I know, it sounds kinda selfish, but hear me out…
Real professionals, especially those who use a humanistic approach in their business, are happy to share with others. Success stories, failures, opinions and hard advice based on experience. We do this because we care, and want to see others succeed. But there’s a difference between sharing information to help others gain more knowledge or get on the right track, and handing over keys to our “cars” that we worked long and hard to pay for.
When someone asks, “Can I pick your brain?”, my mind translates that to: “Can you consult me? Because I don’t want to pay for it.” My knee-jerk internal reaction is, “Sure, would you come over to my house and clean it?”. Because that would actually be a decent trade (I hate cleaning).
There is a right way and a wrong way to approach any business professional when you’re seeking guidance. One way is to simply ask a question. Such as, ask me where you can find more information on analyzing your online store, or what programs are available to learn the real ins and outs of social media. I won’t be offended, even though I offer those services. I realize that not everyone can afford to pay for everything they need done, and that some of my clients hire me because they’ve neither the time nor inclination to learn.
You could also make a statement like, “I’m thinking of signing up for so-and-so’s services, what do you think?” I may not give a tremendously detailed answer, but I will give an honest one.
There are many ways to find out the information you need, all the while not giving the impression that you’re asking someone to work for nothing. (And if you are asking someone to work for nothing, that’s a real shame.)
There are a few things you should do before asking for input or advice:
- Do a search. The majority of questions I’m asked are easily found on Google. Search using the simplest terms – many times you’ll find the answer on the first page.
- Spend some time at the professional’s website. Read the about page, view any portfolio sections, and read at least a few articles or blog posts. This will help give you a clear understanding of what they do and how they work.
- Connect and peruse. Follow the pro on social media accounts. See what he/she shares and communicates with others. This will help you determine the right way to make your approach.
- Be prepared to be respectful. In reality, successful entrepreneurs share because they enjoy giving back, not because they actually owe you something. Ask questions in a respectful manner.
- Cut to the chase. Everyone, including you, is limited on time. A short sentence about something you may have in common is one thing, sharing your entire life history is another.
After asking and receiving a reply:
- Read (or listen to) it thoroughly. Research terms used and visit any links provided before asking for any clarification.
- Don’t question the response. Little is more irritating that giving an honest answer based on experience, only to be questioned as to the validity of the answer.
- Accept denials with understanding. We can’t expect others to spend hours analyzing our needs for free. An informative response, even if brief, that is followed up with an invitation to pay for consulting, is acceptable. You wouldn’t ask a car mechanic for a quick diagnosis without being presented with a quote for him to actually fix the problem.
- Say thank you. This is enough gratuity.
- If you put into action any recommendations, let them know the results. Good or bad, this information also helps them continue learning about what works and what doesn’t. If things fail, though, don’t point fingers. Ultimately, decisions to implement anything are yours.
If you really do want to pick someone’s brain, ask for a quote, or ask for a recommendation or referral. By all means, don’t ask if you can take them to lunch or to get coffee. Because they know what that means, too.