“Can I Pick Your Brain” – How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Goodwill

People approach me pretty frequently with this question…

“Can I pick your brain?”

When you work in social and on the web, there is a certain amount of goodwill that is expected because the marketing premium is INFORMATION. Sharing that information in blog posts, on websites, in articles is how we establish our authority on a subject. Having said that, you will be approached and many people will ask if they can “Pick Your Brain”. From my experience – this basically means they want to talk to you because you know your stuff AND they need your stuff. I like to set parameters for these conversations.

What’s in it for me?

I remember a friend once said to me; “Put on your BIG GIRL PANTS and stop being such a pushover” “STOP GIVING AWAY YOUR BUSINESS FOR FREE!” she yelled. That’s just what I was doing, giving my business away for free. I was willing to help anyone, at anytime with anything that I could. As you can imagine, this was great for them –  they didn’t have to hire a consultant, pay someone to do the work or pay for the ideas or strategy but, not so great for me. A Moment of Honesty: a business needs money to survive, if it’s not making money then it’s a failing charity. That’s not where you want to be. If you know you’re heading into one of those conversations try to establish an exchange of sorts. There’s nothing wrong with asking. Things to consider in lieu of payment:
  • A Recommendation / Testimonial
  • Product
  • Leads

Recommendations / Testimonials

Working for yourself is hard enough, not having people to recommend your professionalism and expertise makes it even harder if your just starting out. Why not request a recommendation from the person seeking your knowledge regarding your services. It can’t hurt and may be a future selling point for your business.


I’m not in the habit of asking for product in return but, it has been offered. Products do have an attached value and may be worth accepting if it’s something you want and can use.


Lead generation is part of the game. You work for yourself and probably don’t have a huge team OR you are the team – Business Development falls on you. Asking for some leads in return for your knowledge and assistance might be a great way to build your business book.

What’s the worst they can say?

What if they say “No”? Well, if they decline your request in exchange for your knowledge, you walk away. Pretty simple. No biggie right?  I believe that if people value you, and your knowledge they are most likely going to agree to help you in return.

Don’t make it a habit

Sure it’s great to help friends, and acquaintances but, to what end? If you are always available and offering your self for product or recommendations, it may become expected of you and be considered the norm in dealing with you. What then? You won’t be paid, and your business won’t be making money. Allow it once in a while, and don’t let your self be taken advantage of. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I always said yes, and it ate away at my bottom line. Not everything is about making money but, a certain amount should be. Good luck and don’t give your brains away to the zombies for free… make them work for it. This is how my friend Maria Aguilarhandles Brain Picking on her blog Beauty and a Bite
If you’d like to ‘pick my brain’, the answer is no. As an independent Digital Strategist, I do charge for consulting sessions and I’m happy to share my rates with you if you’re interested. But if you’ve got a quick question that I may be able to answer via email, drop me a line: holler (at) beautyandabite.com.
Do you have experience with “Brain Picking?” How did you handle it?

One thought on ““Can I Pick Your Brain” – How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Goodwill

  1. You’re right in that there needs to be a balance when you’re giving a hand to others, especially if it’s only so that they can cut you off at the wrist so you can do your work no longer. A bit of a mixed metaphor, but it TOTALLY makes sense in my head.

    I’m of the opinion that pouring positivity and aid into the world makes for a better world where I can ultimately do better for myself, but there will always be people who’re simply greedy and want everything for themselves. They get in the way of everyone doing better, and I also believe that there’s nothing I can do to stop this. I do not have the power, or maybe even the RIGHT to change these people — they’re going to exist in every situation.

    What I do instead is continue improving MYSELF, and hope that others will see that I’m a good choice to bet on. Does goodwill put food on the table? No. Does goodwill leave accomplishments that you can put on your resume? No. BUT. But I think it’s bigger than that. That we need to change the way we currently operate and look to a vastly different future.

    I think Gary Vayneychuk’s “The Thank You Economy” touches on this, but I wouldn’t know as I’m still going through his “Crush It!” book. I’ll let you know 🙂

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