Let’s face it. We’re wildly inconsistent human beings. 

Many of us like to think that we are reliable and logical in how we address any number of issues and opportunities that arise, but it simply ain’t so. Take, for example, our response to those times when others say they want to “pick our brain,” a phrase that is frequently joined at the hip by “over a cup of coffee.”

Inside Edge PR photo
Inside Edge PR photo

(Certainly, there are variations on this phrase, but all roads lead back to, “Give me free advice.”)

Here’s where the wildly inconsistent reality sets in–and it flows from the wildly different relationships in our life, and the scenarios that evolve from those relationships.

Sometimes, I’m glad, even delighted, to offer up those parts of my brain that I have devoted decades to developing. How to tell a compelling story, how to connect with other people, individually or organizationally, ways to avoid wasting valuable time and money in marketing matters–these are all much more refined tools in my repertoire than, say, how to change the oil in my car or how to make vegetarian lasagna.

Other times, though, when I hear someone expressing interest in “picking my brain,” a decidedly different three-word phrase bubbles just beneath the surface:

Take a hike.

Take a number.

Go to Helena. (You know, the capital of Montana.)

A Growing, Gnawing Feeling

Of course, I have never actually uttered any of these phrases in those moments. For years, I tended to acquiesce to the sit-down. I would rationalize that it was an opportunity to build a relationship and demonstrate my expertise in one fell swoop. But for years, a clear feeling grew that I was being taken advantage of–and, worse yet, that I was enabling it.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am still glad to help plenty of people without batting an eyelash or charging a nickel. Recent college graduates, people looking to make a career transition, a longtime friend or acquaintance, those with organizations whose mission is near and dear to my heart–these are all exempt from that aggravating, gnawing sense of being used.

But over the past few years, in those instances where I simply don’t feel like offering up my insights without compensation, I have created what I believe to be a professional response to these solicitations. Whether the request comes in person, over the phone or via email, I wind up sending the individual something along these lines:

“Dear So-and-So,

Thank you for reaching out!

I recommend the following as the best fit:

A 1-hour meeting, with you and anyone else on your team. During that one hour, I would learn the marketing/PR efforts undertaken thus far, new ideas & initiatives (if any) that are on the horizon for promoting your organization, and other information that would inform my thinking.

Particularly for local businesses and organizations, my expertise is in having a pulse on various marketing channels (including mainstream media, online portals, social media, and other cross-marketing opportunities) and their relative merits, as well as the ease/difficulty of securing placement/coverage in those channels.

Following the meeting, I would create a written document, a recommended action plan, that includes estimated time and cost estimates for each component of the plan. It would provide a guide on how you may wish to proceed, whether with me, another publicist and/or other professionals/outlets.

The fee for this service is (VARIABLE SUM), payable upon your receipt of the recommended action plan.”

Looking forward to your thoughts, any questions you may have, and how you may wish to proceed with our dialogue from here.

Best regards,


Particularly to my peers in self-employment–I’m on year 18 myself–it’s my hope that this philosophy and template prove helpful to you as you parry “brain-picking expeditions.”

By all means, you will want to tailor it to your own situation and style. If your experience is anything like mine has been, sometimes you will book a meeting, earn some deserved income and provide valuable insights in writing. Other times, the dialogue evaporates into the mist. Every time, guaranteed, there will no longer be any references to brain-picking.

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Overcome Weakness in Your LinkedIn Chain: Invest in Relationships When You Don’t ‘Need To’


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