Do you allow people to pick your brains for free?


I was recently made aware of this really interesting article from Adrienne Graham by Richard McCann (I’ve posted it below as it contains some great advice) and after reading it I thought about what I do in my own business.

I have chosen to give away lots of advice for free – this is what I believe to be the right approach to attract new clients.

I blog sales tips regularly, I have a book of sales tips that can be downloaded from Amazon for less than the price of a hotel coffee, and I often deliver talks at networking events.

In addition, I regularly find myself answering emails or getting involved in forums on sales matters.

I don’t get paid for any of this (except for the few pence I get from the book sales) and only get paid when I am contracted to give advice on how to increase sales in a specific business.

I get paid for giving advice. How valuable is that advice to my clients? That depends on the business and the person/people receiving the advice. I have a client who last year won a contract worth up to £250million after putting the advice I gave them into practice.

A friend of mine who is a business coach got told recently that his hourly rate was more than that of the divorce lawyer his client was using! I think that was missing the point, because it is not about hourly rates.

Advice is about potential. How much that potential is worth is up to the client, but my advice is always sound and workable.

If advice is wanted on a specific business issue, I think it is only fair that you should get paid a fair price for that advice, based on what that advice could potentially be worth to your client.

That said, I do give a lot away for free (hence this web-site) and will continue to do so because I believe in the BNI (world’s largest business networking organisation) maxim of givers gain. This means I believe that I will gain new clients from the free advice I give.

So, where do I stand on Adrienne’s article? I believe people need to know, like and trust you before they will become clients. Interacting with people and helping them without any immediate financial gain is part of achieving this.

But I do agree with Adrienne when she says people shouldn’t expect to be able to pick your brains for free. Therefore, my advice to you is if you are meeting someone for a coffee, give them one nugget of wisdom that will definitely help them for free, but no more. If they want more, because they can see how you can help them, then they should pay for that help.

This is easier said than done, because if you are a natural helper (like I am) you might find it difficult not to get carried away with your coffee advice. Also, people are very clever at digging for more freebies – they will sugar-coat these with compliments about your knowledge. But learn to see through these. Platitudes don’t pay the bills – cheques do!

Let me know what you think?

No, you can’t pick my brains…it costs too much! By Adrienne Graham

But your knowledge has value. You’ve invested time and money into learning your craft and it’s not fair for people to expect you to give it away for free. Even friends need to understand there are boundaries.

For example I will no longer advise my friends or family for free. (Wow, I just made some people mad….they’ll get over it!). I have businesses to run, employees to pay, mortgage to pay, office rent to pay, college tuition, etc, etc, etc.

I’ve told this to friends who have promptly replied, “Me too, you know I don’t have much money”. SO WHAT. That means you either have to delay your plans or come up with the money to fund your dreams. Period. Giving away information is the quickest way to end up evicted or foreclosed on. Put that in proper perspective for a moment.

If you’re having problem drawing the line in the sand, here are some rules of thumb you should follow:

  • Believe that what you know is valuable. If it wasn’t then why are they coming to you? You’re their chance to solve a problem or find a solution. That has value. Charge for it.
  • Create a fee schedule. Whenever someone wants to pick your brain, make sure you have your fee schedule in front of you. Give them a quote for how much it will cost them. They’ll either pay it or move on. If they move on, good riddance. They weren’t interested in paying you anyway. Let them figure it out on their own.
  • Decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business. If the conversation swings around to business, quickly and politely tell them you’re off the clock. If they are interested in a consult they can book an appointment and let them know what the charge is for that.
  • Keep it light. Some of you will probably cave and throw a few nuggets out there. If you do (I hope you don’t), keep it general. Give the why and what but never the how. Anything beyond the why and what comes with a charge. And don’t even point them in the direction to obtain the how. That’s short changing yourself.
  • Prominently post that there are no freebies. OK not in those words. But if you have a blog or website, and even on your social media profiles, make sure you mention that consultations are available at a fee.
  • Exchange for equal value. This puts you in an advantageous bargaining position. If someone requests free information or help, you must feel comfortable in asking for an in kind value service. Assess what they have that can be of equal benefit for you. If they are genuine, they should have no problem in an even exchange of knowledge. Only you will know if what they have is equal to what you’re giving.
  • Refer them to your “free” resources. If you write a blog, have published articles, have archived videos or podcasts or have a show in which you dispense advice, refer them to that information. Explain that those are the only free information sources you offer. Anything specific or beyond what’s readily available has a cost.
  • Don’t be afraid to send them to Google. You can recommend they go to Google, or any other search engine or to sites that have articles or information about what they need advice on. You can also recommend a book or magazine that might be helpful. Let them expend that energy they would have used in meeting you at Starbucks and hit the search engines to find their answers. Problem is, they’ll be overwhelmed with varying degrees of information. Not fun for them, but when they’re ready to put it in proper perspective and implement, they can come to you…for a consult…a paid consult.
  • Ask them for a paying referral. If they truly want your expertise, they have to be willing to help you out too. It’s kind of like the Equal Exchange point I made above crossed with paying it forward. Before you dispense any advice, ask them to provide you with referrals to others who most certainly need (and can afford) your service.
  • Don’t back down. I know it’s hard to say “no” sometimes. But you can’t back down. People will know how far they can bend or push you. Stand firm, set your boundaries and guard your treasures (your brain and the know how in it). The minute you compromise you devalue yourself and your expertise.

Most people are afraid to draw the hard lines in the sand for fear of angering a friend or losing a potential client or opportunity. Trust me, if they will walk away because they cannot get a freebie, they weren’t meant to be a client and there was no real opportunity in it for you.

Many in the marketing circles will tell you the freebie give away is vital. But it doesn’t always lead to a sale. Likewise giving away what you would do in a given situation during an interview will not necessarily lead to you being hired. It’s up to you to determine what you’re willing to give away and how much of it. Know your worth, understand your value. Stop being taken advantage of. No more freebies.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham
No, you can’t pick my brain!

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