As you continue to grow your experience, your knowledge and your platform in your field, you will regularly hear from others asking if they can take you out for coffee (or lunch or a cocktail) to “pick your brain.” For free, of course. And, if you are like most of the experts in your industry, you may even feel a little conflicted — You want to help, but you don’t always have the time. You don’t mind helping for free, but not ALL of the time. So, what’s a business person to do? Well, always remember that the decision to help is unapologetically yours. In the meantime, I’ve have noted below four (4) things to remember as you make your decision to get your “brain picked.”
1. It’s Okay to Charge for Your Time. More than likely, you’ve paid good money over the years for your knowledge. If you don’t want to hand over that hard-earned education for free, offer your consulting services instead. You can respond to the “pick your brain” request by saying, “Thank you for reaching out to me. My consulting fees are $___/hour. Please let me know when you’d like to meet.” (Side note: Make sure the dollar amount you are charging is worth your time.)
2. It’s Okay to Pre-Determine the “Brain Picking” Time. Every Saturday morning at 7:30 am., I go for an hour long walk around the track at a local community college. When people ask to “pick my brain,” I tell them I am happy to do it, but it needs to take place during my Saturday morning walk. This allows me the chance to help others, get in a little exercise, and maintain control of my calendar. (Side note: I now use this walk to connect with old friends, so I only offer business advice via Brainery Project for Event Pros—- See point #1)
3. It’s Okay to Say “No.” It’s natural to want to help others. Someone helped us, right?!? But, the life an entrepreneur can get crazy and you only have 24 hours in a day. so, remember that is is 100 percent okay if you have to decline these requests for one reason or another. Here’s a tip— Consider creating a template e-mail that you can quickly send to decline these requests. Your message can include a list of recommended organizations to join, some business podcasts or books you recommend, and some recommended links of web sites that offer advice and assistance to new entrepreneurs. One of the sites I always recommend is SCORE.org
4. It’s Okay to Say “Yes.” If you have the time and the availability to meet new entrepreneurs for coffee and give advice, please do it. I did it for almost a decade and I don’t regret it. I decided to stop that practice and crate the “Brainery Project for Event Professionals” because I felt as if an hour of advice here or there was not very impactful for a new entrepreneur. Word of advice — set boundaries on your time or you can quickly get overwhelmed by the amount of coffee chats you take on. Also, there is nothing wrong with a “virtual coffee chat.”
Side Note: Request the Questions in Advance. I have met with many new entrepreneurs for coffee and they come to the discussion unprepared. I realize this could be a case of “ how do you know what you don’t know,” but it feels as if they are waiting for me to tell them EVERYTHING there is to know about being a business owner. As a result, I have learned to ask for their questions in advance. In some cases, I find that I can easily answer the questions via e-mail. If I receive 15 plus questions, I let him or her know that we need to cut the number of questions down to accommodate a 45 minute discussion.