How To Respond To The “Pick My Brain” Question

by Jason Falls |

A friend and fellow digital marketing consultant asked recently how I would respond to the presumptuous question all consultants get asked: “Can I buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain a bit?” It’s one of those questions that you dread being asked because you know there’s little to no intention to pay you for your expertise behind it. Still, most anyone with a degree of expertise in this or any field gets asked the question once or twice a week or more.

I’m asked the “pick your brain” question about twice a day. Most of the time it’s subtle via email or a private message on LinkedIn or Facebook. I have a bit of an advantage over others in that I can respond with, “I actually built a website just for that! Subscribe to ExploringSocialMedia.com and you can pick my brain, as well as the brains of several other digital marketing experts, all you want.”

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps I could be a bit more graceful in that response, but it’s honest and not intended to be condescending. I’m not a non-profit and the advice and counsel I give commands a nice investment from my clients. Why would anyone think I would give it away?

Mind you, I’ll answer anyone’s questions. I’m friendly and affable. I don’t refuse to engage with people without a dollar attached to the conversation. But I will often provide quick, general answers that encourage them to explore deeper explanations on ESM or elsewhere.

But for those of you who don’t have an on-call consultancy website where people can ask you questions all the time, here’s what I would recommend you say in response to the “pick your brain” question:

Sounds like we could work together on this. My work schedule is tight so lunch/coffee is typically not do-able. Why don’t we get a deliverables or hours need from you, I can wrap some thought around an estimate and we can schedule a working session?

That response seems to work. It’s polite, professional and directs them to the understanding that you don’t work for free without you coming off as a money-grubbing scum bag. They can respond by saying, “Okay! Here’s what I’m thinking …” or “Oh. I was hoping to just have a conversation, not hire you.” If they respond with the latter, you simply respond with, “While I certainly appreciate you asking, I charge for my time and expertise. If you change your mind, let me know.” And the conversation is over.

How do you respond to those types of inquiries? Have you ever asked to pick someone’s brain? Is it rude of someone to say, “I’m not free?” The comments, as always, are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).