How to Handle Requests to 'Pick Your Brain'
Once you’ve achieved a certain level of success in your field, you begin receiving calls that put you in an awkward position. Those calls may come from colleagues, friends of friends or even former college classmates. Each of them have a request that goes something like this:
“Could I take you to lunch to ask you a few questions about your business?”
You could, of course, completely dodge the issue by never responding, especially if the question was posed by email or over social media. But if you’re in a position where you’re hoping to leave a lasting good impression, you likely want to at least be polite. That doesn’t mean you have to give away your knowledge, however. Here are a few suggestions for handling the delicate issue of someone essentially wanting free consulting services.
The best way to handle this situation is to redirect the person to a resource you’ve already created. Perhaps you participated in a webinar or wrote a series on your blog about that very issue. If you haven’t done either, you should probably consider doing so. You’ll have a built-in answer to the question.
Your resource doesn’t have to be link-able, either. If you have an upcoming workshop or seminar, invite the person to attend. This will not only give him access to your insights on topics related to your industry or achievements, but to other respected leaders, as well.
Link to third-party resources.
If you don’t have such resources, chances are someone else does. If you can get the person to send basic details about the information he’s seeking, you can provide links to articles, books and videos on the topic. Emphasize that you trust the person whose information you’re linking and believe it could be of help in his situation.
You may also know someone in your field who regularly provides consultation services and workshops on related issues. If the questions are about starting a business, for instance, refer him to a workshop on that very topic that is coming up soon in his local area.
If the person has asked to meet with you, reply appreciatively with the assumption that he’s requesting your consulting services. Say, “I’d be happy to meet with you. I charge $X for a half-hour consultation” and list the dates you’re available. The person will likely assume you regularly provide services like these and will likely be too embarrassed to reply stating he was hoping you’d meet with him for free.
The truth is, your experience and time are both worth money. When you give that knowledge away for free, you’re devaluing it. The other person likely won’t have as much respect for it, either, since it came at no cost whatsoever.
Just say no.
The most obvious way to handle a request for your time is to simply say no. But basic politeness makes it difficult for many of us to do such a thing. It’s especially complicated if the requester is a friend of a friend or distant relative.
Still, you likely have little time in a day to spend an hour or two of it giving away your expertise. Instead of outwardly saying “no,” consider putting the person off. Say, “I’d love to meet with you but my schedule is booked for the next two months.” Then ask him to get back with you in a couple of months to set an appointment. Chances are, the person will get advice somewhere else by then or forget about it altogether.
If you haven’t gotten a request for free advice yet, you eventually will. If you plan for how you’ll handle the situation in advance, you’ll be ready to respond appropriately when such a request takes you by surprise.