How To Deal With People Who Want to ‘Pick Your Brain’

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Dear Kat
I understand the irony of my emailing you about this, but I need your help! I’m a wedding photographer and my business is going pretty well. I’ve been shooting full time for two years now and I’m really proud of how much I’ve achieved. It’s taken a lot of work, but it’s been worth it!

My problem is, I’m now starting to get a lot of emails or private Facebook messages from friends and strangers asking if they can ‘pick my brain’. Sometimes they fire questions at me, but most of the time they’re asking if we can meet for coffee or if they can come and see how I work at a wedding!

While I’m honoured that people think I’m worthy of asking advice, I can’t help but feel annoyed about it. I’ve worked my BUTT off for the past two years to get to where I am, and these people seem to want me to give them all the answers for free! Don’t they realise there’s no quick answer and that hard work and time is really what it takes? You must get a lot of this too so I was just wondering if you had any advice on how I should deal with it?

When you reach a certain level of success, it’s inevitable that people will start to come out of the woodwork and innocently ask you for advice. Yes, it can be irritating, but the fact that this is happening is actually an amazing opportunity for your own business to grow.

Don’t feel bad about saying no!

First off, you should not feel bad for saying no. I say no to people everyday and I never feel guilty about it! You are only one little person and you can’t help everyone. You shouldn’t ever feel burdened by other people’s problems just because they asked you about them.

“Brain picking” meetings are particularly exhausting because they usually don’t have a specific goal. A lot of the time you’ll be trying to figure out exactly what the other person actually wants from you. To me, there is nothing worse than vaguely asking for advice. Let’s drop the foreplay and get to the point already! Does that sound harsh and mean? Maybe a little, but I’m a busy girl, I ain’t got time for fannying around!

If someone is asking to “pick your brain” then the implication is usually that they don’t really know what they want or need, they’re just hoping that you can give them all the answers. I personally avoid these kinds of meetings like the plague.

However I do think that you should always reply to each and every message you get, even if it is to say that you can’t help them. People will generally appreciate that you’ve taken the time to send them a note back, and it shouldn’t take you very long if you create some templates.

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Create a template response

Replying to every email one by one will up take so much of your time and mental capacity, so I’d always recommend creating a template that you can tweak each time. I firmly believe that sending a template reply is better than no reply at all!

If you’re getting a lot of emails asking for advice you haven’t got time to give, or for coffee/ brain picking sessions, here’s a template you can modify and use.

“Thank you so much for your message, I’m so honoured that you think of me as someone worthy of giving you advice for your own business! While I’m too time poor to meet up for coffee at the moment (I wish there were more days in the week!) I’ll try my best to help you where I can. Do you have a specific question for me?”

This template is great because it makes the asker get specific about what they want from you. It tells them your busy, but let’s them know you are willing to help if they get to the point!

Charge for your time

However if you are getting a LOT of these requests maybe its time to start thinking about offering a product or service to cover them. You could create a digital course, sell video tutorials or host an in-person workshop. Yes, you might primarily be a wedding photographer, but if a lot of people seem to want to learn from you, then why not let them!?

While I offer a lot of free advice here in the the Green Room, I also have The Blogcademy which I direct people too if they have more than a simple question. You should never feel guilty about expecting to be paid for your time and expertise. Here is a non-sleazy template that you could use in these instances.

“Thank you so much for your email, I’m thrilled that things seem to be going so well for you. I’m not available for one-on-one consultations right now, but you should check out my _____. I created it to help people just like you! I cover things like _____ and I think you’d get a lot out of it!”

This will usually scare of the brain pickers who just want the moon on a stick for free. It politely informs them that you can help them but they need to pay for the privilege!

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Use their problems to help yourself

There are lots of ways you can help people for free, or with minimal effort, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making sure that it serves you too! If you’re getting a lot of business-related questions, then you should totally start a blog series answering them. That way, you don’t even have to come up with the topics yourself and you can direct any similar questions you might get straight back to your blog.

Writing about these subjects on your own site not only helps others, but it benefits your own business. The more advice-style content you put out on your own platform, the bigger your audience will grow. More people will start to see you as an expert in your field if you’re using your success to benefit others.

If you start looking at these emails in a more positive light, they’ll no longer be nagging annoyances clogging up your inbox. Instead they’ll be prime opportunities for you to sell your own products, and to build your brand and audience.

Supporting Cast

15 comments

  1. Great article. I too get a lot of emails asking for advice – weirdly I have started getting emails asking if I have any jobs .. I wish! This one girl band just keeps on playing! I have even had people come right out and ask for my recipes for their gran / mom / significant others cakes *insert sympathy here* type emails. I think your point about emailing everyone back is a great idea and is what I do. You will be amazed how many people don’t get back to you once you say no, even to thank you for taking the time to do so.

  2. Love this! Another trick I also learned is telling people you have no time to meet but they are welcome to ride in the car with you while you run errands for an hour. I do this regularly.

  3. I love you! Just this morning I was moaning about this!! I genuinely want to help, but the competition trying to be spoon fed pisses me off, and there’s only do much help I can give… Thank you, this has helped immensely! xxx

  4. Good advice. I have been using templates and personalising them for sometime now to make things easier.

    It’s simply not possible to run a business and offer a free advice service too – you would never get any work done and I work long hours anyway!

    I always try to respond to specific questions but I do get a lot of lazy generalised questions which are just not possible to answer.

  5. Great post, Kat! This has been happening to me for YEARS with the music biz, and I’ve been in it all my life, taking huge risks, sacrificing damn near everything, only for people to expect me to dish on all the information AND relationships I’ve nurtured over the years. Thank you so much for this post!!! It’s a MASSIVE help 🙂 Hope to see you & the girls in L.A. next February <3

    xo

  6. Like the other comments here i get asked a lot as well but in my case i get asked to actually donate a piece of art to charity auctions (For animals so i always find it incredibly hard to say no) this year i ended up donating original artwork or gift vouchers towards commissioned art to 3 different dog charities which cost me a lot (which i wouldn’t have minded had the auction bids reflected the actual value but I ended up doing a pet portrait commission for £18 (which went to the charity), which was actually a real insult as it took me about 20 hours to paint, because they started the bids at 50p!! The same charity has just asked me again and I’ve had to explain my reasons for declining this time which i feel guilty about but folk don’t seem to realise how much time and effort goes into creating art and want it for next to nothing!

  7. In Response to Nicolea McLean – (sorry, I don’t know how to better direct this) – could you pledge a percentage of the sales from a specific product on your shop for the charities that want your involvement instead? Explain to them that they aren’t getting the real value out of what you are doing for them and that you’d like to help in a more significant way? Just a thought.

    As for the subject in hand, I fear I may have been an asker in the past.

    Its tough when starting out or trying to push further after getting nowhere to know the right direction to go in. I found out over time that it is sheer guts, determination and will (along with some kick-ass work and carefully scripted approaches to potential clients/buyers that really reflect the value of my brand and work).

    I think if I was an asker wanting to know all the answers, probably what would help me best is to know that the journey is part of the process and that the path you take defines your brand, who you are and what you do and to try to speed past that detracts from not only your sense of achievement but also your knowledge base. I’ve spent the best part of 7 years really honing what I do and its easy to be jealous of younger rivals who have sped to “fame” in a year or two, but I always remember that my journey is mine, just as theirs belongs to them. People travel all the time and yet no two people on the planet will get the same experience even standing two feet away from each other staring at the same tourist monument. There-in lies the beauty of life.

  8. This is great advice, Kat. I would never have thought of template emails before! I agree completely that it’s better to reply with a no, than just ignore.

  9. I have lost track over the years the number of people I have helped to start their own business or given advice too. Even people I barely know, friends of friends, wife’s of chaps my husband works with. Friends of family member, associations in the wedding industry, the list is endless. I would NEVER say no, helping others with their business makes the world go round, it inspires me and I can gain new contacts from it and pass on my experiences. Perhaps sometimes I have been too open and not shared all my business secrets? I don’t think so.

  10. So true! I started doing Q & A blog posts for just that reason! I would get a lot of requests, so I started that and now direct people there.

    Love your email templates, I think I just might add them to what I’ve been doing.

    Thanks for a great post!!

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