More than ever before, businesses put a high value on connection and collaboration in order to thrive. And we expect information (including advice) to be largely free. This new way of interacting has allowed us to connect in ways that would have been difficult in years past, making it easier now to reach out and ask if you can pick someone’s brain.
I do it. We all do it. But it’s easy to forget that some people make their living problem solving and using strategic thinking. I’m flattered when someone asks to pick my brain because it means they desire my opinion. The key word here is desire. Desiring and valuing are two very different things. We value what we pay for. Giving away too much of your time affects not only you but the people you aim to help, not to mention the people who do end up paying for it.
It’s a challenge to draw the line, especially for do-gooders. Bernadette Jiwa puts it beautifully here why it’s important to value yourself enough to put your energy towards high-impact work. If the goal is to help people, you can’t very well do that if you don’t value your time and expertise. The little dribbles of advice here and there don’t add up to much…for anyone.
There are two scenarios:
• The standard pick-your-brain session.
• A prospect to whom you give a trickle of advice and time.
The advice below applies to both scenarios without slamming a door. Don’t assume the worst when people ask to pick your brain. In many cases, the person who can’t pay now might be able to pay later.
Create criteria for meeting
• A good question is as valuable as a good idea. Craft a set of standard questions that will help both you and the prospect take a next step. A serious prospect will be happy to put in the work. To generate a good set of questions requires strategic thinking, a form of free advice in itself, and which the client will benefit from.
• As Sy Simms said, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” Send reading material that will help them learn more about what you do and how you help people. If they’re not interested, they don’t deserve your time.
• Ask specifically what they are trying to figure out. It’s your job to focus the purpose so it doesn’t spin out of control.
• Time out of the office for a consultant is time not paid. If you do decide to meet, take the opportunity to decide where, when and for how long a meeting will take place.
Slow down the process
A person in a rush to meet is usually looking for a quick fix to a problem that requires a thoughtful approach. They aren’t likely to value the time you put in. And most likely, they’re casting a net for anyone who is willing to meet quickly. You can’t be effective in a rush, especially with a new client. Politely decline and offer to meet again when there’s more lead time.
Do what you can
• Instead of saying “no,” offer up a quick email exchange or a 15-minute phone call. You can learn and help a lot in a short amount of time.
• Be a general source of good information: I often find the solution to someone’s specific problem and send them a link. Or I’ll point them to general resources like user forums or other good places to ask a question or get training. I also like connecting people who could be of mutual benefit to one another.
• Barter if you’re interested enough, and you feel that it would be an even exchange.
In general, be an ongoing source of good information in the form of blog posts, e-newsletters, webinars or free group gatherings. These are things over which you have control, that benefit you in the long run, and go a long way towards helping people succeed. Most of all, value what you bring to the table.