Self-professed Brain Pickers Aren’t Looking to Cut Checks

Unpaid brain picking is not a business model

Anyone ask to pick your brain lately?

This might be a better question:

Solopreneurs, are you in the habit of giving away advice for free?

Then again, maybe this would be the very BEST question:

Are you being too nice, too sweet, too generous, too open, too kind, too selfless, too afraid to say no, and giving away the farm at no charge?

Let’s fix that.

Love this from Norma Doiron of Savvy BIZ Solutions:

Avoid the Sneak Attacks: Beware of the brain-picking sneak attacks — the seemingly innocent questions that turn into a full-on interrogation. Chances are the brain picker has unknowingly crossed the line. Often the sneak attacks start with a simple request for an opinion or an answer to a “quick” question.

Norma says, “My success did not fall in my lap; it is the fruit of my hard labor.”

Sean Wes offers this bit of wisdom:

Call It What It Is — Consulting: It feels weird when a brain picker asks to buy you coffee. While they may not be saying they don’t value your time with their words, their actions are saying your time is worth a $4.78 latte.


Sean goes on to say, “People who don’t pay for your advice won’t value your advice. Yes, that includes family. Yes, that includes friends.”

Alexis Grant gets down to the nitty gritty:

Just Say No: For most of us, it should probably be the default option. You can’t help others if you’re not making enough money to sustain yourself. And you can’t earn a decent living if you don’t spend meaningful chunks of time on your own business or career.

Unpaid brain picking is not a business model

Here’s how Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer responds to the pick-your-brain request:

“Sounds like we could work together on this. My work schedule is tight so lunch/coffee is typically not do-able. Why don’t we get a deliverables or hours need from you, I can wrap some thought around an estimate and we can schedule a working session?”

Jason adds, “That response seems to work. It’s polite, professional, and directs them to the understanding that you don’t work for free without you coming off as a money-grubbing scum bag.”

If you’ve guessed that I’ve fallen into the trap of selling myself short in the past, you’re right.

But I’ve learned to stand firm, set my boundaries, and guard my treasure (all that magical and valuable knowledge housed in my brain).

Remember this the next time someone wants to buy you coffee and pick your brain:

Unpaid brain picking is not a business model, it won’t keep a roof over your head, and it won’t put food on your table.

Where do YOU draw the hard lines in the sand? How have you determined what you’re willing to give away and how much of it?

Makeness Media Bravery Blogging Project

  • How did I miss this! What a perfect complement to our podcast on the subject. Well, we are already in the same choir on this one 🙂 The thing is, newbie or seasoned professional, you have to have a response ready for these kinds of things because they WILL happen. And if you’re caught unaware you will probably hem and haw, not know what to say, feel guilty and give yourself away. I love the whole, “Let’s put together some deliverables and I’ll quote you a fee” thing. Of course, people will like to tell you that “oh, it will only be a minute.” In which case you can offer them “one minute” or get a little more blunt and say there is no such thing as a quick question. You need to make sure you give them your full attention and that will take time!

    There is also the challenge of trying not to be “nice.” You know how sometimes someone will email and be super friendly and throw in a question… and you figure oh, I’ll just be nice and help them out… the problem is that once you open that door it’s impossible to close. The nicer you are the more demanding people get. So it probably all sounds so mercenary but you are right about ALL OF IT. You have to value yourself and you have to be protective of your brain.

    • “The nicer you are the more demanding people get.” FOR SURE. And you know what, Carol Lynn? It’s truer than true that “nice guys finish last” (especially when you’re dealing with brain picker types). It’s so easy to cave in and discount ourselves sometimes. I’m hoping YOUR PODCAST and this posts like this one help people realize they don’t have to conduct consultations for zero dollars.

      “It will only take a minute of your time”. Pffftt! NO. SUCH. ANIMAL.

      I’m with you. I think Jason has it wired, nailed, and down to a science! In my estimation, his response is the BEST and most effective.

      I really appreciate you joining thE conversation. Thank you! 🙂

  • Although I’ve been writing longer than many freelancers have been alive, I consider myself a newb in the freelancing (or solopreneur) world. I started my own business the latter part of 2008. I typically market business communication services to corporate clients but I design my business communication blog to be helpful to business owners of any size. But I do have freelancers coming to me to “pick my brain”. I am not that far removed from my newbie status and I remember the overwhelming feel of those early days. So I try to keep that in mind. Where I draw the line is when my response would be more than a few lines or a link/referral. Questions like, “What should I do to market my business?” rate a latte franchise – not a single cup. Fortunately, I can defer on franchise-size questions by letting them know I do not include freelance consulting in my services. 😉 Funny thing, when it is a corporate prospect, I have no problem quoting a consulting fee. I’ve had to work at it with freelancing colleagues.

    • I must respectfully disagree, Cathy. I don’t consider you a newbie at all! You’ve been a solopreneur for SEVEN years. I’d say that qualifies you as “seasoned professional”. 🙂

      ” … a latte franchise – not a single cup.” !!!LOL!!! Thanks for the biggest and best giggle of the day!

      Kidding aside, I used to provide IN-DEPTH responses to the “What should I do to market my business” question from those lovely brain pickers. I even created full-blown pdf’s for some of them, specific to their field/industry/niche. Yikes! I spent hours and hours on those docs and loaded them with helpful resources and tools. One word: Foolish. Looking back, I was a total fool to do all that mentally-taxing work and research for $0.

      Please don’t get me wrong, Cathy. I LOVE to help others and it’s a great feeling to put someone on the right track, ease someone’s mind, or even ease their pain. But if a brain picker’s question is going to require more than a few minutes to answer, a paid consult is in order.

      Thanks for dropping in!

      • I guess it’s because I spent over 30 years in corporate life that seven is not even an itch to me. 😉 Melanie, I also provided in-depth responses. I have the frustrated teacher in me and love helping people. But, I like eating even more. 😉

        • I’m with you, Cathy. Eating is mighty high on my priority list. LOL!

          For those of us who were teachers in our other lives, the tendency is to give, give, and give some more. After all, teachers are supposed to be generous and thorough, right? Teachers are also great at hand-holding and guiding and inspiring and motivating and SHARING and … 😉