Only zombies pick your brain
You’ve spent years learning, studying, practicing your skills and knowledge, building up expertise and experience… Only for you to give it away for free? Advice is something we ask our closest friends for about a difficult situation or scenario. But what if that was transferred to a business sense. What if an individual was asking you for advice for their small business / marketing team / freelance strategy? Then it’s entirely different, right? Of course. But, where the lines blur is when the person who is asking is a friend.
Asking someone to ‘Pick their brain’ is an insult to the highest end. What they are asking is for free advice, to take information, skills, and insights about a particular set of problems that affect them and use this knowledge to benefit only them. They are asking to pick pieces of valuable expertise out of your brain based on your learnings and experience with a similar scenario to the benefit of them. Why pretend it’s anything other than that?
Advice is consulting. Make sure you don’t give it away without getting compensated for it.
The question should have been tackled directly by asking about that specific problem, “I have a problem with ‘x’, and talk about it?”, instead of skimming around what the actual problem is. There shouldn’t be any beating-around-the-bush if it’s a serious enough problem to have to ask someone for help with it. It’s a matter of perspective. This phrasing respects the fact that you have knowledge an expertise about this topic. They acknowledge you as a problem solver, even if the question is the same.
Asking someone about the problem directly respects your experience and expertise. While skirting the problem with vague language about picking your brain simply acknowledges you as a freeloader. Even if they expect the advice for free regardless of how it was phrased. You’re not going to waste time on something that you won’t see a return in. This is why you wouldn’t meet up with a stranger who contacts you online about a problem. Unless that person has purchased products or services from you in the past, or is actively engaging in your community / social media etc. This is how you know a ‘stranger’ (I say stranger because you don’t know them in person but may know them from you social media) is serious, because they have already spent money in your business before.
Being asked for your brain to be picked is a flattering position to be in. But you’re not going to be available to everyone all the time. Your time is valuable. People will respect an honest answer if you deliver it in a meaningful way, regardless if you are saying no. If that person reacts negatively to you saying no, then they weren’t the type of person you would want to give your consulting away for free.
What you can do
If you do want engage with someone for the purposes of meeting up to ‘discuss a problem’, or for them to ‘pick your brain’. There are a number things you can do to maintain professionalism and your integrity while saying no;
- Free Content – Link them to content you have created in the past about the problem, free or otherwise. This way, you have helped them out while promoting your content and services in a selfless manner. If you haven’t got ready-made content like this then think about how much advice is already out there in the form of free online. Most of the time their problem has been answered hundreds of times from free content. The thing is, they want your response. They look up to you, hence why they are asking you in the first place. They want to words to come from you. You may have come across it online for free. It may be something technical, in which case you can post a link to the content. I normally keep a bank of technical content in my ‘pocket‘. This way I have a go to place where I can share this advice with people I want to. Ranging from video settings, software practices, writing techniques, equipment setup etc.
- Payment – You can offer a ‘Pick my brain’ service. This is a good strategy to deter people who aren’t serious about their problems, and the same reason I have a contact form if you want to message me about working together. For too long people were able to contact me about wanting my services only for them to pull out when the topic of money came up. When people want real problems to be solved in the most effective way, they turn to those with expert knowledge. By making it clear from the start that this is a paid service you offer, it separates those who are serious and those who are not.
- Say No – A lot of the time you are going to be busy for just anyone to want to meet up with you and pick you brain. So have a blurb ready for the times when you simply don’t have enough time to reach out and meet up with everyone. It’s one thing to ask for help online, it’s another to ask for them to meet up etc. Be respectful in declining, tell them in an honest manner why you can’t meet up and refer to the first 2 points; either it’s a paid service you offer, or refer them to free content.
Sometimes you get requests for someone to get to know you better, meet over coffee to talk about featuring you in a magazine etc. This is a little bit different as you are trading services, experience for exposure, as is more of an interview than a ‘brain-picking’ exercise. Not entirely different, but it is important that you know how to identify when someone is taking advantage of you via free advice and when you are trading services. You will know your own situation which is better for you at the time. But for the most part, take the magazine feature.
It’s a tough situation to be in, especially as you continue to grow and gain traction. A lot of people who you used to know will come out of the woodwork to ask you advice on anything. Know how to respond in a polite manner that tackles the problem head on.
I love helping people realise their passion, that’s why I write about it every week and have written a book about it. But you can’t expect someone to drop what they are doing and go out of their way to meet you / spend time on your problem. If they did this to everyone that asked for advice or to meet up over coffee to discuss ‘x’ then they would get no real work done. Unless that service is paid. Which then becomes a different approach, whereby they examine your problem and apply specific knowledge and expertise to solve the problem.
You need to build relationships with the people who matter. There are countless people I have met through different day jobs that I would meet up with to give them consulting on design, freelancing etc. Make yourself available for those that matter, help those you that mean the most to you. This is the only time that I would recommend that you give away your skills for free.
You’ll know when the email comes through who you want to help and who is wasting your time. Who doesn’t value your expertise, and who is serious about what they do.
Help the people who matter, your friends and family.