How to respond when someone asks, "Can I pick your brain?"
Helping people is in my DNA. I grew up with a therapist for a mom (literally) and I’m hard-wired to tune into people’s feelings and want to make it better.
Saying ‘no’ is a skill that has taken me YEARS to learn (still not great at it). So when someone asks the dreaded question, “can I pick your brain?” alarm bells go off inside my body.
I used to get flushed with anxiety because I didn’t want to upset anyone. I wanted to help them! But the truth was, after a few 2-hour long coffee dates where I ended up planning someone’s entire online business strategy for free, I was hurting. Yes, financially it would be nice to be paid for my time, but more than that, it’s an awful feeling that someone’s only hanging out with me because they want my business advice, not because they enjoy my company.
And here’s a weird thing: The first few times it happens it feels like validation. "They want my opinion/help! I must be good at what I do!". But then, after it happens a handful of times your antennae goes up… you immediately start to feel annoyed, drained, wary, and frankly, taken advantage of.
Now, don't get me wrong: of COURSE we should help people! I'm more than happy to give my friends, acquaintances, even random internet strangers free advice, and I'm honored when they ask!
But...there's a difference between being generous and being a doormat.
I don't think I'm alone in saying that all freelancers can sense that moment when the conversation turns from, "here are some tips I'm happy to share", to "um, wow, I think I just planned their entire content creation strategy for Q4 for them for free." It's the whoa-that-was-WAY-longer-than-I-planned-for phone "chat", or the "catch up" coffee that's literally just them asking for business advice.
So if you’re like me and you get caught not knowing what to say when someone asks, "can I take you to coffee and pick your brain?", practice these three tips! I want you to feel confident and prepared next time. I want to protect your energy/time/mental health/professional worth. Because you ARE worth it!
Here are 3 things you can say/do when someone asks the dreaded question, "can I pick your brain?"
Tip #1: Ask them to define their questions in an email with THIS response (feel free to copy & paste it!)
“Can I pick your brain” is an incredibly vague question. Chances are, the person asking doesn’t realize they’re about to take advantage of your time by using you to help them define their goals and path. If they ask you via text or email, you can literally copy and paste the below response and send it to them. It also works as a script if someone asks you in person or over the phone!
Thanks for asking- I’m happy to help! Heads up, I do keep my limited 1-1 time available for clients / students / members of my program, so the best way for me to help you would be to know what your questions are upfront. If you can, pick 1 or 2 questions that are MOST important to you- the more specific the better!
Send those over via email and I’ll try my best to respond as soon as I can!
This response accomplishes a few things:
It doesn’t close the door on helping anyone!
It lets the person know people pay you for your time/advice
It forces them to do their homework BEFORE they talk to you- saving everyone time and energy.
By moving the convo to email rather than coffee, it takes the pressure off you to fit something in your schedule. You can respond how you wish, in your own time.
If they have specific questions and you’re comfortable answering them: AWESOME! If they still want to talk further, you can let them know your rates and available times and it’s up to them to book or not. If their questions are vague/wishy-washy, see Tip #2…
Tip #2: Have a Resources/FAQ page that you can direct them to.
You’ll notice there are a few questions you’re answering over and over. Begin to write down your answers to those “Frequently Asked Questions” and put them on a web page. If someone asks one of those FAQ’s, or still wants/needs advice after I've already answered a handful of their specific questions, I say:
"You know what? I actually have a whole page on my website with a TON of free resources that can help you out. Here’s a link- hope it’s helpful!”
Then change the subject by asking them a question about their life (not related to work). It sends the message that you’re done talking about business in a kind way.
If you want an example of what a resources page looks like, mine is www.kelseyformost.com/freebies
Tip #3: Ask if they want to trade services
I use this one a LOT, especially because I’m a solopreneur building my business and a) I want to support other small businesses and b) I don’t have a ton of extra cash to pay others what I KNOW they deserve (because I deserve it, too!). If you can turn the “pick your brain” conversation into something that’s mutually beneficial, it’s a HUGE win!
I’m so glad you asked about (my business) because I was actually hoping to hire you for (your business)! Would you be interested in a trade? I can offer you (an hour of consulting/this paid program/this paid download/1:1 coaching…) if you’d be willing to share (your service that will help me out). Does that sound like a fair trade?
This shows you respect their time and the fact it took them years and money to learn their skills. In turn, they respect you and yours as well!
I hope this was helpful to you!
The next time someone asks if they can pick your brain, use common sense. No one is ever trying to disrespect you or your skillset on purpose. These three responses can help you gently nudge them into asking you questions you can truly help with, or getting them to invest in time with you.
Remember: YOU ARE WORTH IT!