Why is it that people still ask me to help them with advice — in exchange for coffee?
Don’t get me wrong.
I like coffee.
And I couldn’t be happier that you are finally waking up and ready for big change. Or that you are leaving one job to start your own. (Congrats, you’re an inspiration.)
But the “pick your brain” email has become something of a problem for many entrepreneurs. Work is work, inspiration is work, art is work, so all those people are essentially asking for free work.
There’s no latte on Earth (even with Starbucks’ newly-raised prices) that would cover what my consulting, story for corporate, entertainment charges to come to your office, interview you and your team about your business, do research, present ideas and best practices — and then build out and execute a strategy.
Note: I’m not talking about an intro meeting. (I’d love to meet you to see if we might be able to work together.) I’m not even talking about a follow-up. (The only thing better than a first impression is a second impression!) I’m not referring to clients – or college students looking for career advice (you’ve got to pay it forward).
I’m talking about those people who sincerely and unabashedly ask to “pick my brain” about how they can grow – and say, “Coffee’s on me!”
You’re banking on the fact that my expertise will help you grow, thrive and profit. And yet, you think my time is worth a $6.50 cup of caffeine?
Surely you know that the latte you’re offering to buy me will not supplement my mortgage, help me pay my office rent or even cover the uber ride I just bought to come meet you at the coffee shop.
By offering to buy me a coffee, what you’re actually asking me to do is pay to provide my services.
For me, art, mindfulness and happiness practices are business. I earn a living by providing my expertise to businesses. These businesses are happy to pay for my time — a very limited resource — as I’m sure it is for you and your colleagues. Just as your job pays your bills, art, spiritual, lifestyle, happiness, and mindfulness consulting is how I pay mine.
Would you offer to pay for any other service with a drink?
You have a toothache. It’s been going on for weeks. You’re at a birthday party when someone introduces their wife, a celebrated dentist. You open your mouth to show her your decaying tooth. She agrees you should set some time to come in to her office. Do you then offer to buy her a drink in exchange for pulling out said tooth?
Unless you’re in delusion from the pain, the answer is: Of course not.
What if you were in a legal battle? Your husband/boss/dogwalker is suing you for all you’ve got. It’s ugly. Do you walk into a law firm, remind the lawyer that you went to middle school together and offer to buy him lunch in exchange for legal advice?
The answer is quite obviously, no.
I work with a wide web of contributors, from graphic designers to photographers to publicists, some of whom are dear friends, and I would never dream of even calling a meeting with any of them without the understanding that I’d be paying for their time.
“Don’t forget to bill me for this phone call,” I tell my graphic designer every time she dials.
Dry cleaning. Legal. Graphic design. Dental. Housekeeping. Public relations. Carpentry. Social media.
These are all services for which the only acceptable form of compensation is money.
And yet, at least once a week, I get an email — a confident, well-worded email from an educated professional — asking me for time, advice, and consulting in exchange for food and beverages.
At this point, you might be wondering: How do I deal with this?
As my favorite business coach, Nancy Snell, likes to say: “I’m not in the convincing game; I’m in the collaborating game.”
There’s nothing you can say – or have to say – to someone who doesn’t understand the value in paying you for your time or services.
Remind them: Just like their business would be in trouble if they worked for free, so would yours!
You may get a rude response. You may witness a genuine moment of clarity. (I hope you do.)
The good news is: there are plenty of people who do want to pay you; pay you fairly and pay you generously. Focus on them. (Have you heard the one about being 70% more likely to get new business from current clients than prospects?)
And when you are offered a coffee, remember: You like coffee, but you love paying your rent.
Until then, brew your own coffee, stay the course and feel free to link anyone who asks you to work – in exchange for caffeine – to this article.
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