Adrienne Graham | No, You Can’t Pick My Brain

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Adrienne Graham reached out to me after I wrote my very first blog post on Harvard Business Review, Can Nice Girls Negotiate?.  I suppose it's fitting then that I LOVE a piece she wrote titled No, You Can't Pick My Brain, It Costs Too Much and that it has been nominated for a Small Business Book AwardFor anyone who has lots of knowledge and expertise…read on.

It’s not always easy being the “smart kid”.  You know, the one everyone comes to whenever they need questions answered or perplexed problems solved. The one everyone wants to study with to get good grades. When you’re a business owner or a services professional, it’s not much different. The only difference is instead of studying or giving advice, the terms have changed and now it’s people wanting access to your knowledge that could help them succeed.

The unspoken law of business is if you help enough people and give enough information away freely, business will flow to you. There’s a lot to be said for this, and I have experienced this firsthand. It does work…sometimes. Relationships are built on sharing and communicating. But some people tend to take it a bit too far, and that’s when you must be careful. Not everyone is interested in mutual exchange. There are some people out there who are only interested in what they can get for free, instead of cultivating a two-way relationship where you’re sharing and exchanging equally.


When you’re a service professional or a business owner, it’s easy to find yourself as the designated go-to person. Your knowledge, experience and expertise are quite valuable to those who don’t have it. They look to you as an expert and want to learn all they can from you. Sure, this helps them and you should be generous with people. But what about you? Too many people, especially those new to the business world, give away their time and knowledge without ever getting anything in return. And for some, it’s perfectly fine. They don’t want to make people upset with them or rock the boat.

But I always tell people imagine themselves as cars. You can be nice and drive people anywhere they need to go. But if you don’t put gas in the tank, you won’t get very far. Brain-picking is exactly like that. If you spend all of your time helping others and giving to others without ever asking for or getting anything in return, you could find yourself burned out or worse, bankrupt (financially and emotionally).

Here are four ways to curb brain-picking and make it advantageous for you and others:

1.  Always state that there is a fee for your time. Based upon the complexity of the issue and the desired outcome of the conversation, there should be a fee for your time. There is a big difference between simple advice and providing an actionable solution. Whenever someone wants to meet to pick your brain, indicate that it is indeed a business meeting and there is a charge. If a brain picking session with you costs $350 and they scoff at paying that, then finding resolution or their business isn’t really worth it to them to begin with.

2.  Ask for a piece of the action. Not everyone is in a position to pay for your time up front. I’m not talking about cheap people who will never pay for anything. Those types will quickly say “but I can find it on the Internet”. Let them. I guarantee they’ll be back when they can’t figure it out for themselves. I’m referring to people who are not in the position now to pay, but with your help can create an opportunity that generates revenue. There have been times when someone couldn’t afford my fee for consultations, but I accepted (in writing) a percentage of the revenue generated from the advice implemented as a result of our conversation. Ask them would they feel comfortable creating a simple contract that guarantees you a percentage of the revenue in exchange for your help. Let them decide if it’s really worthwhile to them. If it is, they will agree. If not, no loss.


3.  Be clear and selective about free vs. fee. Some things only require a quick answer while others require complex research and thought. Decide what you are comfortable giving away for free and what would require you to put in actual work that demands payment. I know if can be tempting to share a lot because someone is a friend or you really like them. But when you took the time to get training and education to build your skills, your school, trainer, program coordinator, etc. didn’t just give you the education because they liked you. Business is business. Anything that requires you to assess and provide a solution should come with a cost. It’s up to you to determine how much your time is worth and educate people about that cost.

4.  Be confident enough in your skills and the results you produce to charge. You should never let anyone make you feel guilty about charging for your time. At work, you get paid for your skills. In a business customers pay for your services. So why shouldn’t you get paid for the expertise that others do not possess? They are coming to you not because they want your opinion, but because they want your help in doing something they are unable to do on their own. If they didn’t value your knowledge they wouldn’t come to you. You will meet some resistance and some harsh comments, but you should always stick to your guns. Some people might see it as you charging for the “privilege” of spending time with you. But remind them it’s not the time, it’s the value of the time spent. In other words, their problem will be solved as a result of what you share during that time spent together. So they are paying for results, not your time.

What are your thoughts?

If you found the piece as helpful as I did, you can vote for Adrienne's book here


Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (, a Growth Strategies consultancy with brand extensions in media, publishing and small business & entrepreneurial education. She provides Strategic Business Growth consulting services to companies with high growth potential to assist clients in creating processes and strategies to effectively run, grow and position their business for success. She helps clients get paid more by giving away less for free, allowing them to be more profitable and NOT be a broke brand. 

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