You Can Pick My Brain. Just Not For Free.
I was recently reacquainted with an article that came out almost a year ago on Forbes called No You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs too Much. I posted the article on Facebook and received a bunch of comments, but most interestingly, Michelle Spelman offered a lot of advice. I wanted to distill the conversation into a blog post and share the best ideas with you and get your comments and ideas.
The problem is that I can’t pay my bills on free coffee/lunch/dinner PLUS it devalues my business. I actually once had another marketing consultant ask to meet for coffee saying he had some social media business that he might send me. At the meeting he basically asked me for my advice so that he could implement it with his clients. He wasn’t even a friend. I was SO SHOCKED.
I love my job. I love what I do. I love helping people. But if I answer every email question or meet with people for them to “pick my brain” I wouldn’t get any work done.
The article on Forbes suggests that you shouldn’t give away your advice for free. Even to your family and friends. To me that is a little extreme since I really do enjoy the opportunity to help my friends and family and give back.
Here are the key challenges that I see:
- Determining who is a good investment to meet with. My business is largely built on networking. If I don’t meet people I won’t have a business, so I can’t turn down everyone. A few years ago I adopted a policy not to meet with anyone (even on the phone) where there isn’t a clear purpose and benefit for me. I don’t want to review your product or get a tour or give you my feedback. Even with this policy, people still get through. I’ve had people ask to meet to talk about partnering, when really they want referrals from me (with no incentive for me). On the other hand I’ve met with people about partnering and seen tremendous returns.
- How do you nicely say no. Seriously, I HATE saying no to people. I find it hard. How do you tell them no? I sometimes deflect by saying that we could discuss some of these things if we had an engagement, but it is still hard. Especially for people I like who have already signed up for some of my classes.
In our Facebook discussion on the issue, Michelle said:
“It takes a certain amount of discernment and judgement to figure out when a meeting would be a worthwhile investment in other ways besides money (open doors down the road, support a good cause etc). For me – if I had the time, I would say yes as often as possible just for sheer karma because, heck, I picked a few brains when I was getting started. But honestly, I was getting to the point where I was drinking so much free coffee and my work schedule was going haywire. Something (or someone) has to give…. back! I think what it boils down to is not necessarily just saying “no,” but finding a way to be helpful in a way that is equitable. Equitable is not the same as equal, but it is healthy and fair. No one can argue with the need to function in a way that is healthy and fair. And, in fact, when you are able to show where the boundary is (like they say in the article) and what your needs are, and do it diplomatically, you earn respect of those who truly are worthwhile connects. But still, there are those cases where you just have to follow your gut and take a leap of faith.”
Some Creative Solutions to Turn “Pick Your Brain” into $$
- Membership program with a Q&A - If you really do respect my advice, then you should be willing to invest in one of my programs to get it. If it isn’t worth $27 for a social media marketing membership program (that also gives you webinars and countless videos) then it probably isn’t worth my time to give you my advice. This is actually one of my solutions that just launched. The membership program for only $27 gives you the opportunity to get access to my content plus call in to a monthly Q&A call and ask whatever you want. If my advice isn’t worth it to you than don’t waste my time.
- Tell them you have an upcoming webinar on that topic - Many years ago when I was starting out Cliff Ravenscraft gave me this idea. He suggested that if someone asks you a question, tell them that you have a webinar coming up on that topic, and that it will give them a much better ROI than your consulting rate. Next, create the webinar, charge $25 or $50 for it and market it to your existing contacts as well. If you get 10 people signed up it is a better ROI, and you answered the question.
- Don’t be accessible - I know people who do this. They don’t give you the opportunity to talk to them directly until you have invested in a training or coaching program. They give you the info and don’t share any personal contact information. This way you are paying for access. I don’t think that this fits well with my brand or in working with corporate training programs, but it can probably work for a lot of businesses.
- Have Your Fee Schedule Handy - This technique is suggested in the article. Always have a fee schedule handy and pass it out when the subject arises. It can be tactful and hopefully turn questions into clients.
- Include Follow-Up Questions in Proposals – I do this with many of my corporate projects. If I have been hired for training or consulting, I want to make sure that my clients have everything they need to be successful, and I am happy to answer a few questions after the engagement has ended. That being said, I’ve had some clients send VERY in depth questions, well after the engagement has ended. So, in my proposal as a VALUE ADD I include follow up calls as a line item. This way they have a set amount of time to ask questions without feeling guilty, and if the follow-up exceeds my time allocation I can ask them how they want to handle it.
- Create a Group for them to Poll - Michelle Spelman said in our Facebook conversation “Saying no to brainpickers isnt fun, but it feels better than being taken advantage of. Most people don’t realize they crossed a line. The linkedin group I started was a direct result of too many brainpickers…. now I give them my consulting rate and invite them to join the group and pick the group’s brains. If they are seriously wanting my expertise, they hire me. If they can only afford coffee/lunch, they just join the group. It’s a win/win for all involved.”
Here are My questions to YOU:
(Feel free to answer one, all or talk about something else)
- How do you decide which meetings to take?
- How do you say no?
- How do you get people to say yes?