Why You Can’t Pick My Brain for Free


By Daisy Wright.

As a solo entrepreneur, like many of my colleagues at CPC, I make a living from providing career services. Too often, we are asked for free advice by individuals who have no intention of hiring us, and many times we are left feeling guilty if we don’t acquiesce.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping people. That’s why I have been writing blog content and newsletters for many years, providing a wide array of job and career advice. That’s why, from time to time, I host free career-related webinars or teleseminars. In fact, I continue to offer pro bono services on a personal level, but that’s my choice.

A few months ago I was returning from a career conference in Florida when my seat companion on the plane struck up a conversation with me. He told me quite excitedly about the new franchise deal he had just sealed. Realizing I was ‘a career expert’ according to him, he asked if he could ‘pick my brain’ and review his bio which he had written himself.  By the time I was finished editing it, it became a full rewrite.

A few weeks later he called to ask if I could give him a few pointers on his business resume. I told him I could, but it would cost him. He told me it was just a review and it wouldn’t take me that long.

Well, I asked him politely what his response would have been had I showed up at his deli franchise and asked for a free sandwich. He apologized and said he would call back.

Mr. Franchise Owner didn’t give much thought to ‘picking my brain’ for free for the second time. Consider this email I received last week:

“Hello Daisy,

[Joe Brown] gave me your email address, because I asked him for some tips.

I’m going to have a couple of high level interviews the following week, with two VP´s, can you give some tips??

Thanks in advance!!”

What’s wrong with this picture? Lots! Who is he? What profession or industry is he in? What interview challenges does he have? What position is he interviewing for?

I responded with one of my enquiry emails, asking some of the questions above and, of course, explaining how my coaching works. I have not heard from him since.

The above are just two instances, but I get these requests all the time, and in my client newsletter I discussed two such situations. Unfortunately, individuals like these don’t have any intentions of hiring me.

Earlier on, I would have been overcome by guilt if I didn’t offer free advice to all who ask. But, and this is a big BUT… I think some people forget that I actually operate a real business, not a hobby.

Successful businesses invest in their employees, making sure they have the resources they need, that they are well-trained, and allowing them to attend workshops and conferences. They want to make sure they have the skills they need to keep the business going. As a solo entrepreneur, I am no different. I do the same things…and they all cost money. That’s why I instituted my Introductory Power Hour Coaching service, which is a win-win all the away around.

Michael Hyatt, the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, wrote a blog post recently on what happened to him when he decided to charge for his blog content which he had been giving away for free for five years. Once he started charging for it, he began to receive some push backs, with some people even questioning his integrity and sincerity. While I am not Michael Hyatt, my time and services are just as important. Here are five nuggets I picked up from his post. (Point #6 is mine):

  1. People don’t respect what they get for free. (In many cases).
  2. Until people make an investment, they are not invested in the outcome.
  3. When you start charging for your services, you go from being an amateur to being a pro.
  4. In short, when you charge, you respect yourself and your own work more. It creates value in your own mind.
  5. Charging for your services is a necessity if you are going to support your family. If you don’t charge, you won’t be doing what you do for long.
  6. If you don’t value your time, neither will others.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do some brain picking myself, but I never assume it is going to be free. If it is free, I always ask how can I return the favour. However, when someone is going to brazenly take me for granted, then they have passed my threshold of tolerance.

What about you? Have you faced such situations? How do you handle such requests?

A Twitter colleague of mine, Adrienne Graham, summed it up best in her Forbes.com article No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs too Much. She also has book of the same name.

Related tweet from business diva, Marie Forleo:

“If they want to pick your brain, ask them to pick a time and method of payment.” @marieforleo

Related Resource:

Three Ways to Say No When People Want to Pick Your Brain

Source: Career Musings


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Great article Daisy,

I also enjoyed your book No Canadian Experience, EH.

Hi Daisy

this is the first article I have come across that actually raises this matter and discusses the awkwardness of informing people that your brain is not for free.
I am a Career Development Practitioner in South Australia, Whyalla. I find myself almost everyday justifying that my services cost money.
However I am making some in roads with our Job Service providers who are slowly referring their most challenging and disengaged clients to me ( for a fee) and also their most confused clients who need assistance in determining which career pathway they should engage in.
the five nuggets of wisdom have made me more determined to create an informed charge out rate, so that future clients can see what they will receive by paying for career counselling and advice.

thank you again

Baerbel McDougall

Career Development practitioner and Special programs coordinator

I came across this article Google searching for ideas to fend off free loaders that email me asking for free advice. When what you offer as a service is in the realm of “ideas”, consulting, coaching, books, people tend to think that “naturally” you “should” be ready to discuss you subject and give advice (for free) to whoever cares to ask. I’ve have many instances where people unsubscribed to my newsletter and posted nasty things about me online after my assistant responded that I couldn’t answer their email personally, giving them personal advice. We have crafted a very polite email response to avoid offending anyone that she always sends to people that respond to my (automatic) newsletter emails that I’m not available for, in other words, ‘brain picking’. However, no matter how polite we deal with this situations, we still make a lot of people angry… Some people tend to think that if you write articles and publish books, you have the obligation to answer questions about your work and help them with whatever problem, business or personal, they might be going through.

Why people can’t just realize that time is precious?