Can I Pick Your Brain?

Ouch! No! What are you thinking? That would hurt. Oh, that’s not what you meant. So what did you mean? Ah, I see. You meant it figuratively. You want to pick my brain for FREE advice. Like I said earlier: No! Picking my brain does hurt. Not physically unless you bore me with your ideas but it does hurt my business especially if you invite me out to Starbucks (they recently raised their prices) and don’t bother paying for my drink.

I’ve been a victim of “pick your brain.” Maybe we should all start a support group. Hello, my name is Suki and I’ve recently had my brain lobotomized. Could you please help? I get it. The economy is tanking and everyone is out to get free advice, especially start ups.  However I’m running a business too. Doesn’t my time matter? Don’t I deserve something? Shouldn’t my valuable nuggets of wisdom come with a price tag? Yes.

Each time I see an email, DM via Twitter, or get a voicemail saying “can we meet for coffee? I’d like to pick your brain?” I cringe. I want to scream. It’s an instant red flag and it makes me want to run the other way even when they supposedly promise that it’ll lead to further business which it most likely won’t. How often have you been stuck in that coffee shop where you’re spilling your innermost secrets about how they can take their business to the next level and they’re frantically taking down notes. Yeah. You just lost a potential client and all they paid was $3.50 for your time.

So what does one do the next time we’re asked to have our brains picked?

1.) Say no. You don’t have to be rude about it but explain that your time is valuable and your have a consulting fee. If they really want your advice, they’ll pay. Have the invoice ready and email it back. Then you’ll gladly meet for coffee.

2.) If you feel uncomfortable charging a consulting fee (you really shouldn’t; you have a business to run so treat it like one), tell them you’re too busy. How about chatting with _________? (competitor’s name) Maybe they’ll take the coffee bait and switch deal.

3.) If you wish to be subtle, send them to your website and specifically send the link that explains your consulting rates and services. If they still don’t get the fact that you want to be charged for your time, you probably don’t want to be working with them anyway.

4.) Tell them you’ll meet for beers instead and name the place of an expensive bar. Suggest they pick up the tab. Picking your brain will have added value to their business once you’ve drowned that pink mush up there in some Guinness. See how they like it when your slur your words and suggest they post viral videos on YouTube of the both of you singing karaoke.

5.) Ask them to list their request in an email and what value they will get from your session together. Tell them to research their competition. If they’re going to make you work for free, shouldn’t they do some homework too? In most cases, they won’t so they’ll turn themselves away. If they can’t invest time in their business, you shouldn’t waste time on them.

In most cases, a “pick your brain” situation can turn into monetary value for both of you however nowadays most self employed, start-ups, or independent contractors are just looking to tap into any gullible expert so don’t let yourself fall into that trap. Respect yourself and the business you’ve worked hard to create.  How often have you fallen victim to this scenario? I want to hear your stories. How did you overcome it? Did you fall prey? What did you learn? How do you handle it now?

Photo Credit: Chris Corwin

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  • Sheanzyy

    Another incredible piece Suki! Keep it up.

    • Sukhraj Beasla

      Thanks for reading and your kind comment! :)

  • Joe Kim

    If someone is inviting you out for coffee to pick your brain, then they are acknowledging the importance of your thoughts. You have to treat yourself with respect by acknowledging that your time is valuable. But, it just seems kind of sad that if I were to ask someone for their opinion over coffee that they might be offended or feel like I am cheating them out of their consulting fees.

    Whatever happened to, “It doesn’t hurt to ask”?

    • Sukhraj Beasla

      While I respect myself and acknowledge that they sought me out, I wouldn’t write this if I hadn’t been cheated out of something. Most often they take my ideas and implement them without crediting me or paying me a fee for my time.

      It doesn’t hurt to ask but if someone is helping you out, provide them with something for their time. Don’t we deserve a little credit for sharing our ideas with you?

      • Joe Kim

        You absolutely deserve credit if you did not get paid and the work had value! People should get compensated proportionally based on the value of their contribution. First, consultants must believe in their value, then they must demonstrate it their clients.

        But, I wouldn’t feel bad about getting cheated, I’d let Karma sort it out. People who would cheat others are less likely to be successful than people who continuously strive to make sure their associates are getting max value they can afford.

        It’s not unusual for consultants to work for free or at a loss to get their foot in the door, but if clients fall into the perception that their goal is to get as much free information as possible without paying, then it’s priority #1 to shift their perspective into the value of the work. Then appropriate compensation becomes a much more natural next step.

        • Sukhraj Beasla

          True. I’m still of the belief that karma will get them back. I just had another pick your brain moment today. It’s interesting that they wanted my expertise and valid case studies as well. I know they won’t pay me because they just didn’t seem interested so I guess this really all comes from years of “paying it forward” and not getting anything in return. :)