I learned the hard way early on in my business ownership venture that a “pick your brain” conversation wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The requests typically fall into one of two overarching categories: (1) the person wants to learn from you so they can become your competitor or (2) the person wants to learn from you so that they don’t have to pay you for your services. Either way, it’s rarely ill-intended; they’re coming to you because they feel you know your stuff! But that doesn’t change the fact that the conversation can still become an unproductive time suck for you. So here are a few of my tricks for avoiding a “brain pick” conversation.
- The Non-Evasion Evasion
Sometimes there are folks you don’t mind helping…within reason. Maybe it’s an old friend. Maybe it’s someone you owe a favor to. Maybe it’s someone up-and-coming in the industry that’s tugged at your heartstrings. For whatever reason, you WANT to hang out with this person and lend a helping hand. In these cases, feel free! It’s your time to do with as you please. But you should probably go in prepared with some boundaries – a time limit, topics you won’t discuss (*cough* pricing *cough* your client list), and things of that ilk.
- Calendar Constraints Evasion
This response looks a little like this: “Thank you so much for reaching out! I’m flattered that you feel I have the knowledge to help you. Unfortunately, I am absolutely buried in deadlines and client work right now. Can you circle back with me in a few months?” NOTE: Only use this one if you’re ok with them circling back with you later.
- The “No Free Advice” Evasion
When you can tell upfront that someone’s just trying to avoid paying you for what you know (and you can tell that many times), you can avoid a “pick your brain” conversation by requiring payment. That response goes along these lines: “Thanks for touching base! That type of meeting actually falls under my [XYZ Topic] consultation service. The rate for that is [name your rate], and that covers [set the parameters: any meeting prep, topics you’ll work through during the meeting, how long the meeting will last, etc]. If that’s agreeable to you, we’ll get payment lined up and a date on the calendar!” If you were right and they were looking for free advice, they’ll either not respond or they’ll decline. If they’re serious about their inquiry, you’ll at least get paid for your time and efforts.