Gini Dietrich

The Age-Old Question: Can I Pick Your Brain?

By: Gini Dietrich | August 5, 2010 | 

Yesterday Jason Falls wrote a great blog post about incentive-based consulting and the age-old question in a service business…what do we do when someone asks “can I pick your brain?”…for free. Jason makes a couple of points I’d like to illustrate.

1. A couple of weeks ago Peter Shankman tweeted the following:

2. Kami Watson Huyse wrote a blog post about the arrogance of that tweet and how micro-fame breeds rudeness.

3. And Jason says, “by asking for my nice guy helpfulness, you’re costing me money.”

I think Jason’s blog post is less about incentive-based consulting and more about something that is rampant in the industries where people sell their brains for a living. Time is how we make our money. We don’t make widgets. We don’t sell products. We don’t manufacture anything. We don’t process anything. Our brains are our products and, Jason is right, every time someone asks us for free help, they’re taking us away from clients or opportunities to make us money.

On the second point, I know Kami thinks Peter’s tweet is arrogant and her post on the topic talks about how fame breeds arrogance. I disagree. I am not famous. I am not a celebrity. I certainly hope I’m not arrogant. I own a business – one that is growing and one that has a huge and very aggressive vision. And I get asked at least three times every day if someone can spend “just 30 minutes” with me, grab a cup of coffee, or have lunch to use what is in my brain for their benefit (worse are the ones who pretend they want to buy me a glass of wine while they use my personal time and then don’t pick up the tab). Just like Jason, Peter, and even Chris Brogan, I have a certain helpfulness that makes me want to say yes. I want people to like me and part of that want is always wanting to help.

But I cannot say yes to everyone because almost all of it takes me away from my vision. This is a big conversation we have internally all the time – how do we decide what is me being overly nice and what is a request that is going to move us closer to the vision? We don’t have all of the answers yet, but we do have a ton of places where you can get free advice from me every day.

They include:

* Picking my brain by asking me a question on the Arment Dietrich Facebook wall – I answer one question, via video, every week.

* Subscribing to the Arment Dietrich YouTube channel, where all of our free advice videos are stored.

* Joining the conversation right here by subscribing to Spin Sucks – I actively participate in the comments section, keep an open mind, and even sometimes change my view on things, based on what you wisely communicate.

* Following Spin Sucks on Twitter because it is a content aggregate of all things Arment Dietrich and blog-related that is my brain on virtual paper, in podcast, or on video. We don’t just tweet the blog posts – we tweet all of the columns and articles I write, any interview I do, the weekly InsidePR podcast, any letters to the editors or OpEds from my team, and all of our guest bloggers.

* Joining the discussion in the Facebook digital marketing community where the industry talks about the changes happening, what it means for our careers, and how to stay ahead of trends.

* Subscribing to the Arment Dietrich Delicious page where I bookmark articles, case studies, and great thinking multiple times each day and they’re nicely tagged for ease-of use (i.e. want social media policies? Search the policy tag).

* Following me on Twitter. I tweet multiple times a day and, yeah, I tweet our blog posts, but I also tweet blogs, articles, podcasts, and videos I find really interesting that have nothing to do with us.

I know everyone thinks their situation is different and that the advice we’ve made available on the web isn’t going to answer your question. But, trust me, if you simply click on one of the links above, I’m fairly certain you’ll find what you need more quickly than I can answer your email, phone call, tweet, Facebook message, instant message, or Skype message.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Couldn’t agree more with your post. I am happy to have my brain “picked” over coffee or wine (preferably the latter)especially by students, but I prefer that people know a little about what I think (and have helped boost my blog stats and Twitter ‘energy’) before we meet.

    • Boyd, I think working with students is something completely different than someone with a career wanting you to read their business plan, review their website, read their last 10 blog posts, or help them write a marketing plan for free. Working with students gives back to the industry and is something everyone should do. For those who do, it’s very admirable and giving.

  • Gini great post and always a tough call for me. As you said I always want to help, but this is also how I make a living. I look at these requests on a case by case basis, I really don’t have a hard or fast rule as to when I say yes or no. I probably need to develop one.

  • Um, yeah, this is a hot topic. I have trouble with this, too, and it’s just little ol’ me. I was recently asked about my pricing structure by someone setting up a similar consultancy. I did my best tap dance around it, but I could tell my answer left her annoyed. I didn’t want to be disliked, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to divulge private company info because someone asked nicely. It’s tricky. I think it’s gaining awareness because of the whole Peter/Jason types who are talking about it openly. I hope people will think twice and understand what they’re asking.

    On the other hand, I’m all for the kind of sharing and help we all give each other in the public forum. Your video answers are a great example of this, and I’ve done my best to provide real value around the “how to” of customer experience in my blog. Doing a quick search in forums has led me to many answers from experts, and by thanking them publicly I’ve created relationships that way, too.

    Food for thought, Gini, thanks. And I just discovered your delicious bookmarks! Seriously. Just now. 🙂

    • Jeannie, I can’t wait to pick your brain tonight on the customer experience and how we can integrate your work at Arment Dietrich. But don’t think I’m picking up the tab. HAHAHA!! Can’t wait to see you! xoxo

  • Knowledge is power; I wear so many hats as a business owner and keeping informed on all the countless things I need to know isn’t always easy. The concise info you shared is appreciated. Thanks.

  • I’m firmly on your side on this, Gini, and on Jason’s. Stand your ground!

  • Gini, I really appreciate your courage in tackling a tough subject with honesty and your own personal experience. I love helping people but I nearly “gave” myself into poverty. I don’t think Peter’s tweet was arrogant. I make my living from my time too, and I am not famous not even in my own mind. Yet, I had to draw a line about giving away my time. What I do for a living has a cost associated with it. If I give away my business I am not being a good steward.

  • Wow, this is the classic dilemma facing all “consultants”. But, I don’t think there is any hard rule. It all depends on the upside you think you can garner from the conversation. In all cases you need to determine if a bit of “Free” can help you engage more to find a business opportunity. If “Free” is being abused, then you need to tactfully move the discussion to a paid service or just let them drift away.

  • Thank You! Thank you for speaking to the subject with such reasoning and eloquence.

    I struggle with this topic everyday, and have the horrible habit of wanting to help, wanting to be liked, and constantly questioning the value of the information I offer. I freely admit that I am not an expert, or famous, but I do feel that my thoughts and knowledge have value. I have recently come to grips with the fact that I give away a lot for free via my blog and community presentations, and that one-on-one work requires a fee, and merits one.

    If we continue to give away free advice, and allow people to constantly “pick our brains” free of charge, we are in effect devaluing the work we do, and driving ourselves out of business.

    Okay, I am stepping of my soapbox, and putting back in the closet for another day;)

  • Oh, I am totally agree with you on this! We get this all the time, or the ever famous “sweat equity” request. What I find even worse is the ones that miss represent themselves, set up a meeting only to pick our brains…not even upfront about it.

  • Hi Gini,

    Great post. I am not in your industry, but have had similar situations when I ran an IT-based consulting firm. The really short comment to this topic is that I used to look at the “can I pick your brain?” question a little like how Costco sells more of a particular item by providing samples of that item to the consumer, for free. If I get a taste of a particular item, I am more likely to buy that item. The fine line is how much of the sample should we offer before snatching it away and telling the consumer, “Enough! You can buy this great product on aisle 9.”

    The same thing happened when I wrote my technical book. Folks would buy my book and email me with nice comments and questions about how to implement a certain technique. I’d answer every email, and most of the time, the exchange would stop there. However, some would continue to ask for free advice until it’d get to the point I was getting questions about how to tackle whole projects, “Hey, Kevin, I’m writing this accounts receivable package…” That’s where I’d have to send one last message: “Aisle 9, dude!”

    I didn’t have a specific rule about when to pull the sample cart away. I usually went case by case, but I am certain that I almost always erred on the side of too many samples.

    Ok, not such a short response to your topic.


    • Kevin & Gini,

      I run an IT Consulting company and I am a hit at parties. Once I tell someone “what I do” they tend to respond by telling me about some sort of computer/software/email/website problem they are having either at home or at their office. If it is a quick response, I offer my free advice. Often I respond by giving them my card and suggest we setup a service appointment or consulting agreement.
      I didn’t used to do this. I used to give advice more freely than I do now, but I am also busier than I have ever been. I have to take care of my paying clients, my wife, myself, and my pets.

  • Katrina

    I get it all the time, usually disguised as an invitation to hang out at someone’s house resulting in an ambush request for recommendations for their yard. I’ve developed a strategy of explaining they and their landscape deserve a proper needs assessment where I can take the appropriate amount of time to determine their design needs and provide them with a full proposal. I further explain that my $300 needs assessment fee can be applied to the service fees should they elect to pursue the project. And I rarely accept another invitation from that person to “hang out”. I figure it’s less rude than poking them in the eye for trying to steal my intellectual property.

    • Great practice and method to handle this situation. That said, I would pay good money to watch you poke someone in the eye;)

  • It’s a tough thing to say “no”, especially when it’s in your character to always offer assistance. On one hand, a piece of free advice could be a step toward forming a strong working relationship that could really be profitable on a variety of levels. On the other hand, it can devalue your services and make it difficult to grow.

    Also, I’m glad that students came up in the comments. I’m still a student and I absolutely love it when I can get insight and advice from professionals. Just look at the #PRStudChat. It’s an invaluable resource!

    Although, those who participate in thing like the #PRStudChat make up a fraction of the professional community. It’s sad to think how few actually take the time to provide that kind of help to students. Let’s hope that changes in the future 🙂

    We, the students, are eager to learn more.

  • Interesting timing. Right now, I’ve got about a half-dozen or more invites for “coffee” and to “hang out” that I’m trying to manage.The last time I did it, I gave away about 2 hours of coaching. (Bad coach! I know.) It’s a hard thing for me to keep in check — in coaching and in marketing, because the ideas just pop into my head and want to shoot out my mouth. So you see, my brain is pretty ripe for picking. Learning to set boundaries, to really respect that our time & our brains ARE how we stay in business — that’s a muscle I think we all need to cultivate. I love the Contact Me page that Allison Nazarian revised yesterday. I don’t know if I’d do something similar, but it’s worth considering.

    • HUGE fan of Allison Nazarian’s Contact page! That said, I don’t know if I have it in me to put it out there like that.

      Someday, I hope to be that comfortable.

    • Kat, thank you for sharing this link. What a great writer. I would Allison in an instant, based on the contact page alone.

  • I am a coach, rather than a consultant, but I still get this type of behavior: “Can you help me with X?” It’s one thing if it comes from my daughter or husband, but different when it comes from people I hardly know.

    One way around it that I’ve found is to set aside a fixed amount of time to respond to this sort of thing. And I let the person know that I will work with them for 15-30 minutes, but if they need more, they have to hire me (or someone else), because I have bills to pay, too.

    And, since I do life coaching, I also set aside a certain percentage of my time to work pro-bono for those (like a friend of mine who has been out of work for over a year) who need help but can’t afford it right now.

    It is a tough balance. You want to help, but you also have to make a living.

  • I can see both sides of this issue quite clearly. When I first got into working with people and companies on their strategies, it was helpful for me to have conversations with people who had been in the business for a while (almost like a mentor situation)and I was very grateful for the people that took the time to talk with me.

    On the other hand, I have a standard structure for people who want me to consult with them about their business or marketing plan. I try hard not to waiver from it, but it can be difficult as I very much want people to like me and since most of my business is based on referrals, my reputation is important.

    It’s a sticky situation and sadly there’s no correct answer except do what works for your vision and future. I wrote a post similar entitled “Steve Jobs Is The Devil” about the same discussion sparked by Mr. Shankman that you mentioned.

    This is another great post Gini, I always look forward to reading what you guys have posted. Thanks!

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  • Good post, Gini.

    Not sure if it would work for everyone, but I set aside one day a month for gratis calls, and have a little reservation form on my website folks can use on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis to book a 30minute slot.

    When I receive the ‘can I pick your brains’ emails, I send them there (if it’s late in the month, they may need to get in the queue for the next month).

    I rarely do f2f except for close friends and special cases (case by case).

    I actually love these calls – they’re always different, interesting, rarely absolute freeloading. I just view it as a bit of giving back, and because it’s limited in time, I don’t feel put upon at all.

    If you’re interested, you can see the form I use here:

    I think provides a similar facility.

    Hope this helps someone!

    – Les

  • Could not agree with you more. Peter Shankman started the conversation, but Chris Brogan and others have all chimed in with blog posts which agree. It’s like people at cocktail parties asking doctors for free advice. Sadly people get upset for what is really their bad manners. My guess is they don’t see their value of the own time, so why would they want to compensate someone else for theirs?

    • Ha, I was going to mention doctors but you beat me to it. Lawyers are another, everyone always asking for advice.. but not wanting to pay for it.

  • This use to happen to Gini exclusively but now also happens to me – usually it’s family asking to “pick my brain” and I ususally graciously have to leave the room and usually when I return they are on a different subject. It’s a tough call thought – do you help for free or do you tell them nicely but firmly that it is taking you away from billable work? It reminds me of my uncle Ray who was a mechanic by trade and now I understand why he was so frustrated with the family that always wanted “free” car work – SORRY UNCLE RAY!!!!

  • Gini, This is an age old question, and it’ll never go away. People will always try to get something for nothing.

    It’s hard when our brains and talent are our product and service. Even more than say doctors and lawyers, so much of what we do is part science, part art, part X factor.. not everyone can really wrap their heads around it.

    I love the approach you’ve taken. You’ve “digitized” your brain and put it out there: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and of course, this blog. That’s a huge help to anyone willing to take the time, but that’s the catch: taking the time, reminds me of LMGTFY in a way. FWIW.

  • Gini thank you for this post. I actually saw Jason Falls speak last week in Seattle at our Social Media Club event, he was great. Definitely a realist approach to those of us employed with social media responsibilities.

    I have been getting asked this question a bit lately, and I also have been trying to determine how to approach my answer, without coming across cold or unfriendly. I also want to be liked and I am trying to meet new people in my new homestead so it is a good networking opportunity.

    The examples you outlined above are great and hopefully I can translate them into my own world.

  • Hey if it dinner and drinks, sure pick my brain. Barter is as good as money and even better. Anytime in New York it will have great intrinsic value, with the people we will meet out that i know and share with others equates to serendipity and gained tacit knowledge and guarantee your social media thinking will start tingling. Thank you

  • Gini, I’ve always been impressed with the warmth and generous way in which you “freely” share your knowledge. Seeing the list of opportunities to tap into your A/D Braintrust humbles me. I need to share something good…fast!

    So while this post offers a very valid point about boundaries, it also inspired me to create more channels by which people can easily and access what I have to offer at no charge. Thank you for that!

  • If someone wants to pick your brain so they can learn your service so they won’t have to pay you for your service, Well……try to keep the peace and send them to the Internet and encourage them to research your service.
    Help them appreciate that basically anything you could ever want to know is on the net and that your knowledge wasn’t received for free and you can’t give it away for free.
    If they want to pay for your time and knowledge, Take It!

  • I’ve spent the majority of my career working at top 10 PR agencies, where I had little time in between meeting unrealistic billability targets to offer my brain for picking to contacts outside my firm. I never felt good about that – I’m a collaborator at heart. A few years ago, I formed my own communications consultancy with two partners. Our business model thrives on the principles of collaboration, collective thinking…and a giver’s gain mentality. We’ve worked extremely hard to cultivate a network of partners, peers, experts and resources that subscribe to this mentality, and as a result our network now seems to expand organically.

    I 100% agree that time is money and our creativity and ideas are our equity and currency. But I value collaboration, sharing and exchanging ideas equally, and believe that this has fueled the success of our business, professional relationships and importantly, enjoyment of the journey.

    I devote about 10-15% of the work week to meetings and calls where I happily make my brain available for picking. Perhaps I’m lucky, but whenever I’ve needed help with a creative challenge or advice, I’ve a long list of people that are happy to take my call or a meeting. I view this 10-15% as an investment in my bottom line and it has paid off in dividends with a steady flow of referrals for new clients. It’s been a long-term strategy, one that has reduced the time I spend on new business development. And a welcome benefit, I’m meeting cool, creative people every week who have been equally as generous with their time when I’ve called on them.

    I’ve rarely encountered a scenario where people aren’t willing to return the favor. When I am in that situation, I’m keenly aware of it, and I’m guarded about the info I share. I also opt for a phone call and I keep it short. When I choose to spend time on a brain picker who is in it for his/her agenda alone, I’m okay with the fact that I may leave him/her unimpressed because I put a cap on the level of thinking I offered. Why make the time for those people in the first place? I personally have found that there is one degree of separation in my industry, and chances are high that our paths will cross again. So I’m willing to take the chance that there might be a little “pay it forward” in that person…and it might just be because I helped to inspire it.

  • I have to admit it is reassuring to see how many others struggle with this same issue. As others have suggested I try to examine each situation in terms of the long run.

    Will the hour over coffee potentially lead to paid business or referrals? Or is it just someone wanting free advice? If I see the meeting as an opportunity then I’ll meet. If not I explain that they can hire me for a 2 hour consulting session during which we can brainstorm ideas for their marketing plan, I can teach them about some aspect of social media, or we can review whatever it is that they want to accomplish.

    Bringing this up often feels awkward, but it is necessary. Like you, I also give away plenty of free info on my blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious and elsewhere so I can point them to those resources as well–particularly if I know they don’t have the budget for my services.

    Sometimes I wish I had the chutzpah of @skydiver to so directly tell them they have to pay to play, but I also don’t want to put people off. Those who aren’t consultants themselves may think they are asking for a networking opportunity rather than free services, so I try to err on the side of diplomacy. But it’s tricky.

  • Hi Gini, Brent Peterson’s interview with you enlightened me on who you are. Now I see why he interviewed you. Great topic and insightful post. Totally relevant for me too as it is an issue I am struggling with.

    Born to be helpful, I help most of the time without thinking about it and I feel better about me because of it. But that help can be running outside to pick up something that the man on the motorized scooter dropped (this morning) to returning lost dogs.

    My blog is chock full of jobseeker information and I share openly on Twitter and Facebook. But then I get people who ask for my help. Sometimes I give it. I have resumes to write for an interior designer and a facilities manager moving from LA to Seattle. Distant family members but I am happy to help. But I always wonder even when I do that much if the person I am helping realizes that while I donate my time to help them get a top notch new position, I still have to pay the bills.

    Yes, everyone thinks your brain is for free… even if you worked for years to fill it up with information they can pick from…

  • Gini,
    Just my two cents worth:
    This is my greatest personal and professional dilemma. Getting before giving or giving before getting. My mother always said “Give and you shall receive” and it always worked for her. I just read some of the letters on . Worth reading.

  • You still owe me $500 for the trick with the “invisible” Facebook tab.

    Sheesh… 😉

    Great stuff as usual, Gini. I think anyone and everyone in our position faces the same dilemma at some point.

    There’s open; and then there’s open to being taken advantage of. The first one is up to you; the second one too, but it’s also up to the folks asking not to take advantage.

    Now if we could only figure out a way of doing *that*, we’d be good to go 🙂

  • Nancy Cawley Jean

    Gini, another great post, one that so many of us can relate to from both sides of the coin. I think it’s natural for people to look to others they consider experts in a field to garner wisdom and advice that can help them in their efforts. I believe that there are many folks out there who want to “pick your brain” because of that, and naively don’t realize that you could spend your entire day, every day, dispensing your expertise to help them! People like you and so many others who share their thoughts and ideas through blogs, tweets, etc. are being incredibly helpful and letting us pick your brain, and I, for one, am really appreciative. So thanks for another great blog and I look forward to more, so I can pick that brain of yours without having to ask. 😉

  • Great piece, Gini. I regularly get hit for “coffee” and often come away thinking I’ve had my pocket picked.

    It’s hard though because I do think we have to put ourselves out there to spread the word about something we’re passionate about and also show our services. I like to think that chatting with people is, in a crude way, content marketing. Our ideas, comments and thoughts are the “content”; the hope is that it will lead to business – at some point down the line.

    Still, it’s very hard to

  • Jeff Bialek

    Gini, a well thought out and personal response…and a great reminder for all who find themselves on both sides of that question; often in the role of the picker or the pick-ee!

    Sheesh, and I thought cupcakes or Lemonheads might do the trick!

  • Gini, I’m glad you wrote about this topic as I know many of us struggle with it. I’ve answered the question many times too. Those of us who make money as consultants need our own “personal Board of Directors” who we can trust and rely on for advice. Sometimes, we give it in return. For those Board Members, I’m happy to meet for coffee/wine because they’ve earned it, I owe them reciprocity and I love them.

    However, if that’s not the case and I don’t have something you need, then I should pay right? I wasn’t sitting up late next to you when you were studying for your Marketing degree, pouring over late night client proposals with your sleeves rolled up taking aspirin earning your wings?

    For some reason, we seem to equate friendship to discount. Shouldn’t it be the opposite?

  • Lots of great fodder here – on both sides of the coin! I don’t want to reply to each of you on your comments because that means, if you’ve subscribed to the comments, you’re about to get 41 emails.

    Instead, I’ll do it in one comment and hope I don’t lose my copy!

    Karen, you’re famous in MY mind! And your point about not being a good steward if we give away our thoughts to some and charge others for them is very valid!

    Steve, I think we agree on when it’s okay to network/meet in person/chat on the phone vs. when it becomes apparent someone is taking advantage. Where I’m talking about someone picking my brain is the latter. I literally had someone email me a couple of weeks ago asking me to review their attached wireframes on their website. I didn’t respond immediately, but kept it in my “being nice” file. He emailed me two days later asking me to please get back to him ASAP. Then again a week later saying he was past his deadline. At that point, he came out of my “being nice” file and I had to tell him how much I charge for those kinds of things. I guarantee you he’s no longer a Gini fan.

    Jason, I like it when the soapbox comes out of the closet. Don’t put it away!

    Jennifer, YES! The sweat equity request! I didn’t touch on that in the post, but YES!

    Kev, you’re not in my industry?!? When are you sending me my wine?

    Rachel, I like you even more now that you said you have to take of your pets. The Beast loves you for it, too!

    Katrina, OMG, yes! And I’d also like to see you poke them in the eye. And, if my tiny Chicago yard isn’t too small for you, I really do want to hire you to help it.

    Mandy, do you also know about HAPPO? I participate in that and am VERY happy to give my time to students.

    Kat, I hadn’t seen Allison’s contact me page. Thank you for sending it! Like Mimi, I’d totally hire her because of that!

    Mary, I think giving your time to friends who need help is absolutely admirable and necessary. My issue is what I outlined to Steve above. When they are not friend or family, nor really need my free help.

    Joey, it’s funny you say that about needing a mentor when you first start out. I needed a mentor BADLY when I started Arment Dietrich and there was NO ONE to help me. So I make a point to be available to new business owners. It’s part of my giving back. But they never once take advantage of me or my time.

    Les, I LOVE this idea! We’ve actually toyed with the idea of something along these lines. Thanks for the FREE advice! 🙂

    Del, I always liken it to getting in a cab and telling them you’re not going to pay them if they don’t go the way you want them to, but you’re not going to tell them which way you want them to take you. Total baloney.

    Patti, poor Uncle Ray.

    Davina, I love your comment here and the one you left on Jason’s blog. We’ve really tried hard to get the “free” tips into something that people can use, but you’re right – if they don’t take the time to read/listen/watch why should I care? But I do care. Sigh…

    Jen, your avatar showed up! 🙂

    Jennifer G, if I were to break down the time that I pay it forward, I’d guess I spend the same 10-15% you do; it’s just not as clearly articulated. My issue is what I said to Steve above – those who are too lazy to go through all of the things we’ve provided and just want the easy way out.

    Heidi, I also wish I had the chutzpah of Peter, but I don’t either. I work on it all the time, but I can pretty much tell those who are using me vs. those who are networking for a bigger investment later on.

    Julie, it’s great to see you here and I’ve also been checking out your blog since Brent “introduced” us!

    Tom, I completely agree with your mother’s advice. I am a big believer in the Golden Rule and paying it forward. Where I have the issue is when someone wants me to help them for free, in the hope that their business will do something big someday. That doesn’t pay the bills.

    Danny! I OWE YOU $500! Is that all?! Send me an invoice!

    NCJ, you made me LOL!!

    Jon, I’m going to pick your brain next.

    Jeff, Oh cupcakes work well! But you did it the right way – send the cupcakes THEN ask.

    Angie, I could have sworn we were up studying late every night. No?

    • Well, maybe I am in your industry, but certainly not in your league.

      Wine could be shipped later in the month, although we may want to wait due to heat concerns from shipping at that time.

  • A provocative post Gini. I’m not surprised 😉 this one, were in agreement on.

  • When you put yourself out there, you are bound to get these types of requests. I try to look at each “pick your brain” coffee as an opportunity for me to learn something too. I have been in the asking role before — when I started my business, when I was considering going back for my master’s degree, when I struggle with HR issues or other client issues. I have my go-to people that I know will help me.

    I don’t mind being that person for others. I am upfront with them that it has to be convenient to my schedule. So maybe “coffee” is at my desk instead of one of the local hang-outs, maybe it’s a meeting at the local dog park so Viva can come along too.

    More often than not, I also get something in return from these encounters.

    • So Abbie, what’s your philosophy when someone asks you to review a PR plan for them, help them brainstorm around strategies, teach them how to set up social networks, or to review their blog posts for grammar and spelling?

      I think there is a HUGE difference between asking for free advice that clients pay us to do and asking for advice around an experience (i.e. HR issues or how we work in each other’s markets).

      Like you, I like being a mentor and friend to others to help them grow in their careers. I do not like giving my advice around my expertise that has taken years to gain.

  • Bravo!! If you do not advocate for and defend your product who will? (I’m exempt, right?)

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  • Gini, I concur with your post 100%. You have given so much away “for free” already, that one needs only follow you in the places you suggested to get schooled by you. In fact, I’ve learned much of what I know about online communication from you and I am constantly trying to find ways that I can repay you for what you have done already!

    As far as my situation is concerned, in my role as a Career Coach, all I have to offer is my time, a listening ear, and the years of knowledge I have worked hard to accumulate. The “can I pick your brain” question is probably the number one thing I get asked as soon as people find out what I do for a living. Like you, I sincerely want to help and I often do.

    However, I make sure they know that they get what they pay for. In my case, I’m not in private practice, and we don’t charge for our services because we feel people have already paid their tuition to this university. However, if they did not go to this school (or have become a “guest” member of the alumni association), are not willing to pay me for my time outside of work (no, I don’t write resumes during work hours, so what makes you think I want to write yours, for no payment, in my free hours), and/or show no interest in me as a person then I’ll still be happy to help. But that is because it is a part of who I am and my vision for the world around me. Yet,they shouldn’t be disappointed that I spent less than ten minutes on their request and handed them a dollar bill when they need a bar of gold!

    Keep doing what you are doing Gini. You are a total rock star, and Mrs. Norton should be very proud!

  • Debra Bethard-Caplick


    I appreciated your thoughtful response much more than Peter’s all-out flaming response to Kami:

    His Tweet did sound arrogant if you didn’t know him (or even if you did), which was why she used of it as an example that got her started thinking about the subject. It’s an example of why sarcasm and humor often doesn’t translate well online. It was not the focus of the entire blog, until Peter blew one of his own Five Things You Shouldn’t Do rules: “Don’t use Social Media as a ‘screw you’…Thousands of followers don’t need to see specific little updates that we all know are directed at someone specific. Be an adult and contact them directly. Don’t be a victim of SPAS. (Socially Passive Agressive Syndrome).” Physician, heal thyself? Granted, this was directed at airing personal dirty laundry instead of professional, but I think it fits. His flameout was way out of proportion, and for many of us, firmly established his “brand” as a negative one. Talent and success is no excuse for rudeness, regardless of which field it’s found in.

    On the subject of people “picking your brain”, I agree that in many cases it’s someone wanting a freebie, but if handled right, as in some of the suggestions previously listed, it has the possibility of generating some leads.

  • Thanks Gini for a great article. I could definitely relate as I increasingly have friends ask me for a “design” favor which is really “can you design something for me for free”. I have to attest that you do offer so many great ways to “pick your brain” that is conducive to your career and doesn’t over compromise your boundaries. For as busy as you are, you have always been quick to respond to a question on Twitter, a comment on your blog etc. I think this is a good lesson for all business people to learn and I think it is something that can be personally hard for women.

    Thanks again for a great blog entry!


  • Not only am I a closet introvert, but also a raging people pleaser. This latter trait and my inability to set boundaries gets me into trouble all the time. I do want to help people and feel part of my life calling is to have compassion for “others” needs but this can be in stark contrast to building a business at times. My latest revelation is learning how to better trust myself and my intuition as to when and how I want to spend my time. Great thought provoking piece!

    • Oh great, John. We make quite the pair – both introverts and raging people pleasers.

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  • Brain For Hire: A half a grand down the drain.
    I’m a headhunter: I find talent to make executives more money.
    So I get a call from a CEO asking me to interview a candidate they found on their own. “Russ, we’ll pay you interview him and give us your opinion. We like the candidate but want a professional opinion.” So I interview the candidate.
    I write a report for the CEO with these facts, not MY OPINIONS, mind you:
    1. Candidate has had 6 employers in 5 years.
    2. Unemployed for 5 months
    3. Lied on resume, leaving a job off because it was a short lived job
    4. Never had a sales quota he went beyond
    5. His income has gone down the tougher the economy gets.
    These were the facts, by the way.
    Another fact: The candidate was a lovable, genuine guy that was likeable from the first second you meet him. I liked him–but he couldn’t sell guns in a prison, truth be told.
    The client thanked me for my insights, I sent them a bill for $509 dollars for my time.
    They hired the candidate 3 weeks later. Why? Because they really liked him.

    Changing human behavior is tough. Finding ways to pay you to hear advice they know they need–even already know the answer– is even tougher. I’ve found the key to improving the odds is to say NO more often to meetings that “may” turn into a project and suggest to the client upfront that you are a consultant, love to have coffee, but love to help grow businesses–and this starts at X$ per hour.
    It’s not cocky, arrogant or flipant. It will seperate the tirekickers immediately and establish you as a professional and thus get referrals from paying clients.
    It takes courage to say no to a meeting.
    Just say no, so you can say yes to someone else.

    Russ Riendeau
    East Wing Search Group, Vistage member

    • Russ, your comment won’t leave my brain. I was thinking about it during my entire ride yesterday (minus the last 15 miles when my quads were on fire). There are so many key learnings in this one comment and I thank you for taking the time to teach us all!

  • You have some great comments here to a great post! 🙂

    I love Allison’s contact page too – it is awesome…

    I totally want to take you out for wine and talk about nothing but shoes! 🙂 LOL

    • oh dang… ok… not just shoes… wine, dogs, men, maybe politics, ummm… and other stuff… lol

      • Shelly, I will share a bottle of wine with you any day, any time!

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  • Couldn’t agree more with this post. Especially when so many provide tons of free information that if the “brain picker” would take the time to research what has been said in the past, they may not need to take up someone else’s time to begin with. Time is a commodity…for everyone, so we should all spend it wisely.

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  • GaryNeal

    I think Peters reply is genius! I would totally do something like that. I don’t have any problem doing <a href=””>IT consulting</a>, just don’t ask me something stupid before you ask me. It’s such a cliche phrase that I’m not surprised Peter said it.

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  • Juliwilson789

    I would
    like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.