THE BLOG

No, You Can't Pick My Brain

05/11/2015 10:33 am ET | Updated May 11, 2016

By: Jennifer Robinson

I don't sell a "product." I provide a service. My "product" is my expertise. I educate people. I'm not alone. Lots of other entrepreneurs in my community as well as my larger online network are in the same boat. I am constantly faced with situations where people want to "pick my brain." Let me be clear, this does not involve scheduling a paid consult or any other type of compensation. I am sent emails asking for my advice or help with various things that are part of the services I provide as my business. I am also frequently asked to meet for lunch or coffee. Sometimes people are open and say they want to meet with me to pick my brain and other times I feel ambushed thinking we will meet for a social purpose and then the entire meeting is spent with the other person attempting to solicit free advice from me.

Let me also be clear, I believe I am a very giving person. I love helping my friends in any way I can and I make suggestions to people all the time. However, I wouldn't have a plumber come over and ask him to just do one quick task for me and not expect to pay him. I don't take my dog to the vet and discuss a concern with his behavior and not expect to pay a fee for the visit at the end. I know there are many others that offer services as their business model. So here are a few tips I have learned over the past few years to minimize feeling taken advantage of.

1. I no longer offer free consultation phone calls. I used to offer a free 15 minute consult via phone. I had difficulty cutting these calls off at 15 minutes (I'm sure this was partly my fault) and I found that I was not converting these calls into clients. Now, I simply send people a short email with what a consultation will involve and the cost and leave it to them if they want to schedule.

2. I refer people to my recommendations. I have very strong LinkedIn recommendations and a lot of them. I encourage people to read through them and also talk to mutual connections we have that were clients or who attended a seminar or talk I gave and decide if hiring me is right for them.

3. I only give one tip or suggestion and then I remind people this is how I earn a living. Sometimes people don't realize they are taking advantage. Clearly others do realize and I think about the idiom, "If you give an inch, they will take a mile." There will always be those individuals that will take as much advantage as you let them.

I would love to hear suggestions from other entrepreneurs with service-oriented businesses. How do you handle these situations and make sure people still want to buy the cow if you give away the milk gratis????

Jennifer Lynn Robinson, Esquire is a litigator turned entrepreneur following a life changing near death accident. She conducts speaking engagements and workshops for companies, conferences, non-profits and groups on issues surrounding networking and relationship-building. She also works one on one with people to help them be more comfortable and strategic with their networking efforts. Jennifer lives just outside Philadelphia, PA with her husband and three rescue dogs.

@AreYouNetworked