No, You May Not Pick My Brain!

I get this request often. And from what I can tell, other consultants and coaches who charge a fee for their knowledge and information do too.

can-I-pick-your-brainMy living is based on the expertise that I have developed for the last 10+ years. Well, built over the last 30+ years actually. (Now that I've dated myself!) I invest a lot of time and money in continuing education, reading, memberships, and conferences to stay on top of what's important in my industry. When someone that's not my friend or family member asks, “Can I pick your brain?” it's akin to this situation:

Person goes to the doctor and says, “Hey, could you take a look at my throat and tell me what's wrong? I don't even have to come into an exam room, you could just do it here in the waiting room. Here, ahhhhhh.” 

Think doc would pull out his tongue depressor?

One of my favorite stories along these lines was when a financial advisor asked me if he could pick my brain over lunch. I wanted to say, “Sure, if you're cool with putting a couple hundred dollars in an annuity for me and calling it good.”

I charge paying clients money for my strategies, which save them thousands of hours and countless dollars. Does a lunch at the local deli equate to that value? Nope, sorry. Besides, if you want the answers to your problems that tends to take more than an hour of my time. What kind of an expert would I be if I could give you all the answers in one sandwich-sit-down?

When someone is a subject matter expert and a coach/consultant, they get paid to give their clients their knowledge.  Instead of asking to pick their brain, try one or more of these strategies instead.

Read their blog. Look back through the archives of the consultant's blog, Facebook profile, LinkedIn feed, etc. Ask them to share a recording of a previous free webinar or free call. Ask if they already have material on the subject you're inquiring about. Who knows, they might have answered your questions before and turned it into an article like I did with this one:

GTS. This is my favorite self-made acronym. Google That S***! If your questions can really be picked out of an expert's brain “real quick,” then chances are Google has the answer.

Ask about fees and how they operate. You might find they give you the answers you're looking for in a thirty- to sixty-minute initial consultation that they offer for free anyway.


Some other notes:
1. I'm not talking about close friends or family; chances are, when they ask for brain-picking, we give it to them, because they give back to us in many ways.
2. When people asked me this question 5 years ago (new in my business) I would jump at the chance to answer them, thinking if I helped them with this, they would hire me. What I found a vast majority of the time was this – if they wanted it for free in the first place, they aren't willing to pay for it.
3. If your business model isn't a coaching/consulting model, this rant probably doesn't speak to you as much; that's cool!


I wanted to see what my colleagues (other subject matter experts and consultants) had to say about this topic. Looks like I'm not alone!

“I usually tell them to go on one of my free webinars that I run monthly; or listen to my podcast. I tell them that chances are they will get the answer to their question and more, all for free. If I did a coffee date or answered every email question from people that I received, I would never have enough time for paying clients.” –podcasting coach and lifestyle entrepreneur expert

“Mixed feelings. Usually I feel like it's a typical “free loader” who wants your expertise to give them your services (or contacts) for free. And then there are times I feel like it could be a possible new connection.” –career coach

“Hate it. Of course. I encourage people to ask a more specific question and NOT to ask for a coffee. Anyone whose time is valuable hates that question.” –business coach

“That question usually makes me think they want me to work for free. I think I'm flattered and annoyed at the same time. If it's someone I know or who truly expresses interest in my services, I'm happy to help cause who knows where that conversation may lead.” –content writer


What do you think? What are some alternatives to asking the can-I-pick-your-brain question?