15 Ways to Handle ‘Pick Your Brand’ Requests


I’m done. I’m done with the emails asking for “a quick chat”, I’m done obliging folks who ask me to follow them on Twitter so they can DM “a quick question” and I’m done being suckered into phone calls only for someone to try to steal as much professional information from me as they can. Because while I’m all for passing it on and sharing the wealth, that’s not what’s happening when you ask me to lay out a complete social strategy for your business. That’s not what’s happening when you ask me to review your business proposal. When you ask to “pick my brain”, you’re really asking me to work for free. And while Outspoken Media proudly serves its pro-bono clients, we’re also a business. My creative work and my ideas are that business.

A few months ago I received a phone call from a man about to pitch a business idea to a panel of investors. Before he did, he wanted ME to find him some resources to prove to the board there was a need for his business. Hi, LMGTFY. Before that, there was a gentleman who got my cell phone number and called asking if I’d perform a social media audit on his Web site, while he was the phone with me. He’d wait.

There’s a weird dichotomy that exists – people who obviously respect my expertise, just not my time. At some point we have to start saying no. And I know that I’m not alone in this. I know that there are many freelancers and consultants who are also tired of working for free and the never ending requests for a brain picking session.

Here’s a sampling:

We’ve all had enough. We’re all done and it’s time we start protecting our creative work. Below I’ve listed the 15 responses I’ll use the next someone asks for “just ten minutes” so they can get professional advice without actually paying for it. Will you help me add to it?

So…can I pick your brain/brand over coffee?

  1. No.
  2. I’m so sorry but I’m super swamped right now. May I recommend [Competitors Name]? They’re really great; you should give them a call.
  3. Of course, I’d love to chat. I charge in 60 minute increments at $XXX an hour.
  4. I’d love to help you create a marketing strategy, check out our blog consulting services, content creation services or any of our other Internet marketing services. Let me know which you’d like us to invoice you for.
  5. Sure, let’s talk. Then send drop a link to our Contact page.
  6. Write up an invoice and send it to them. Let them know that payment must be received before the chat takes place, but that I truly can’t wait to hear about their idea/problem/situation.
  7. Send them a few links to resources, but only if I know how to quickly find the content. I’m not doing research on your behalf. We have the same Google. Use your own.
  8. Send them the link to the blog. We have tons of freely available resources they just have to be adapted to your business.
  9. Suggest they call Rae and then hide under my new desk. :)
  10. Research what they do and ask if I can have a free X.
  11. Make it over beers and let them pay my drink tab. I can drink more Sam Adams in a sitting then I can vanilla lattes.
  12. Tell them they can speak with my assistant…and then give them my little brother’s phone number.
  13. Ask them when they’d like to set up a phone consultation and give them Outspoken’s rates.
  14. Get their question upfront and tell them it will take more than 10 minutes to answer. Ask if they’d prefer we create a proposal to send over. And how much that costs.
  15. Tell them to follow me on Twitter. You’ll get no better glimpse into my “brain” than that.

I know. It sounds like yet another reason for people to comment that I’m elitist, but that’s not it at all. I live for sharing information. That’s why I blog at Outspoken Media, at SmallBizTrends, and write guest posts for countless other blogs. But there’s a difference between putting someone on the right path and doing the work for them. Every strategy I give you for free takes time away from paying clients, internal Outspoken work and my own personal projects. I’m not saying consultants shouldn’t help people, Outspoken has a number of clients that we’ve helped free of charge, but respect the value of your own time.

As consultants we like to give back and often get trapped undermining our own businesses just because we don’t think we’re allowed to say no. If you’re a freelance who can’t say no, you need to go get bitchslapped because you run a business, not a free clinic. Your time and creative energy are valuable. You can say no. And sometimes you should.

Your Comments

  • Armando Di Cianno

    This is a great topic, and it’s not something that people outside of technical consulting, design, or general consulting really understand. (You’re emotion about this issue definitely comes through in this article, too.)

    I have nightmares about this kind of thing. Maybe I just read http://clientsfromhell.net/ too much, though. I think my favorite quote from there is “You mean every time you do work for us, you charge us?”.

    I do think an initial “pick your brain over coffee” type meeting is a good thing, though. I’d use that meeting to pitch my services, and talk about what I could do to help the client – possibly even creating an invoice right there and then.

    • Lisa Barone

      A “pick your brain” session over coffee with someone who will may turn into a client is one thing, however, you can usually tell in your gut who is actually interested in services and who wants to take you for all your worth.

      • Joel Libava


        It’s easy to pick the “taker’s” out. They’re usually talking really fast, are real aggressive, and have a chip on their shoulders.

        And.. they get pissed when you try to qualify them.

        The Franchise King®

  • Ed.T

    I’m dying to know if “pick your brain” changed to “pick your brand” on purpose. Quite clever if you take credit for it.

  • Jason Wietholter


    My response to people depends a lot on their attitude on the phone. If someone is very respectful of my time and offers some sort of consideration I’m much more inclined to sit down with them and give them advice, even if they aren’t paying for it. For most people, an answer similar to #4 is appropriate, and for the jerks, I let them down as nicely as possible.

    I really like #14 too, but it only works for someone that is somewhat respectful on the phone.

    You could always take a chess clock to your meetup or #16 could be to respond to their question with an equally penetrating question into their business. They’ll probably respond that it’s proprietary business information or that they charge for it. Kind of like #10. :)

  • Jeremy Wright

    Hmm, my response to “pick your brain” is still “sure, buy me coffee”. Though, I’m actually considering establishing “office hours” for “pick your brain” requests. Every Friday afternoon, 2 hours, 30 minute slots… First come, first serve. Then there’s no “no”, there’s just a “here’s the GCal”.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think office hours for that kind of stuff is a great idea. I guess that’s how Twitter chats sort of started. I’d be careful trading coffee for idea dumb sessions, though. You probably charge clients more than $3.50 an hour. :)

      • Jeremy Wright

        It’s not about charging them, it’s about the fact that when I was learning people gave me free time, so I feel it’s only fair to pay that forward to the next generation of entrepreneurs and such :) Plus, it’s a GREAT way to drive new business, heh.

        • Lisa Barone

          No, I totally understand that. There’s a place for that “giving back” that I think EVERYONE should make time for. And I definitely do. I spend hours in my inbox every week talking to people who will never become clients…but you can tell when someone is just trying to weasel information and isn’t just looking for some guidance. I think there’s a difference and I’m starting to treat them differently.

          • Clovis


            Fantastic! All that you said above is true. I worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce in Brazil, and then one day I went back to the private sector as as business consultant. For a long time on my practice, I was in the “giving it for free stupid game” (as if I was still salaried!). Then, one day on the brink of going broke, my wife and partner came to me and said to my face that I was SOOOO stupid and I was letting people “milk me”. Ouch! that really hurt… I then learnt… Lost some “friends” – have you been there?…But, then money started coming in, because I stopped losing time with the bloodsuckers, and got focused.

            If I may, I will send some of these boodsuckers to your article. They should know better. Thanks!

  • Rafael Marquez

    I think it’s funny that you’re asking to pick people’s brains for reasons to not let other people pick your brains about stuff.

    Am I the only one that picked up on that?


  • Peter Shankman

    Awe to the Some. Well said, as always, Lisa.

  • Dr. Pete

    I’m learning not to be an incurable “nice guy” in this regard. That’s part of why I wrote an e-book a while back. If I get a question from someone who clearly isn’t ever going to pay me, I just email them a copy with:

    “I’m sending you a free copy of my e-book – it’ll walk you through the basics and give you a better sense of the work I do”

    It’s basically homework, and they almost never do it.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s the difference between someone who wants to “pick your brain” and someone who is coming to you to learn – whether or not they want to do the homework or if they want a strategy handed to them. I will always make time for the people who actually want to talk about what it is that I do and how they can benefit from it. I’m less likely to talk to people who want me to do research for them and then email it back.

      • Dr. Pete

        Exactly. I don’t brush off sincere business owners with real problems. Even if they don’t hire me, I try to help. This is about opportunists who don’t want to put the work in to run their own business. I’ve got a business to run – thanks.

  • Gus

    Lisa, your points are spot on. Here’s what I’d like to add, inspired by what Armando said in the first comment. Having those “pick your brain” sessions are great ways of getting new business, if they’re handled correctly (and especially if they were the result of a referral).

    When someone makes that “pick your brain” request, it’s a free sales lead and the opportunity to qualify that lead. After 10 or 15 minutes of your free time, that’s when using some of the items on your list are really timely. It’s at that point where you’ve had a chance to qualify the lead and share some high level insight that’s specific to their situation. The insight that the person receives is hopefully the answer to their prayers. That’s when you say, “It sounds like you have a situation similar to a lot of clients that I’ve helped. I could outline a plan of action for us to tackle this together if you’re serious about getting this solved. Based on past engagements, I know that you will have a favorable ROI on my fees if you implement the plan that I’m going to help you with.”

    At that point, you’ll know if they’re willing to pay, or if you can forget about them. As tempting as it is to run these people off, a few of them could be prompted to get serious and pony up for a real business engagement.

  • Indian Marketer

    I like #3 best. It’s practically the same as 4, 5, 6, 13 and 14, and more direct.

  • Jill Whalen

    I pretty much do all of your points above (except sending them to Rae!). Most people don’t take offense to any of them, unless they are complete jerks.

    The best are the ones that call every SEO company out there to gather as much free info as they can on what their strategy should be. Scary thing is that it seems that the largest companies are the biggest culprit of this.

    They’re also the ones who dangle the “there could be tons more business where this (free) business comes from.” As soon as I hear that line I’m outta there.

    My criteria for helping is that I’m happy to answer most questions if they’re general in nature and I don’t have to actually look at their particular website or company to answer them. As soon as I have to look at something in particular, it’s a review or consulting and I direct them to my pricing structure.

    I also started doing 15 min teleclinics for $150 awhile back which I can direct people to if they have some quick questions or want me to briefly review something.

    • Lori

      Great post Lisa — we’re (husband and I) sorting through this question in a different way — the community service projects we do. How to limit that and still practice some generosity.

      Jill, btw, has been amazingly generous with me on a few occasions when I was new to SEO. Answering questions (in a pinch) I needed for pretty big corporate clients which saved my butt.

      I’m not much (at all) into public speaking so when a client offered me a speaking gig, Jill was the first person I thought of to refer. So *sometimes* patience and generosity *might* pay off ;-) Although that’s more likely within the industry than with business owners.

  • Sheila Scarborough

    I’ve spoken a couple of times on this topic to groups in Austin; when I tell them my presentation title is “No, You May Not Pick My Brain (and I Don’t Want Any Damned Coffee, Either)” the reaction is instant, loud and approving.

    People are SICK of mind-suckers. Great post, and great comebacks!

  • yankeerudy

    Spot on, Lisa. I’ve experienced this since the Dark Ages when I was the lone “computer guy” in the company, and most requests were folks wanting a simple fix to a complex situation.

    These days, I try to balance the general education angle against the “my time is valuable” mantra. At some point you have to draw the line. It’s fine to ask a doctor at a party what connects to the spleen, but would you ask to pick his brain about your possible spleen problems?

  • Lydia Sugarman

    Great article. Great comments. I’ll be coming back to fully digest when I have more time.

    One word jumped out at me — proposal. I strive to never use this word or submit a proposal, particularly if someone’s reached out to me. They’re beyond a proposal. They’ve already contacted you as someone they acknowledge as an authority they want to datamine “in a good way.”

    Instead, I send a customized work agreement that outlines in bullet points what we can do/deliver and our rates. I never get specific anymore until the check’s cleared the bank.

    It quickly separates the wheat from the chaff, further establishes your position as a professional, and lets you get back to paying work without delay.

  • Chris - SyracuseCS

    Great article! I get this stuff all of the time too, between current clients, possible clients, and friends/family this “brain picking” could turn into a full time un-paid job! All of these items are great, but I really love #6. Once you send an invoice it either scares off the tire kickers or solidifies the meeting for the people who are really serious about getting the information.

  • Michael Senchuk

    My favorite was #9, that made me laugh out loud. I do totally agree, Lisa. I’m helping enough friends and family out with various projects as it is, and while I don’t expect anything in return, they definitely show their gratitude (if they don’t, I email them invoices for my time with a 100% discount to show them how much time I’m working for them). I don’t mind the odd 10-15 minute conference call to pick my brain (although I don’t get that many at this time so it’s not a big deal), but anything more than that, and you’d better be buying me a really nice dinner at least (and also provide me some information in return), or else you’ll be paying a consulting fee.

  • JR Moreau

    If I’m not busy and happen to need new clients, I’ll meet someone for coffee and talk shop with them without giving away any real trade secrets or how-to’s. Basically, for those of use who don’t have brand recognition that transcends our existing networks already, you’ve got to meet new people and make them think that you’re worth paying. Then, you follow up with a paid consultation or a contract. Free beer and coffee on the first meeting never hurts either… buffalo wings are a short way to my time too.

    Besides, most people can’t do anything with the soundbytes you may provide during a first time meeting. No more than talking for half an hour to one person at a networking event. I usually like to give them just enough so that they realize that I’d be better at doing what they need done than them trying to hack it.

  • cory huff

    I’m with Jeremy. I use Tungle.me and let people schedule a time to meet with me in 30 minute blocks. I ran a ‘pay what you will’ program for artists for the last two weeks, and it worked out pretty well – some paid me quite well, others not at all, so it worked out in the end.

  • Chris Pantages

    Great read. They kind of teach you how to deflect those kinds of conversations in law school. I mostly did #9 for the craziest ones (except with one of my friends instead of Rae, obviously). My favorite was a woman who, after speaking to me for one or two minutes at a bar, wanted me to draft up some kind of opposition to an extradition for her brother, an eco-terrorist, accused of spiking trees in Washington who had fled to Canada.

    Doesn’t happen to me as an SEO. Probably a combination of my going out less and working in-house instead of on my own.

  • Allison

    When I first started freelancing, most of my friends were still in college. At the end of every semester, I’d get at least 10 emails from people asking me to look over papers. I don’t mind helping a friend, but then they started asking me if I could do it for roommates, siblings, etc. It was just so rude, and I don’t think they even realized it! So i shut it down and told everyone that it would be $25 per paper going forward. Funny how they all seemed to be able to do it on their own after that!

  • Caron Mosey

    Lisa, you already give a ton of good information on this site, from which I have already benefitted and appreciate. You DO work for a living. Your company DOES provide a service. I’d stick with the “I’d (or we’d) LOVE to help you! Our rate is $XXX per hour. When can we get started?” For people who are trying to get something for nothing, it’s a show stopper. And if they complain that XYZ Company can do it cheaper, my father trained me to repeat the following line: “Then that’s where you should go. Let me hold the door for you!”

  • Dr. Pete

    Alternative approach:

    “You can pick my brain for $200/hour, or or you can pick my nose for free.”

  • Stephen Solomon

    Well said, Lisa. Being of service to others doesn’t mean accommodating people who are too lazy or clueless to do their own homework.

    People don’t go to Wal-Mart and ask if they can borrow a lawnmower when they need to cut their grass. Why is asking for strategic/creative guidance considered different, somehow?

  • Matthias Hager

    Hi Lisa,

    Do you want to meet up over the weekend? You know, in your free time when you’re not busy at work. We’ll do coffee and maybe I’ll pick your supervaluable brain for some information you’d normally charge someone for.

    Don’t worry, the coffee is on me.

    *Someone had to do it. At least I stroked your ego.*

    I sometimes get questions from clients that aren’t really related to the work I perform for them. I had a long discussion two weeks ago about IP addresses, broadband speeds, and ISPs in the Capital Region. They think that doing technical work for their website makes me their goto guy for any technical questions.

    Obviously I am a lot more inclined to offer help to a currently paying client than someone who is most likely never going to give me a dime. Sometimes though, it becomes just as obtrusive – particularly when dealing with small and owner-operated businesses. However, it’s that much harder to say no to them.

    • Lea de Groot

      I know what you mean – I did some programming work, pure PHP, for a name a while ago.
      Then he emailled me asking me about spam handling.
      Ummm – I dunno, dude!
      Never did get around to replying to him (too gobsmacked), and I haven’t heard from him since.
      Probably just as well.

      But I like #3 too. :) Sure, we do chat to people who appear to have client potential, and we do probono work, but we don’t give it away to people who are going (or trying, anyway) to make a profit

  • Olivier Amar

    The timing of this made me laugh.

    I have a friend that calls me for help advice pretty regularly. This week, after asking me to help plug them with mashable/techcrunch/RWW she dropped that her boss was making her call me. I know her boss personally. I told her, you know what, I like you a lot but we’re crossing a line from advice to giving you major PR services that cost good money. Tell your boss, he knows my number and that he knows what I charge. I also gave her a link to a post by Jolie O’dell on how to approach her by mail with a pitch.

  • Armando Di Cianno

    … and this *just* happened to me. I had a different immediate reaction after reading these replies all day. :-)

  • Sandy Jones-Kaminski

    Hey Lisa, thanks for the mention and the Tweet!

    Have to say this response from Caron is my new favorite: “I’d (or we’d) LOVE to help you! Our rate is $XXX per hour. When can we get started?”

    After writing my blog post about starting a “national no brain picking list,” which you linked to above, I decided to start offering something called 50-4-50 for these type of random requests. It’s actually turned into quite a few introductory rate (I charge more than $50/hr regularly) consulting sessions and appears to have helped reduce the number of “can I pick your brain pick for free?” requests. I sent it out in an email blast, posted it on my personal and book pages on Facebook, as a status update on LinkedIn and am sharing it here so others can use it as a model: http://belladomain.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/back-by-popular-demand-50-4-50/

  • Naomi Niles

    I usually avoid this by scheduling my phone calls carefully. I have to do this anyway because I find that random phone calls bork my schedule really badly and I get nothing done.

    But, I’ll usually ask what they’d like to chat about. If it looks like a “pick your brain” session, I’ll send info for services over. I sometimes take very quick questions though.

    I don’t get a lot of pick your brain emails, surprisingly. No idea why. Maybe I shouldn’t mention this and jinx myself.

  • Scott Clark

    I use this: “Either work for free, or work for full price – there is nothing in-between.”

    Here, free means “consciously” free. Like helping entrepreneurial groups with SEO here in Lexington, or helping a cash-strapped group build awareness of public art. I give it freely and do not want to be paid as the non-monetary rewards are real and make me happy.

    Everyone else, full price. No discounts. Ever.

    I made my last “part price+possible future” mistake last Fall with someone. I busted my butt on his blog at 40% discount for the potential introduction to a few key creative directors – after one of my very best friends recommended me (thus – I skipped due diligence and “took care of them.”) I ranked the hell out of this guy’s site. He, in the meantime, just complained all the time about pixel-tweaking crap on the site for months after the gig ended. He never fully appreciated I was a SEO, not a web developer.

    My reward? I have a well-ranked, well-connected, sub-rate, confused client emailing me regularly with the dreaded “when are we going to get that random pixel tweak done.” It’s like a land mine field – and it will be dangerous forever.

  • Patrick Prothe

    This is so well said and so true. Seems people think consultants are there to dispense free advice – and think that it’ll “only take a minute” x XXX. I find this happen in many creative, consultative businesses.

    At one point I was a commercial photographer and constantly had people asking for a quick ‘free’ photo because they didn’t have the budget. (And didn’t I love taking pictures anyway?).

    A response I have is so I’m happy to provide some free information if you convince my bank I don’t have to pay the mortgage this month . . .

    There are times for being helpful, but it’s so important to have the self respect and confidence in your work and services to charge real money and let people know the value. Those that get it, will pay and potentially good clients, And then there are those that grind you into the ground and even when they pay, demand more and more. Those are the ones to run from. Fast.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire

    I would have to say that I have been suckered into freebie work too many times to count. As soon as I create a post about charging money for a service, sure enough I will get an email asking for just “one quick tip” about that subject.

    One quick tip turns into a string of emails and too much of my time. I agree that it’s time to say no. There is a small circle of people that I will give a ton of free advice too, but beyond that, we are all here to make a living. I’m not asking for free tires just so I can drive to the store, or free lunch that I can borrow for a minute. It’s crazy how people ignore certain standard social norms, just because of a virtual business model.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  • Jill Whalen

    I just remembered this hilarious video that sort of goes along with this post (at least in how some don’t value a service providers time):
    The Vendor Client relationship – in real world situations

  • Lydia Sugarman

    @Joshua Your post just generated an idea. Since it’s my idea, I’m totally in love with it, of course.

    Whenever you publish a new blog post, include a link at the bottom for people to register for the accompanying webinars, one free and one for, say, $9.95. The free one would be simply a slightly expanded presentation of what’s been covered in the post. The second will include an open Q&A for a limited # of people where everyone will benefit from each other’s questions. Record both. Use for your next book, speaking engagement, etc. Make the paid webinar available ONLY to those who paid.

    *Disclaimer – If you noticed my URL, we’re still working on the front end, but the application is done. Take a test drive and tell me what you think, please. It’s literally 8+ apps in one.

  • Edward Beckett

    Free SEO! … Yeah … I’ve Dedicated a ‘special’ page on my site to those looking for FREE SEO in the serps …


  • Jesse Friedman

    First of all, Holy Comments, I scrolled for 5 min to get down here :)

    Second, Lisa, you are absolutely right. Good consultants make good money for a reason. There’s a notion that because you offer advice online and write these posts that you’ll also give up everything you know for the price of a beer.

    You deserve a good beer (Sam Octoberfest) just for this blog.

  • Todd Mintz

    Once the bottle of 80 year old Scotch arrives at my house, I’ll be glad to listen to your idea and offer feedback…

    I’m sure that will keep the tire-kickers away.

  • Rita Ashley

    Thank you for ranting on what most service providers abhor. The audacity of friends, business acquaintances and pure strangers inviting us to give them free services that are the basis of our business. That, “quick look” guise is a dead giveaway they want free services. There must be a polite way to say, “Send me a quick check and I will oblige.”

    We offer a lot of free: Blogs, comments on LinkedIn, white papers and links to good info on social networking sites. Why then do people believe we can stay in business giving our actual services away? Will we make it up on volume?

    The other issue, and please, rant on this one, too; all those LinkedIn requests to join our networks. It almost feels parasitic when a person implores you to connect but offers no affiliation info, reason to connect or idea of reciprocity. It is implied that somehow by seeing and using my network, their life will be improved. (Which is one reason I use the LI option to hide my connections, even from my connections.) I received two requests today from job seekers commending me for my advice and wisdom who want to connect. They still have not purchased either of my job search books. Nor will they. Is my advice only of value when it is free?

    And last, but certainly not least, I wonder if you’d comment on those people who use your posts to advertise their own sites/products.
    You go girl!
    Rita Ashley, Career Coach

  • Bob Weber

    There are a few things about these ‘free consultations’ that I really detest.

    Many people that want free advice aren’t serious. They have some insane concept that will never get off the ground, and they want to waste your time discussing it. Like your example of the guy pitching to the investors. If he can’t validate his own idea, it’s probably going to fail. Why help that guy?

    There are also the people who want your advice/help and don’t listen. You tell them that their idea should be implemented differently and they get angry.

    I’ve been in IT for a long time, and I learned years ago to charge everyone. It keeps people from trying to cajole you into ‘favors’. I’ve found over the years that people who are serious about their business and actually want to get things done don’t have a problem paying you.

  • Kristine Jubeck

    Well said! While giving away advice is initially perceived as helpful, I suspect that doing so can seriously undermine the client’s respect for your time and expertise.

    You may occasionally lose a project by insisting that you be paid for your time, but do you really want to partner on a project with someone who expects you to work for free?

    It’s not elitist, it’s simply setting an expectation that you deserve to be paid for your ideas and the expertise that you’ve worked hard to develop.

  • Kristina Summers

    so well said that I started to laugh out loud before I finished reading and my husband had to ask what was the matter with me. Great points, all.

    The old adage “Just say no” suddenly has new meaning.

    Great post. :) I am going to save this one.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Set up a “Pick my Brain Special” page with a $X,000.00 price, max 1 hour and set that up to charge a credit card. Send them there and when you get the charge, you will call them back. Heck, I think I’ll do that for me :-)

  • Barbara

    My blog is pro bono work and I’m able to field most questions without thinking I’m being taken advantage of. But, recently a ‘freelance writer’ asked for some quotes for a couple of paid articles. The blow-back from pointing her to my paypal button was in caps.

  • john andrews

    “Got a minute to chat about a problem I’m having with [SEO topic]? ”

    Me: Sure, that’s exactly what i do for a living. I usually charge $200 for that issue, or maybe you’d rather trade something?

    Common answers (in order of frequency):

    “um… well… maybe sometime when you’re not busy”
    “I’m your sister. Help me for free or I’ll tell Mom”

  • A Personalised Poem 4 U

    lol – brilliant! Glad to find out I’m not the only one who has this sort of problem to deal with – thanks for the tips!

  • Innkeeper Seely

    It isn’t just “font of knowledge” trades that have this problem. My dad was a surgeon and people wanted him to look at “things” all the time.

    We get calls for free rooms from long lost somebodies, relatives, and those “special” people who promise to fill the B&B with their friends if we give a huge discount to them so they can spread the word. Friends that expect the same discount of course. Then there are those aspiring innkeepers who want to have lunch or bring a sample of their favorite breakfast casserole for me to taste (lunch at my inn while I fret about the food safety issues of the egg dish that just sat in a car for 2 hours!) so they can pick my brain about how to be an innkeeper. Don’t even get me started on the number of charities that aren’t legal N-F-Ps that want us to donate multiple room nights for their auctions.

    Ann Landers used to say no one could take advantage of you unless you let them. Value yourself so others will consider you valuable.

    Finding a comfortable way to say NO is essential to any small business. Often the best choice is to say yes – the customer is always right donchaknow. Of course I would be happy to discuss XXX for my regular consulting fee of $XX. Of course I would be happy to donate one night if you purchase one night. For $XXX I am sure you will be more than pleased with the service I can offer.

  • Joel Libava

    Lisa, Thanks for writing this really important post. Like you, and others who have shared the same feelings about “free consulting,” I’m done. Now,I’ll be happy to answer a q or maybe even two, but there comes a time in which all of us-talented, giving peopel need to say, “enough” The revamping of my own franchise consulting model addresses what you suggested. Here’s another tip; ask. “What is your goal with this call, or email?” The Franchise King, Joel Libava

  • Jillivinilly

    Yes, and yes, agreed and agreed.

    I have an interesting dynamic with one of our “paying” customers. She is one of our staunchest advocates in that regard. She’ll often in our group of common associates work into conversations about hiring marketing professionals the value of hiring an expert.

    I’ve never offered her a commission, though. :) I guess that’s what makes it authentic.

  • Amber Naslund

    Hey Lisa –

    Love your post. What’s really interesting to me is the backlash there’s been on the web for those voicing their feelings on this topic, and somehow centering the issue around someone’s perceived fame or popularity. That’s just not it.

    What someone does or doesn’t charge for is their own issue, and their own market will correct it for them.

    But valuing your time and expertise doesn’t have a shred to do with whether or not you’re famous in some cloudy internet fishbowl. This issue is as old as the hills, as old as the days when we switched from bartering stuff in fair trade to charging fluid currency for our work. There’s always someone out there who wants something for free, and they’re probably more visible on the internet (or more rampant perhaps in the context of those that are themselves more visible on the web).

    In the years I worked for nonprofits, I was asked all the time to create fundraising strategies for organizations that had no budget (and this was in addition to the full time job I had driving fundraising for my own organization). In the design world, we had clients that wanted us to just “throw in” stuff for free in addition to the scope of work we’d outlined and agreed upon. And of course in the consulting world (and even now when I’m employed), you feel it there, too.

    Valuing your time and understanding the balance of lending a hand is a tricky one, and everyone is going to judge the line between generosity and being taken advantage of differently. But this isn’t a matter of whether you’re Peter Shankman or not, it’s a matter of how you as a professional choose to value the time you spend, and where. I’d be willing to bet that there are hundreds – nay thousands – of consultants, service providers, and company owners who have to wage this battle every day for themselves, and no one knows who they are.

    The important message is understanding that if you’re good at what you do (that’s a separate discussion), your time and expertise are valuable. Making sure you give back is important, but so is ensuring that the business you’re building will still be around to help someone else tomorrow.

    Thanks for helping folks with some good, pragmatic suggestions for how to respond.


  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I admit I have been using #2 a lot myself, but they all look very smart and well thought :p
    Sometimes the free consulting is just a way to promote yourself to a new client, but as you mentioned you kinda feel it in your guts if that’s gonna be the case.
    I am not really a consultant myself so I had experienced this problem in a lesser way, but still the occasional smart guy trying to get free samples is lurking in the shadows.
    So, can I re-use some of your responses or must I expect an invoice to my email? ;)

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I gotta comment again and tell you the post-comment splash page is the freaking smartest thing I’ve seen in a while :p

  • Julie Roads

    Wonderful, Lisa. Totally agree. What I did was set up a program on my site for an hour long brain picking/storming session. And the fee is high. I direct all of these sorts of inquiries to the page on my site that outlines what I do, how long, what they get and the FEE. If they sign up and pay, I know they value my time AND their own – and I say that in the description.

    This thing is not priced to sell or make me money. My business and corporate clients do that. It’s priced to weed out the time-sucking wackos that, until I put this page up, hounded me to no end.

  • Wendy Amundson

    I accidentally found a way to help separate the wheat from the chaff. Several times people called me for advice when I was too busy to even look at my calendar, so I asked them to call me back in 2 wks, 3 wks, or a month to set up a time to talk. Hardly any of them did and those that did, I respected the fact that they were willing to wait until it was a good time for me.

  • Rita Ashley

    THIS just in. My presence on LinkedIn often results in requests like these. They always surprise me because once someone visits my website, they can easily discern my client base is executives and technology professionals and often get what they need simply by reading the blogs.

    Dear Rita, I came across you from the Peter Clayton interview on ageism from Total Picture Radio. I am a back to work (after 6 years) Mom (raised 5 kids) who went through a divorce over 5 years ago. I also am just graduating from the University of Washington in Communications and I also have an Interior Design Degree. I was laid off from my Commercial Design job over a year ago because of the Market downturn.
    I am am a Project Administrative Intern at xxx. I really like it but was told at the beginning that they may not be hiring in my department till the first of the year. My internship ends on October 1st, 2010. I love my job but they probably will hire at the beginning of the year, but Contract workers only I am told. My Managers are trying to find me something in the interim to get me hired and maybe pull me over later.
    I still can’t depend on that so I want to look outside of xxx as well. I am a fresh, progressive thinker and worker who loves to work with diversity. I love being part of a team. I love social networking and am glad at the retirement of the Push concept of Marketing. I tend to gravitate toward youthful progressive thinkers.
    I feel I need advice as I look at other firms as I am competing with so many younger people.
    I would love to hear what you think.

    Your frustration and concerns are shared by many people over 45. As a career coach, I support executives and technology professionals in transition through my books, blogs and coaching services.

    For free advice, please see http://www.jobserch4execs.com for information on handling ageism and job search in general.
    You will also find links to purchase my books which give great detail on creating a compelling job search. If you are asking to discuss my services, we can set up a time to talk about your challenges and how coaching may be a solution.
    NO idea if she will go to my site or buy the books nor if she will understand her request is inappropriate. SInce she started each sentence with “I” my suspicion is she just wanted to ” pick my brain” and has no intention valuing my advice with a book purchase. In my business (Executive Coaching) some people just want someone to listen to their tale of woe and a shoulder to cry on. They never transition to become clients and few purchase books. It took a lot of years to learn that while listening is valuable to the speaker, it does nothing to generate either good will or business. And I am left drained that there is a sad person facing a difficult situation. My actual prospects and clients want course correction and the benefit of advice that is field tested.
    Rita Ashley, Career Coach

  • Zen Cart Zoo

    I find it difficult to identify tyre kickers from the serious players. So mentioning the invoice upfront would be a nice way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Having said that though, I am happy to give the benefit of my expertise to some people – I just want to control who those some people are!

  • Dave Navarro

    Just. Fucking. Awesome.

    Just discovered your blog, Lisa, and loving it.

  • Erica Cosminsky

    I wrote a similar post to this over the weekend about not working for free anymore. I am shocked at how often people ask for my time and work for free or cheaper. I wasn’t quite as blunt as your post but I love it all the same. I’m sure I’ll be using some of your suggestions over the next few weeks.

    I applaud you for putting your foot down and I hope I can do the same.

  • Dana Lookadoo

    Timely! I saw all the hype about your post last week, left tab open. Returned to read today and WALLAH! I’ve struggled today over a request to “spend a few minutes” analyzing someone’s site this morning. I’m laughing because I emailed Dr. Pete for some advice on how he handles such matters. Answer received.

    Lisa, you are empowering for those of us who are easy pushovers!

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Pro bono clients don’t find me – I find them. If someone calls or contacts me looking for free, they’ll get one of those responses you listed, Lisa.

    When I stopped offering such help, a shift occurred. All the people who failed to respect my professional advice disappeared. All the companies that turned into clients from the devil disappeared. All the stress of those disappeared. And it left room for me to take on more clients who truly appreciate what I do, respect my view even more, and understand that respect in business relationships of this type is expressed by not arguing with my rates, nor even paying late.

    I’d also suggest to you skipping #10 (even if you were half joking) because some might actually take you up on it, and if they do, they’ll still fail to respect you and end up expecting way more than fair or reasonable.

  • Jon Henshaw

    Lisa, number two is actually invented, copyrighted, patented, and registered to me, and I don’t remember giving you permission to use or publish it.

  • Bharati Ahuja

    Sure Lisa one does get a gut feeling after speaking to the person for a few minutes if he or she is genuinely interested in your services or is just trying to extract some information for free.

    It is even true that if you keep on giving information for free you undermine and demean your own knowledge. Especially for people who have been in this industry for more than 7-8 years and have worked hard to gain the knowledge on their own through various online resources and facing all the ups and downs. Unlike today people attend a short term course on SEO and call themselves SEOs flashing a certificate without any experience.

    SEO services can be compared to the Doctor’s Services, If you go to a doctor, he will examine you and prescribe you the medicine but he charges for knowing which medicine to prescribe not for writing the name of the medicine . Many years of patient study and hard work makes the doctor/ SEO feel confident for the solution he/she offers.

  • goodnewscowboy

    I can’t add a single thing to this really on target post that hasn’t been uttered in the plethora of comments. So instead I’ll segue directly into a compliment. :)

    I’ve said this before but it really bears repeating Lisa. You have a real gift in the art of communicating via written word. It’s personal, direct and usually always funny.

  • Alan K'necht

    Love the person who started of the free inquiry call (was referred by a friend), I’m starting a new business venture so we don’t have a lot of money (thought so I’m an existing business & if I give it away for free, I won’t have any money). When told what the rates were, they had the nerve to say it too high and could I recommend some free resources on the web so they could do it themselves. I responded Google.

    Then they had the nerve to say they like to chat more (of course for free), but I have to sign an NDA. I responded sorry, no NDA because my lawyer will have to review it and he doesn’t work for free, of course they could pay his invoice.

    Never heard from them again.

    We have to keep reminding ourselves that most people seem to think advice is cheap. As a consult they seek my knowledge, I didn’t get this knowledge for nothing, I invested time, money etc. It’s worth something, even if I can tell the answer in less than 30 seconds that 1 answer could save them or generate for them 100’s of thousands of dollars. So what was my 30 seconds worth.

  • Christopher James Conner

    Very funny article, I enjoyed it and can certainly relate. I have been in franchise consulting for the past ten years and can’t tell you how many calls I have taken and hours/days I have put in with business owners and people who never spent a dollar hiring me! I feel your pain….but at the same time, that’s kind of what comes with the territory when you are in the business of selling intellectual property. The “test drive” for intellectual property is always a fine line between giving it away and selling your work. When you come up with a better process, please let me know!!!!

  • Cali @caligater

    This is fantastic advice…and a healthy (& necessary) perspective. I just shared this with, ohh, about 8 people with whom I’ve recently discussed this “pick your brain” situation. Also love that you included Erika’s bitchslap. :)

  • Marjorie Clayman

    Well, I kind of feel like I have walked into a club meeting :) But I thought I would give my perspective on this post.

    What I bring to this conversation is the view of a relative noob. I’ve been working for my family’s advertising agency for just 6 years. Been doing the Twitter thing for under 6 months, and that’s the timeline for my professional blog, too.

    I will always consider myself a noob, most likely, because there will always be people like you, Lisa…like Chris Brogan, Jay Baer, Allen Mireles, Amber Naslund, Guy Kawasaki (the list goes on and on) who will always have more knowledge, more experience, and more expertise than me. But here’s the thing. I want to learn the craft. I want to be able to ask questions solely for the purpose of learning, so that I have really good information to be able to pass on to people less experienced than me. But these kinds of posts make me wonder if that is okay anymore.

    I just did a blog post on this so that I wouldn’t go on and on in this comment box, but clearly I just can’t stop being verbose :) But anyway, I guess for someone like me, the growing question is, “What is a safe question and what is taking advantage of someone’s time?” I never want to assume that someone would help me for free, but if ask for clarification of a blog post, or if I ask for advice based on someone’s greater experience, is that hedging my bets? I am finding that my desire to ask questions is shrinking rapidly. I’d rather try to learn myself instead of insinuating disrespect.


  • Steve G

    I learned this lesson decades ago and still make the same mistake.. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that the advice I gave them or the time I spent with them on the phone was “worth thousands” to them only to have them vanish when I suggest they buy me dinner or make a modest contribution to some charity for me..

    I see Jon Henshaw laying claim to #2, but I think I have him beat with prior art. I used to keep competitor’s coupons in my desk when I owned a restaurant back in the day.. But of all that you listed, it is my favorite tactic.. It feels good to send free loaders to competitors that you don’t really care for..

    @Jeremy Wright, Awesome idea.. Might actually Vader that one..

  • Jenny

    I’ve been managing social media over at MTV News for just three months now and in addition to barrages for free info like you mentioned, I also get “can you pass my ‘band/song/video/mom’s chocolate chip cookie’ on to ‘important person/important person/important person’?” I think I’m often just as annoyed by the approach as by the ask. Ironically, I’m passionate enough about what I do that if they asked me out to beers/dinner sans the aggressive intention to “pick my brain” on social media all night, the topic would likely come up organically throughout the course of basic “what do you do? oh that’s cool, tell me more” questions.

  • Steve Nicewarner

    Well Said.

    In real estate, we can usually see them coming from a mile away. they start with “So, how’s the market doing.” and end up as “Can I get a free market analysis on my house?” Will I play along? Sometimes, depending on how my calendar looks and how likely they are to eventually list with me.

    Oh, and if you every send them to Rae, can you make sure you have someone taking the video? That might almost be worth the backblast you get from her. :)

  • Nicole Yeary

    Great post! It needed to be said, and so long as we all value this the same, or send the same message – this too, will evolve.

  • Ana Lucia Novak

    Lisa- Thank you and Thank you! I get calls from people I meet at Meetups posing a a friend only to extract information and take up 2-3 hours of my time. I end up feeling “raped”. There are some people who you know and like and dont mind sharing information that will help people save time, money, or adjust their mindset and then there are some who really just don’t care about you and you find out after you’ve been kind ad generous with your time. I have learned to not get caught off guard and now tell people that their inquiry fall under my consulting services.
    Most people are lazy or time strapped and want the quick fix. I have invested my own time and money in education and training, experience in the industry so nothing is a quick fix.

    At the end of the day it’s about setting boundaries and it takes a few calls, emails to “get” that the only way someone respects your time is for each of us to respect and value our time, gifts and experience as a whole and to live it out. I’m doing that now and try not to feel guilty (woman thing I guess) ;)

  • Stacy Williams

    AMEN, SISTER! Thanks for a much-needed post. I need to print this out and post it in a very visible place and remind myself to say no daily. Appreciate it!

  • Gini Dietrich

    This makes me want to get a business partner just so I can employ #9! This bugs the crap out of me, too, Lisa! It was taking up serious time during my days because I can’t say no and I never know when “picking your brain” turns into “I want to give you a zillion dollars.” So I blogged about it and listed all of the places you can pick my brain for free (blog, Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, video of the week, etc.). And, if I think there is a chance you might want to give me a zillion dollars, I have four hours on the last Friday of every month designated for “pick my brain” day. You get 30 minutes. If that day doesn’t work for you, you either wait until the following month or you go away because it’s not worth YOUR time to wait.

  • Letty Trone

    Perfectly written written content , thanks for information .

  • Randy Clark

    Thanks for the great lines! I recently had a request from an occasional partnering company to reuse a blog post of mine. They wanted to remove my company and name and post it under their name. I explained the best case was to involve both our followers, point towards our company, we’d point back. A few days later I got an alert, they had reprinted the post, under their name, only adding. “ I was discussing this with an industry leader and they said…” Now I have a clearer understanding of how to handle the initial call.

    “That would be great, my fee for ghost blogging is___.”

    “You could do that, or you could take the time and energy required to write your own thoughts and link to my post.”

    “In the old print world they called that plagiarism, what are the laws covering blogs?”

    • Ana Lucia Novak

      Randy, just read your post and I’m mad for you that your blog post was posted without your name as the author. You can contact google to tell them that they stole your content – it is called Plageurism and Google doesn’t take it lightly, in fact they can shut that site down. So you tell those thieves to repost with your name, company URL, and give you credit for that blog post or Google is going to shut them down. That is my 2cents… :>)

  • Cemanthe

    Fantastic article! I really thought I was alone in this, and continued to oblige for fear of being seen as ‘not-helpful’ (omg the stress!). I wanted to say ‘I love nr 2’ but then I kept reading and they all made me laugh equally as hard – so I will say ‘I loved them all’ and will start to implement asap. I’ve actually started a Social Media Mentoring package to combat this – so if someone starts to ask too many freebie questions – I say ‘ I offer a fantastic Social Media Mentoring package where for £45/hour you have full access to me on email or phone and ask these kind of questions”. Usually works. But if they pursue it, I’m not shy anymore to ‘Just hang on one dang moment here’. It does seem to be prolific in social media though, in my previous business I rarely had people fishing for freebies. I wonder why that is? But either way, whatever the reason, it has to stop – so thank you for your blog post – has been shared across my networks (and hopefully entered the ‘right’ inboxes ;)