Updated: Mar 2, 2022
Like many other consultants and strategists, I’m constantly asked by friends and strangers if they can “pick my brain over lunch” or just flat out email me for my advice on a business strategy matter after reading one of my books, LinkedIn articles, or articles in a number of other publications. This subject has been addressed in many forums by many different authors and experts. In fact, there’s a book with the title, No, You Can’t Pick My Brain: It Costs Too Much! Love it…
How to Avoid Being the Smartest Consultant in the Poor House
I provide free valuable information through several channels and that information has helped lots of others. Most people would never think of asking their attorney or CPA for a brain-picking session camouflaged as a pretense for “doing lunch.” But those who don’t want to invest the time or money for expert advice — or offer to help me in return — but want to get it from me for free – need to be educated or at least made aware of their bonehead requests.
The big exception is with peers in the mastermind groups I belong to. We SHARE valuable information with each other to help build our businesses.
One of my best friends is a realtor, and in one of our real estate investment deals, we worked through the motivated seller’s broker with an all-cash offer. My friend offered to represent our interests at no charge (he wasn’t going to get a commission because of how the deal was set up), but we insisted on paying him the standard commission anyway. We needed his expertise, and we gladly paid for it. Professional courtesy all the way around, and he is our go-to realtor for ALL our real estate transactions.
When conference coordinators and meeting planners hire me to provide a keynote, a seminar, or even breakout sessions, I’m always available to answer questions, sit down with an attendee to address some business issue – I even give away many copies of my books wherever I speak. If I’m being paid for speaking over several days, those same freebies apply.
Think about this: If brain pickers already knew the answers to their questions or the solutions to their problems, they wouldn’t be engaging you. Likewise, if they didn’t have to open their wallets to get a solution to that problem, why would they need any help in the first place!
Whenever I find a brain-picking request in my in-box or on voice mail from someone local, I usually respond with a question: “Are you interested in becoming a client, or do you just want to have lunch?” For all others, I’ll ask only if they are interested in becoming a client. If not, I point them to my books, this blog, my website with free articles and downloads, my LinkedIn feed, etc. That usually separates the professionals from the amateurs (or, as one of my marketing/speaking coaches calls them, “broke-ass losers”).
Solving their particular problems or challenges requires an investment on their part for the expert’s wisdom, experience, and knowledge. To paraphrase the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, there’s a time for charity, and a time for business. You have to decide where to draw that line for your own purposes.
Many years ago, I agreed to meet a former co-worker acquaintance for coffee to discuss a business issue he was wrestling with. An hour later, I walked away thinking: “That cup of coffee just cost me $500.00…I have to stop doing this.” And I did, but I changed the rule to make it work for me.
I can’t claim original ownership to this approach, but I agreed to exchange some of my time only if the person requesting free advice would provide a video testimonial about the ease with which I solved their problem and the value of my solution. Such video testimonials become another example of social proof of your expertise that you can leverage and distribute in many channels. The better way was with a quid pro quo.
As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.”
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