially if you’re just starting out. But your knowledge has value. You’ve invested time and money into learning your craft and it’s not fair for people to expect you to give it away for free. Even friends need to understand there are boundaries. For example I will no longer advise my friends or family for free. (Wow, I just made some people mad….they’ll get over it!). I have businesses to run, employees to pay, mortgage to pay, office rent to pay, college tuition, etc, etc, etc. I’ve told this to friends who have promptly replied “me too, you know I don’t have much money”. SO WHAT. That means you either have to delay your plans or come up with the money to fund your dreams. Period. Giving away information is the quickest way to end up evicted or foreclosed on. Put that in proper perspective for a moment.
If you’re having problem drawing the line in the sand, here are some rules of thumb you should follow:
Believe that what you know is valuable. If it wasn’t then why are they coming to you? You’re their chance to solve a problem or find a solution. That has value. Charge for it.Create a fee schedule. Whenever someone wants to pick your brain, make sure you have your fee schedule in front of you. Give them a quote for how much it will cost them. They’ll either pay it or move on. If they move on, good riddence. They weren’t interested in paying you anyway. Let them figure it out on their own.Decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business. If the conversation swings around to business, quickly and politely tell them you’re off the clock.
If they are interested in a consult they can book an appointment and let them know what the charge is for that.Keep it light. Some of you will probably cave and throw a few nuggets out there. If you do (I hope you don’t), keep it general. Give the why and what but never the how. Anything beyond the why and what comes with a charge. And don’t even point them in the direction to obtain the how. That’s short changing yourself.Prominently post that there are no freebies. OK not in those words. But if you have a blog or website, and even on your social media profiles, make sure you mention that consultations are available at a fee.Exchange for equal value. This puts you in an advantageous bargaining position. If someone requests free information or help, you must feel comfortable in asking for an in kind value service.
Assess what they have that can be of equal benefit for you. If they are genuine, they should have no problem in an even exchange of knowledge. Only you will know if what they have is equal to what you’re giving.Refer them to your “free” resources. If you write a blog, have published articles, have archived videos or podcasts or have a show in which you dispense advice, refer them to that information. Explain that those are the only free information sources you offer. Anything specific or beyond what’s readily available has a cost.Don’t be afraid to send them to Google. You can recommend they go to Google, or any other search engine or to sites that have articles or information about what they need advice on. You can also recommend a book or magazine that might be helpful.
Let them expend that energy they would have used in meeting you at Starbucks and hit the search engines to find their answers. Problem is, they’ll be overwhelmed with varying degrees of information. Not fun for them, but when they’re ready to put it in proper perspective and implement, they can come to you…for a consult…a paid consult.Ask them for a paying referral. If they truly want your expertise, they have to be willing to help you out too. It’s kind of like the Equal Exchange point I made above crossed with paying it forward. Before you dispense any advice, ask them to provide you with referrals to others who most certainly need (and can afford) your service.Don’t back down. I know it’s hard to say “no” sometimes. But you can’t back down. People will know how far they can bend or push you. Stand firm, set your boundaries and guard your treasures (your brain and the know how in it). The minute you compromise you devalue yourself and your expertise.
Most people are afraid to draw the hard lines in the sand for fear of angering a friend or losing a potential client or opportunity. Trust me, if they will walk away because they cannot get a freebie, they weren’t meant to be a client and there was no real opportunity in it for you. Many in the marketing circles will tell you the freebie give away is vital. But it doesn’t always lead to a sale. Likewise giving away what you would do in a given situation during an interview will not necessarily lead to you being hired. It’s up to you to determine what you’re willing to give away and how much of it. Know your worth, understand your value. Stop being taken advantage of. No more freebies.