How many times have you been asked by someone if they can meet you for a coffee and pick your brain about a business idea or issue? 

When you get asked this question, how does it make you feel?

Think about it.

Are you at the start-up stage of your business? Are you out networking to make connections, build a trusted group of suppliers and to promote your business? Among the network connections you are making, is there an inspiring individual who stands out and from whom you’d like to gain tips from about how they achieved their success?

Would you ask them, “Can I pick your brain?”

Are you an experienced business owner who’s keen to pick the brain of a colleague? Are you working on a new project or development and feel you need help to get it to the next level? Is it right to ask, “Can I pick your brain?”

From my perspective, when you ask someone to pick their brain, you are asking for free advice.

How does the action of asking for a freebie offer value or devalue the exchange of ideas or help? How does your request lessen their value, your value and the value of the advice given?

Smart phone

I regularly see business people asking for free advice on online forums. In some groups people ask for simple requests such as venues for training and domain name service providers. In other groups people blatantly ask for free advice to create a marketing plan for business growth or how to design a workshop. As a business coach, I’m more than happy to share information about the former however the latter falls into consultancy (paid for) time.

Let me ask you: When did you last ask a solicitor for advice that you didn’t have to pay for?

It is no different when you ask a fellow business person. This applies to all business owners. When asked to pick your brain, over and above for advice, this is consultancy time and should always be seen as a high value and paid for transaction – not as a freebie.

While I grew my business, there were occasions when I gave away free advice.

I felt that being helpful was a positive way to build rapport with potential clients. However, most of the free advice I shared remained just that – a free exchange with no follow-on result. This devalued my advice and the value of the exchange for the person as they had not invested any money or focused time into the opportunity. In contrast, I stuck to my principle to avoid asking to pick the brains of respected colleagues.

Being a naturally generous person who loves to help others, I found it became a steep learning curve to start not giving away my knowledge and expertise for free.

I learnt to discourage people from asking to pick my brain (only sharing helpful tips) by saying: “What you have requested help in is consultancy time…”

Next time you’re thinking that you’d like to ask to pick the brain of someone you admire, think value before freebie. Consider how much you value the time it has taken that person to accrue the knowledge and expertise you’d like to gain, how much you value the time and energy they will deliver to you, and how much you value yourself. It all depends on your attitude and mindset.

Think value before freebie

Investing time and money with a mentor or executive business coach who inspires you and with whom you have a rapport, will add value to you and your business growth and success.