11 Jul 2012

If you’ve read my bio, you know I named my company Pick My Brain because I was constantly fielding phone calls and lunch dates from people asking to do just that. Casual conversations with friends would turn into brainstorming sessions before I even realized what was happening.

I am, by nature, generous with my time and expertise and enjoy helping others. But, I also am well aware that my years of education, training and experience carry value. That’s why I decided to shift the focus of my business in 2008 so I could formally and effectively offer my expertise as a service to my clients.

Now that I’ve been consulting for a few years, I’ve learned that it can be difficult to draw the line between friendly advice and a strategy session.  The name Pick My Brain is memorable for sure, and I love that it is!  People’s eyes light up when they hear it!  But more often than not, they immediately stop and think about a challenge they’re having, and then boldly say, “Great company name – so, let me pick your brain right now,” and then roll right into a question to garner advice from me. Right there. On the spot. For free.

I find this very challenging, and, apparently, I am not alone!

I recently read an article on CNN Money that discusses the phenomenon of experts charging for lunch dates. They claim that “brain picking” is so rampant it has become necessary to charge for seemingly casual conversations. Adrienne Graham, author of, No You Can’t Pick My Brain, It Costs Too Much, says, “Anything that’s going to … help you with your bottom line or your profitability, that’s a consult for me. That’s intellectual property that I give to my paying clients.”

This raises an important point: consultants have paying clients. There are people who pay me an agreed-upon price for my knowledge, guidance and/or skills.  If I give this same information away for free to others, it not only devalues my own offering, it’s disrespectful to those clients who have invested in my services.

But, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to start charging for lunch dates! As a professional, it’s my responsibility to know where to draw the line and not to pass that point in casual communication. I want to be helpful and contributory, without compromising my own business model, my existing client base, or frankly, the opportunity for future business.

When my primary work was event planning, this was fairly easy. Clients and colleagues alike recognized the tangible nature and skill required for executing a successful event.  And although we might talk about creative ways to deliver great results, no one ever stole my ideas to make them their own.  But in the world of business consulting, it becomes more difficult in the case of intellectual property.  My ideas and solutions are what I’m selling.  So, how does one place value on his/her thoughts?

Honestly, I truly enjoy it when people Pick My Brain, and I often learn as much from these casual encounters as they do. It feeds my inner desire to be helpful and useful, which is why I decided to become a consultant.  I’ve had the good fortune of working with many smart, capable people who have been very generous with their own knowledge over the years. Recognizing and taking a stand for one’s own value it imperative in business. I will continue to honor my value – and ask that you do the same – while being generous whenever I can. If you’d like to grab lunch, let’s do it! Like Adrienne Graham, I can impact your bottom line, but that’s something that you’ll have to pay for.

So, what do you think? How much do you give away and when (if ever) do you draw the line?

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4 Responses to Charging for Picking My Brain
  1. Very interesting, especially in these days of social media and content marketing where everybody wants to be helpful to raise their profile and brand. Where do you draw the line? I would say that the moment you brand yourself as a business consultant, you need to be clear on what is free or casual conversation an what costs money. Some people will try and stretch this, but I have had on occasions someone tell me that, this is their job they would like to change conversation unless I would like to hire them. I have I say my initial reaction to that was negative, but in hindsight I can understand and support their action.

    I suppose each person will have a different line to draw which may shift according to the situation. I think this will depend on the person an the focus of the consulting. I am at a point where I am always happy to have my brain picked, but this is not my job. Who knows one day it will.

    I wish you all the best and I look forward to reading other views.

  2. Thanks, Miguel, for reading and responding to the blog. I, too, enjoy having my brain picked. I think that’s part of the reason I so enjoy teaching — because it allows me to share my knowledge and insights with others, and to help them with their careers and/or companies. Yet, I am very clear about the boundary between teaching, and then actually advising someone on business. And that’s the place where I think we have to take a stand for ourselves and our worth. Some will want to buy my services, and others will walk away. And I’m ok with that!

  3. […] Charging for Picking My Brain This article addresses the challenges around charging for your intellectual property. It’s easy to put a value on goods, but it becomes more difficult to price and charge for “brain picking” sessions. If you struggle with when to draw the line between friendly advice and an actual consultation, this is a great read! […]


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