Learning How to Say “No” Tactfully is a Necessity When Brain-picking Will Cost You
There’s a new type of animal on the loose, and they want to get inside your head: the “brain picker.” Hordes of brain-pickers are out in droves, looking to monopolize your time and creativity for free. Generally under the guise of a friendly coffee chat, a “quick” lunch, or an email exchange that often becomes lengthy, brain-pickers know that you are an important network connection who has likely made a name for yourself in your market, and that you have got the know-how that they’re looking for. And they want it, for free.
Your business is based on your prowess in your field, and of course, while not every single communication you have with someone needs to be monetized, it becomes a slippery slope between a friendly chat and full-blown business advice for which you should be getting remunerated.
No one ever wants to be rude. So often, people say “yes” to things they’ve got no time or energy for in an attempt to stay nice, helpful, and non-confrontational. This people-pleasing mentality, however, will not only eat up your precious time (whether it was “free” already or not), but it will cost you money in the form of resources that you’re now offering pro bono, and for which you’d usually receive compensation.
While it is flattering to know that someone thinks highly enough of your thoughts and ideas to request the time to sit with you, these pick-your-brain sessions can consume your schedule and end up costing you revenue, especially if you have a product or consulting service which would typically command compensation. Learning to say no without coming off as too much of a salesperson, or even worse, seeming rude, is an important skill you’ll need in your arsenal as your name becomes more well known.
It’s not uncommon to receive several of these queries on the regular, depending on your area of business and expertise. There are, however, a few strategies you can employ to help you keep your time yours, and to make sure that you’re being compensated as you deserve.
Figure out what they really want
Finding out what exactly it is they’re looking for will let you determine exactly how you can help. Perhaps they have a specific question that can be answered easily through an email, and without any more follow up. Maybe they just need some quick advice on a small problem they’ve recently run into. Or maybe they really do want to sit down with you for a full on brainstorming session. Once you find out what it is they’re after from you, you can then narrow down what your response to them will be.
To put it to them nicely: “What is it exactly that you’re looking for help with? Is there something specific I can answer for you?”
Direct them to your product
If you have a product where you’ve already compiled your best thoughts and ideas on your subject of expertise, and it sounds like it will have all of the answers to their questions, do not be afraid to direct the brain-picker there. Your time is money, and you’ve created the product for this exact purpose; one wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and walk out with a burger and fries for free. So should they pay for your expertise.
If you don’t have a specific product you offer, but you charge a fee based on consultation services or the like, be sure to have that readily available, and let them know it up front. Tell them that, while you don’t have any time in your schedule for a coffee, you’d love to meet with them on an official basis, and that your fee for said meeting is $___. That leaves the ball in their court for follow up and to decide what they’re really asking of you.
To put it to them nicely: “Right now my schedule is packed and I unfortunately can’t fit in a lunch/coffee with you at this time. I think that everything you’re looking for is covered in my program/course/book/etc, and you’d really benefit from checking that out.”
Send them to your “freebies”
You may have a regular blog or podcast where you talk about your industry, give pointers, tips, and ideas, and perform occasional Q&A sessions. Send them to your site by letting them know that they can find all the info they’re looking for there. Much of the time, this will be sufficient, and if they come back with more, you can employ another of the strategies listed here.
To put it to them nicely: “Thanks for taking an interest in meeting with me! While I apologize that I don’t have the time for a face-to-face right now, I do have a lot of great info up at website/podcast that I think would be helpful to you.”
Let them know your fees up front
You’ve asked them what they’re looking to get out of the meeting they’ve requested with you, and instead of a specific question or a concrete topic, they truly just want to meet to spit-ball ideas, concepts, or issues with you. These are usually “networking” requests, and while networking is fantastic, it also tends to be a thinly veiled attempt at getting you cornered and giving out your knowledge for free. If you have inkling that this is the case, direct them right away to your fee scale. There’s nothing wrong with offering your services or knowledge for a price, even if the person doesn’t initially approach it as a potential client. Your time and money are worth more than that, and you can’t continue to build your brand if you keep giving your services out for free.
To put it to them nicely: “The way I usually work is to set up a new client meeting, decide a course of action, and go from there. My fee for the first meeting is $___. If you’re interested in scheduling with me let me know.”
Be straight forward
It’s hard to say a straight up “no”, but sometimes that’s just what it takes. While you want to expand your business, and networking is certainly important, if you simply do not have the time in your schedule and there’s not a quick way you can help the person, it is completely okay to just say “no.” Let them know up front that you really appreciate their interest, and how nice it is to meet them, but that it is a very busy time for you and you don’t have the time in your schedule for a coffee or lunch meeting right now. Contrary to what you may fear the outcome will be, people tend to respond positively to straight forward answers and will be appreciative of your honestly. You can also offer to connect with them on any social media that you use, and to let them know that you’ll contact them in the future should your schedule free up.
To put it to them nicely: “My work schedule is really full right now, so unfortunately, coffee’s just not doable at this time. I’d love to stay connected with you on (LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook/Google + )however, because it’s been great to meet you.”
Set aside time for pro bono work
Have a set amount of minutes each week or month that are there specifically for PBBP, pro bono brain-picking. Your PBBP time could be during a commute where you know you’ll be in traffic, idle time while you’re waiting for a flight, or any time where you know you aren’t looking to get any heavily focused work done, but have the time and energy for a few quick calls or emails. When one of the brain-pickers comes out of the woodwork and wants to get in your noggin, you can let them know up front that you have a set time for that, and schedule them in. Be sure you set limits from the get-go and let them know exactly how much time you can offer; right from the start, tell them you have 20 minutes while you’re in traffic, and cut it off once you’ve reached that limit. After that, refer them to your product or online knowledge base, as suggested, or offer to take them on as a client for continued services.
To put it to them nicely: “I actually set aside some time each month for this exact thing. I’ll have 20 minutes at the end of this week if you’d like to discuss this briefly over the phone. Let me know if that works for you.”