How to Stop Letting People Pick Your Brain for Free

Your business advice and time are valuable and should come with a price tag.

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The journey to success is never easy. There’s no such thing as getting “lucky” in business. It’s a lot of strategy and fine-tuning that strategy, an insane work ethic, and being open to learning and growing. I believe strongly that the value you give is the value you receive. Business relationships require it.

But, there’s one thing that consistently happens to me (and probably many business owners): on a weekly basis, I get messages that say or have a variation of: “I am so inspired by your success. I would love to grab coffee and chat with you and learn how you grew your business, and how you built your following on social media.” These are what I call, “Let me pick your brain, mine you for business advice, but not pay you for your time or provide equal value to you.”

In the beginning years of my business, I interfaced with a lot of new and experienced entrepreneurs. The experienced business owners wanted to gain insight into how to leverage social media better, and I wanted to learn more about scaling and automating my business. There was a mutual benefit there, a synergy in speaking to one another, and we were giving value to one another. But, of course there were those sessions where people brought me in (having me think they were going to hire me as they framed it that way) and just picked my brain for an hour or two, then vaporized. They didn’t hire me for work, they just wound up implementing my ideas (or didn’t implement at all) after they mined me for free social media advice, branding and career advice, and marketing strategies. It took many of these aggravating moments for me to finally pull the brakes and say, no more.

There’s no such thing as free advice in business. You wouldn’t go to a hair stylist and let them try out a new color on you without paying for it. You wouldn’t go to a lawyer’s office and ask them to help you with your legal problem and not pay a flat fee or billable hour for it. You wouldn’t call up your doctor and ask for 15 minutes of time (unpaid) to just take a look at this nagging sore throat of yours. Why is it any different for me? You value my expertise and are astounded by my business success, but you won’t pay for my time?

It’s not about being selfish or failing to pay it forward, but about realizing the value of your time. For each of those “let me pick your brain sessions,” I could have been using my time in a much more valuable way, especially since I am a one-woman business. Imagine each time that I meet someone for coffee, I lose out on client work and productivity in my own business. It isn’t just an hour of my time, but my time getting ready to meet the person (you aren’t wearing your workout clothes to a session), commuting to and from the session, and not to mention the time spent with the person. When I calculated it, that 1-hour coffee session was actually 3+ hours of time spent. It’s not something that I can easily recoup, and it’s not fair to my clients to put their work on the back burner. Those clients have paid me for my expertise and time.

Over the course of the past few years, I learned that “business mentoring” or “brain-picking sessions” do not and should not come without a price. I have never expected free coaching and neither should you. You should be willing to give something of value in exchange for the advice. That’s how business relationships grow and how you nurture them. It’s not a relationship or a collaboration if it is just one-sided and you are sucking away at the advice and not paying for it or reciprocating it. This is also why I have business coaching and branding strategy packages for new and experienced business owners.

I’ve stopped doing coffee chats and entertaining those “I just need 10 minutes of your time to talk about your story and how you did it.” The reality is that people will be more likely to take the advice you give and actually do something with it if they are paying for your time.

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