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Yesterday I mentioned some great blog posts by my friends Thom Singer and Scott Ingram about professionals giving away their time for free. I must admit that to a degree, I disagreed with my memory of their posts. But going back to read them again, I don’t disagree completely.  They don’t really say that professionals should not agree to “can I pick your brain?” requests, and they gave some great tips about how to seek advice from people without being a burden; tips like “be prepared,” “offer to be helpful,” and “say thank you.” All great advice, and nothing much to quibble over.  But I have to admit, that the fact that they wrote the posts at all makes me think that they may not be very big fans of “can I pick your brain” requests. Maybe they’ve had the experience of people taking
advantage of their generosity.

Below are the first two reasons I’ve heard in the argument against giving away your time for free. (I’ll address the possibility of being taken advantage of tomorrow).

1. I will devalue my expertise. I just don’t buy this one. How does anyone build their credibility without sharing some of what they know for free? How would anyone know that I have anything valuable to share, if I haven’t shared anything with them? All of the people I’ve mentioned so far have great websites where they share TONS of their useful and relevant wisdom. So how is your free blog not devaluing your expertise, but having a conversation with someone is? And if you are very well versed on your topic of expertise, then 15, 30, even 60 minutes of your time with them will only be a small drop in the bucket compared to what you know. Also, does your business sell your time, or does it sell your expertise? (Consider this: selling time is not scalable. You can only grow your business by as many hours as you are willing to work. Also, selling time leaves you open to price-shopping.  Will it serve your business if people are comparing your hourly rate to your competitor’s?)

Also, are you a life coach? If not, and someone wants to pick your brain for advice about life or business, then you either need to expand your business model (I’ve seen people do this and I think it’s a mistake), OR it’s an opportunity to be a mentor. And remember, you’ve only truly learned something when you can clearly explain it to someone else. This meeting will probably help you as much as it helps them.

2. People don’t appreciate what they don’t pay for. I’d love to see some evidence of this, because I find exactly the opposite to be true. Now, I agree that people are more likely to change their behaviors if they have “skin in the game.” Changing habits is hard, and unless it “pinches” in some way (like your wallet), it’s easy to blow it off. It’s why free events have notoriously large no-show rates. But I think casual advice is different. The only reason this would be an issue is if your expectation of their meeting with you is that they will take some action. And I think that’s an unfair expectation. If you give someone some advice, and they don’t take it, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t help them. If you expect some action as a result of someone “picking your brain,” then you should tell them that up front.

I have actually found people to be more appreciative if I’ve given them something for free. If they paid me for advice, then I have simply met their expectations by sharing my expertise, and people aren’t likely to gush over someone who simply “met their expectations.” Can you go “above and beyond” when a client is paying you? Of course, and you should. But the fact is, any assistance you give them when they aren’t paying is appreciated. In my experience, people I have talked to for free typically become my biggest champions, telling all their friends very nice things about me. And the vast majority of the time, they eventually either send me  referrals or become clients themselves. You can’t buy that kind of marketing.

What do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Please come back tomorrow for two more reasons, and let me know if I forgot anything!  Thanks for reading!

Also, for more fantastic photography by Shawn P. Thomas, check out his website.