Can I “Pick Your Brain”?

Quick story: The other day I walked into an acquaintance’s pet shop to grab a few cans of food and some cat litter. It’d been well over a year since I’d last spoken to her, but I was in need of last minute supplies. She looked pretty busy sorting new inventory, so I briefly exchanged social niceties, then promptly walked out without paying. I was a little surprised when she sent Security to stop me. After all, don’t friends help one another out?

Okay, this didn’t really happen. It’s absurd actually. You wouldn’t expect someone you know casually (or even well) to give you free clothing, food or products just because they owned the store. It’s their livelihood after all! However, we’ve all been guilty of something similar when we ask our service-providing contacts – coaches, lawyers, accountants, hairdressers, etc. – for free services.

Before you reach out to pick your next brain, please consider this:

It’s not that they don’t want to help.  Of course they do! They’re in helping professions for exactly that reason. And most volunteer on boards, with churches, or by providing pro bono services since they believe in what they do and its ability to make a difference.

It’s not that they’re money hungry. They don’t expect to be paid for every sliver of advice, but this is their livelihood.  This wealth of knowledge is the “inventory” they use to pay bills, send kids to college and afford the occasional vacation. It also cost a lot (more than you’d think) to earn the credentials to have the knowledge you’re seeking. Not only the cost of education, but years of unpaid internships, studying for State exams, and paying licensing fees.

It’s not that they’re greedy with time. But let’s face it, time is precious and finite. Like you, they have day jobs, families, and hobbies. They’d love for you to read their blog, check out their website, buy their book, or watch their media appearances. In many cases, the answers you’re seeking can be found in these places and they publish these resources for that very reason.

As an advocate of networking, I want to point out the subtle difference that many well-intentioned networkers often miss.  Networking is a two-way street, a mutually beneficial relationship that builds over time. So, while you may not always have something to offer, you can always invest first by checking out social media, reading publications, signing up for newsletters, and condensing your questions into a 15-minute time period before reaching out.

Service professionals love what they do and enjoy sharing it. That’s why they speak on panels, attend conferences, post tips online, schedule media appearances, record podcasts, and teach courses. Please come!  They’d love to see you “like” their content, write a positive testimonial, attend their next Facebook live event, or purchase their online training. It’s what they do best and the reason you want to “pick their brain” in the first place.

And remember, if making time for this investment isn’t convenient, affordable, or acceptable, then it likely isn’t for them either.

Happy hunting!

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