Say no to business brain-pickers

A message pings into your inbox. It’s from a new business keen to get ahead. The person is asking to buy you a coffee, but you know they really just want to pick your brain.

Service-based businesses need to push back on these requests. When you reach a certain level of success in business, especially these days of easy access via social media, people just starting out in business want to absorb your knowledge, and bounce ideas past you. Because you’ve probably been free with tips and advice online, they feel they can ask.

However, service-based business have to be careful to protect their IP and their time.

Most high-performing business I’ve worked with are happy to give back, but there is a fine line to how much you give away and not charge for. For everything you say yes to, you’re saying no to something else. When a request comes in, ask what are you saying not to in order to say yes to someone. Base the decision on strategy – will you be able to add value to this person; will this help your brand or how much time will this take?

It is vital to acknowledge the blood, sweat and tears put into building a brand and business. We are all in business of making money but when someone offers you a coffee in exchange for your expertise it is insulting. Most of us want to be helpful and saying no can make a person feel terrible.

The reasons for saying no should be imprinted on the business person’s brain – there is no time to go traipsing off to coffee shops and it is only right to be paid for it.

Saying no can be a challenge, especially for women in business. By nature, women like to help so saying no or suggesting the person buys their product can make them feel they’re being salesy or pushing. Instead of saying no, the request is ignored, which ultimately damages the brand.

There is a way to say no gracefully and politely without leaving the other person feeling awful. It is always better to be honest in these situations. If you really want to help, collate a list of FAQs you can send the “can I pick your brain?” requests or do a webinar you can direct people to.

It is OK to be possessive of your time. Ask the person doing the requesting what they really want from you; explain you are busy and ask – are they looking for information, become a client or just have a quick question? You can direct them to your calendar. Make sure you block out space for a 10-minute quick phone call to manage your time. Then at the eight-minute mark, wrap up the call and send them your sales info.

It is OK to ask to be paid. Your expertise and skill have value and you should be paid. Again, let them know you’re busy and don’t have time for coffee unless it is for business. Be comfortable in saying you’ve a charge for a consultation. If they were just after free info, you will not hear from them again.

If you want people to value you time, you have to value it.

Angela Henderson, business consultant and founder, Angela Henderson Consulting

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