A Smarter Way to Manage “Pick Your Brain” Requests

A Smarter Way to Manage “Pick Your Brain” Requests

After a certain point in a writing career a curious phenomenon  happens. One day you open up your email and see this subject line:

Pick Your Brain?

Uggghhhhh…what’s an introvert to do?

The ask

“Pick your brain” requests are sometimes couched in other language. Occasionally it is, “Can I take you to coffee?” or, “Do you have time for a 15-minute phone call?”

But, ultimately it’s a request for time and expertise.

I write about retail and fashion and used to own a wardrobe consulting business. This results in a plethora of emails from young women who want to talk about how I got here (wherever “here” is supposed to be).

It’s an interesting quandary — how can I encourage others while still working within my personality type so I don’t feel drained or used?

Writing is a solitary career in many respects, but reaching out to other writers and editors is a necessary part of building a career. I’ve been lucky to get advice at pivotal points in my life. The right statement at the proper moment can cause deep influence, and the thoughtful part of myself recognizes and respects unabashed ambition.

Yet, this type of request made me want to hide. It was overwhelming. I would continually go through mental gymnastics of what I should give back versus protecting my time and safeguarding my energy.

Until I came up with the Friday Morning Solution.

The Friday Morning Solution: An answer

I stumbled upon it by accident. A very…uhhh…let’s say enthusiastic (i.e. pushy) person sent me a note through every possible means of email and social media requesting a brain picking session. I said yes, but the only time available on my schedule was Friday at 8 a.m.  

Then the craziest thing happened. That person ghosted me. No more messages through Twitter, Facebook, email or LinkedIn.

Hmmmm….what happened? Was this about scheduling?

Turns out, yes. It was very much about scheduling. For the next couple of weeks, for every “Can I take you to coffee?” email I received I suggested we talk on Fridays at 8 a.m. No one took me up on the offer.

In the months that followed I kept to my dedicated day and time, but soon discovered another concern fluttered to the surface. My inbox became a series of back-and-forth emails that essentially said, “That’s great and all, but can we do it another time?”

This lead me to write the below form letter. Its primary purpose is to cut down on the number of administrative emails that pile up and make me want to hide under covers.

My email response

Hello!

If you are receiving this message it means you have contacted me for a “pick your brain” meeting or have offered to take me out for a cup of coffee so we can talk about work.

Here’s the scoop: I frequently receive emails asking for these conversations. I’m an introvert, so meetings with strangers (plus consuming that much coffee) would make me a jittery mess. Plus, I need to do other things like make money to pay my mortgage.

However, I know what it is like to need a word of advice that just STICKS so life makes more sense. That’s why I set aside Fridays at 8 a.m. EST as “pick my brain” meeting time.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: That’s great, but can we do it on a Wednesday?

A: Nope. Fridays.

Q: Uhm, cool – but can I schedule it at 10 a.m.?

A: Nope. 8 a.m.

Q: Can you schedule it later because I have to clean my house, work on my abs, catch up on Real Housewives, drive my aunt to work, feed my dog, sleep, etc:

A: Nope. Fridays. 8 a.m.

Q: Why would I be catching up on Real Housewives?

A: Because it’s easier to get up in the morning when there’s an episode waiting. Atlanta is the best franchise, by the way. You can’t argue with me on that because I’m Gone with the Wind fabulous.

Q: I don’t know what “Gone with the Wind fabulous” means.

A: You need to catch up on Real Housewives Atlanta.

Q: I live in the same city as you. Can we just meet up?

A: Nope. Because getting there, waiting, and getting back home takes time. So, the 30-45 minute meeting that was promised inevitably turns into 90 minutes.

Q: I live in another time zone, so can we change the time?

A: Nope. I’m not a morning person either. It stinks. But, this is the time that works for me.

Q: You are sounding mean right now. What’s your problem?

A: I’m trying to maintain sanity, be available to cool people and pay my bills at the same time. Fridays at 8 a.m. equates to healthy boundaries.

If you would like to go forward email two options of Fridays that work for you, your Skype name, and a phone number (in case technology decides not to work that day), and we will go from there.

Thank you!

To be clear, the Friday Morning Solution was never about manipulating people.

It honestly fits perfectly within the framework of my calendar. I can make myself available prior to the start of my work. The proposed conversation can take place before the introvert part of me needs to recharge later in the day.

I’ve had the Friday Morning Solution in place for two years. Over 100 people have requested meetings. Guess how many people have taken me up on the offer?

One. Just one person.

And, that meeting? It was awesome because we both wanted to be there. I was safe within the framework of the Friday Morning Solution. I could truly be present for the person who wanted to chat and I didn’t feel overwhelmed or exhausted.

Making the Friday Morning Solution work for you

Your Friday Morning Solution can be another day or another time. The idea is simply to place boundaries that match both your calendar and personality type.

Another solution is to charge for your time because you deserve to be paid for your expertise.

Picking your brain (or mentoring) can serve as another income stream within your larger business plan. I personally don’t want to pursue that option right now. Instead, I will continue to hold that 8 a.m. spot.

If no one takes me up on it? It’s more time I can be by myself and gather energy for the day ahead.

Filed Under: Freelancing
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72 comments

  • This is *brilliant*, Kaarin. I am sharing your wisdom with colleagues in the Professional Writers of Canada, as we’ve had this conversation about handling those “pick your brain” requests.
    I am writing about retail and fashion at the moment, but if i wanted to get into that field, could I “pick your brain” over Skype? Friday at 8 a.m. would work just fine!

    Cheers,
    Christine

  • Thank you for this, Kaarin. I get this asked so much for either my writing or because I’m a solopreneur, “let’s have lunch” which ends up being on their schedule and they don’t cover lunch and they want to pick my brain which ends up lasting a lot longer than 30 minutes and eats into my time and then I never hear back from them. I’m going to “adopt” your philosophy and set that up.

  • Blowing milk out my nose here…I get these requests ALL the time, and I love your solution. BUT…it works better on Eastern time than it does on Pacific.

    8 Eastern is 5 am Pacific, so you’ve automatically killed half the country’s interest. But 8 pacific is NOON Eastern, no doubt a time loads of people would take me up on. I’ll have to brainstorm on what time slot would work in my neck of the woods!

    • Kaarin says:

      Yup! I thought about going into further detail of that Eastern vs Pacific difference. But, honestly, I used to get up at 5:00am for past work in retail and merchandising, which is part of how I gained my expertise. All of this comes down to how bad do we want something and what are we willing to do to get it – including talking with people.

      The larger objective for pick-your-brain meetings is finding time that works for your schedule / sanity / joy. Let me know what ends up working well on your end!

  • Megan Sharma says:

    Kaarin, you are seriously a genius!

    I don’t have this ‘problem’ very often, but I will certainly keep it in mind when I am hugely successful, rich and famous! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Kaarin says:

      First – thanks for following me on Twitter! I followed you back and am looking forward to reading your feed!

      Next – this is just a handy tool to have in your back pocket if and when you need it. I have found that this type of request comes and goes in waves. It’s like everyone gets a memo at the same time…and then the memo goes away. Business and the writing life is never boring, that’s for sure!!

  • Matt Barton says:

    Right, I get it, but could we do it on a Tuesday?

  • Sooner or later, every business owner needs to find a way of setting firm boundaries, or there will be no time or energy left for paying clients. In a sense, I have the opposite issue from you, because I’m an extrovert, and would LOVE to be able to spend more time interacting one-on-one with creative people, but in the end, it really is the same issue, because if I gave all my time away, I couldn’t make anything from anyone.

    People making “pick your brain” requests often don’t realize that asking a professional freelancer to give them time and advice for free is no different from walking into a grocery store and saying, “Can I take these bananas without paying for them?” But that’s exactly what they are doing. Time, energy, and expertise are what we sell. If we make a habit of giving them away for free, before long we will have no business.

    Every freelancer has to find a way to set boundaries that works for him or her. I tend to offer something for which I’d be paid, such as a written critique or a coaching session. (Even though I don’t currently list coaching services on my website, I do sometimes make them available on request, and in fact am looking forward to one later today.) Sometimes I get a sale, other times the person walks away. Either one protects my boundaries and establishes the ground rules of a potential professional relationship in the future.

    (No charge for that advice! 🙂 )

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Editorial Services, Writer’s Resources, (and occasional Author Coaching)
    epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Just wanted to add:

      I’m sure having a saved prewritten email with FAQ saves a whole lot of time and energy dealing with such requests.

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Kaarin says:

      I think this approach is really smart, Trish. I’ve thought about the same thing – setting up a class or doing one-on-one consulting. I don’t think I’m there yet, but it’s an option that I want to keep on the table and explore later.

      My guess is that most people who ask for pick your brain meetings are doing so in good faith. They aren’t quite aware what they are asking for or how frequently professionals are asked. But, a gentle push with boundaries or a, “hey, you are welcome to talk to me about these services I offer,” are valid and needed responses. It serves everyone involved.

  • Nina says:

    LOVE this idea!

  • Sally Stone says:

    I love your humorous and realistic approach to setting boundaries. I had to do this with setting appointments with my coaching clients so I would have blocks of writing time. For the brain-pickers, I don’t mind small questions on forums, but when someone messages or emails me, I offer them a complimentary consultation, then let them know they can purchase a series of sessions with me for ongoing support. This has worked out really well for everyone.

  • Deborah says:

    Ah, so brilliant! I wish I had this strategy in place when I gave away thousands of dollars worth of advice to a “friend” who couldn’t even be bothered to write a testimonial for me…. And you’re right. If you gotta get up at 5:00 am to get sh@% done, then you just do it.
    Cheers

  • Haha you actually found a great way to escape all this. Keep it up!

  • Bless your heart for sharing this advice. I will take it to heart!

  • Carol Round says:

    Thanks for this article! I needed it. I am constantly getting requests to meet so someone can “pick my brain.” I am going to try this strategy.

  • julekha says:

    Yeah my time is worth more than coffee! I had a friend of a friend request my feedback for a book proposal but she paid for lunch and met me somewhere close to my house. So that’s respecting my experience and my time. But other people just want advice in exchange for $2 coffee. No thanks.

  • Carol says:

    Love this Kaarin! Great idea and I love the FAQs!

  • Sheila says:

    This is the best advice I’ve read about how to handle those “pick your brain” requests. Years ago, another highly paid consultant told me that every time she hears the words “pick your brain”, her mind thinks “pick your pocket”. So she generally doesn’t take any free brain-picking appointments. She tells the requester that she would be happy to meet with them and she charges XX amount per hour. Then she asks “when would you like to meet?” As you can imagine, this cuts down on the requests and for those that agree to pay, she isn’t giving away her time for free. While this may not work for the rest of us, it is something to consider depending upon the circumstances.

    Many of us self-employed consultant types are asked to share our time and talent for free. I love your solution and think it is a clever, yet professional response. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  • PJ says:

    I doubt anyone will ever ask to “pick my brain” but I will use your terrific suggestion if they do. I do think your response would be even a bit firmer if you drop “if” at the beginning and drop most of the faq , your firm comment on the only time available should be enough for reasonable people. You could add “I allow only for 5 min, 10 min…. for these type conversations.”

    • Kaarin says:

      I wish I could get rid of the FAQ. For a long time I had a simple version of this email that simply stated my availability and it was completely ignored. The FAQ cut down on a considerable amount of back-and-forth nonsense.

      • PJ says:

        Iam disapointed people are so inconsiderate you have to include specific FAQ instructions. Maybe, you should attach your Write Life blog and all these comments!

  • My dilemma is not quite the same, although I think closely related. I’ve always been quick to offer advice and share info and links to info with other writers. I’m told that this “need” to help is related to wanting to be liked. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

    But recently, I realized that the help I was offering to a new writer was turning out to need much more time than I had expected, and more frequently. I also realized that most writers who do this actually offer it as an editing service for which they are paid an hourly rate. I never really felt that I had the qualifications to be a paid editor or a paid mentor. OR is that just my own introversion and lack of confidence?

    But your ideas have given me lots to think about. I’m not sure I’d be able to charge for my help, but I do need to rethink the value of my own time.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Carol

    • Kaarin says:

      Thanks for reading, Carol. It sounds like you have skills that people appreciate! I’m glad you are thinking about charging. Remember that it doesn’t have to be one way for forever. You can try out something for a little while and see if it works. Even with this system I know it might not be this way forever! Your time, your energy, your insight – it is all valuable.

      • Thanks for the idea about trying things out. It makes sense. I suppose too, it’s time I place value on what I have learned, and on my own time. If as writers, we don’t do that, how can we expect others to value our time too?

        C.

  • Ken Johnson says:

    You can refer many “pick your brain” requests to http://nanowrimo.org/forums. The first few forums aren’t much use except to NaNoWriMo participants, but the forums in “Nano Tips and Strategies,” further down the page, really are interesting stuff. If your correspondent can’t find an answer after posting his problem on NaNoWriMo Forums, he can turn up at 08.00 in Caffe Nero at the Ocean Terminal like everybody else has to, and he’s buying.

    I’d like to pretend that I receive thousands of “pick your brain” requests, but in truth I never received one.

  • Not to be too cheeky – but why not just start charging a consultant fee?? 😀

    • Kaarin says:

      Oh, that’s not cheeky – it’s an understandable question. The simple answer is that I don’t want to do that type of work right now. It might change one day.

  • Rosemary says:

    OK, you win the prize. I talk about, write about and connect with anything to do with boundaries and bracketing time. But this? Genius. Love it. Well done. Shared everywhere. Thanks, Kaarin. You’ve said it for all of us.
    Rosemary (mentor)

  • This is genius! As a long-time travel writer, I get a LOT of these (and usually send them my consulting rates or just brush them off entirely), but I love this tactic. Also, funny enough, I JUST published a post called “No, You Can’t Pick My Brain” yesterday—finally, after years of threatening to—and someone sent me your post. Love it!

  • Daryna Jones says:

    This is spectacular! I live in a small town and I still get these requests on a weekly basis. I even have people wanting to meet me “half way” (aka, 2 hours one way) so they can pick my brain. I adore this. Thank you!

    • Kaarin says:

      2 hours one way?! I just….what? WHAT? Excuse me while I go bang my head on the wall for a few minutes. I’m so exasperated on your behalf.

  • Thanks for the insight. It is good to know when some folks act this way where it is actually leading. Sometime we just need to be upfront and if someone is not serious let them know. Thanks again.

  • This is brilliant, for all kinds of reasons! I’m going to share it with my introvert husband, who will also think it’s brilliant. Thank you!

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