To be fair to myself, in March 2011, I was still an undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Reno…
Still, that year, I missed out on one of the most refreshing & brutally honest blogs I’ve read yet.
In March 2011, Adrienne Graham published “No, you can’t pick my brain. It costs too much” on Forbes.
The article has received more than 230,000 views and been shared countless times.
The title describes the aim of the blog perfectly. It draws a line between people asking for small, free advice for their own benefit and the flip side – people taking advantage of you for free expertise that they will use to monetize something in the future, while not acknowledging the years and hours that went into you gaining that expertise.
Graham adds this:
“I can’t tell you how flattering it is to be approached by representatives from major companies seeking my wisdom and advice. It shows they are listening, and like what I have to say.
But often I find the road ends when they are just on a fact finding mission. That mission is to pick my brain to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need to make their jobs easier.”
As I was reading this earlier this week, I could hear echoes of daily requests I get from people for my time, insight and input…her message hit me right in the feels!
“Can you help me with some marketing?”
“Can you give me some speaking tips?”
“Can you help me with ads?”
“What do you think about this page?”
“Can we talk about some sales pages over coffee?”
“Dude, I have this amazing idea for a startup, tell me what you think.”
“Do you have any social media branding tips?”
“I feel like I need your advice, can we meet for coffee?”
“What do you make of these page conversions?”
All. Day. Long. I could go on forever!
Now, I want to be clear that I’m naturally helpful & caring – I love sharing my insight and expertise with people. If there is something I can do to help, I will.
But there’s a line – and some people are habitual line-crossers.
Asking for quick help or advice is great – that’s what friends are for.
But when you ask for more than an hour of a person’s time, ask long/in-depth questions, or seek information that you’re going to use to try to make money – and you don’t pay the person you’re getting this information from – the line has been crossed.
At this point, you’re essentially walking into Wal-Mart and trying to walk out with a PlayStation 4 for free.
Nuh-uh. That’s not how it works.
But I’ll admit, there are 2 parties in this transaction – the person asking and the person being asked.
Saying no to people and drawing a distinction on free advice vs. something that I’ve painstakingly learned that they need to pay for is one of my biggest challenges.
But I know giving away the goods for free is devaluing my time, expertise & knowledge.
I’ve put in thousands of hours and countless money into school, marketing, memberships, events, programs, learning, reading & working just so someone can come in and scoop up all of my best goods for free?
Doesn’t make much sense when I put it that way, right?
I definitely still struggle with this, but I’m getting better at drawing the distinction between buddy-buddy talks & people who need professional or business consultations.
Something Graham recommends in her blog for people like myself are to “Decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business.”
I recently did this when someone asked me for marketing insight on a start-up they were working on and while it was almost like pulling nail apart from my skin for me, the person on the other end of the phone simply replied, “OK – so what’s your rate?”
It seems the biggest proponent of this problem is not the person asking, then, but the person being asked – me.
At the end of the day, the biggest principle here is that while it’s not right for someone to ask for your time and knowledge in a specific field for their monetary benefit, it’s absolutely wrong for you to accept without drawing the line, setting the expectations, and creating your own boundaries.
So, the next time someone asks you for your ‘free’ time in a field that you’ve worked diligently to acquire expertise in, tell them your hourly rate.
If your knowledge is worth that much and they see enough value in what it is you offer, they’ll pay up or keep moving. Either way, the standard has been set.
People will treat you how you allow them to treat you.
I’m learning this and growing through it.
Thank you for your wonderfully insightful article, Adrienne.