June 17, 2019

When and How to Value Your Time

My friend, John Vander, who works as an independent consultant, recently sent me an article from the New York Times entitled, "The Right Way to Ask, 'Can I Pick Your Brain?'" Authored by Anna Goldfarb, John found this article relevant as he is often asked to meet with people for coffee for the purpose of getting his advice on a number of topics including business planning, effective management strategies or raising funds for working or expansion capital.

However, he often gets frustrated by the wrong way people ask "can I pick your brain?" and felt Ms. Goldfarb's article provides useful advice on the right way to ask that question. While I agree with the central premise of the article, it does not address another concern my friend expressed to me: when and how to place a value on your time.

I recommended that John read "No, You Cant No, You Can't Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much" by Adrienne Graham. After doing so, John said he supported Ms. Graham's claim that "[m]y brain costs money to maintain. There's training, classes to attend, reading (I have to buy books), gaining certifications, costs of memberships so I can network, attending conferences and mastering my skills that all cost me money.

"I have to protect my investment. How fair is it to me to give away all the knowledge I have acquired that I use to make my living, pay my bills and eat?"

The article further notes: "With the Internet being so widely available loaded with free information, people automatically assume that you too have to provide information for free.

"My response to that is go ahead and read the free stuff. But when you still find yourself lacking answers, then apparently the FREE stuff doesn't work. You can't come to a professional and ask them to work for free. In essence, that is what you're doing when you ask to pick someone's brain."

I explained to my friend that as a consultant, I recommend to people whom seek to "pick my brain" to read the free information on the internet including my blog and then schedule a fee-based consult if they need my assistance on how the information they read can be effectively applied to their business.

Some of my advice to John resonates with Ms. Graham's recommendations on when and how to value your time:
  • "Believe that what you know is valuable. If it wasn't then why are they coming to you? You're their chance to solve a problem or find a solution. That has value. Charge for it.
  • "Create a fee schedule. Whenever someone wants to pick your brain, make sure you have your fee schedule in front of you. Give them a quote for how much it will cost them."
  • "Decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business. If the conversation swings around to business, quickly and politely tell them you're off the clock. If they are interested in a consult they can book an appointment and let them know what the charge is for that.
  • "Keep it light. ... Give the why and what but never the how. Anything beyond the why and what comes with a charge. And don't even point them in the direction to obtain the how. That's short changing yourself.
  • "Prominently post that there are no freebies. OK not in those words. But if you have a blog or website, and even on your social media profiles, make sure you mention that consultations are available at a fee.
  • "Exchange for equal value. This puts you in an advantageous bargaining position. If someone requests free information or help, you must feel comfortable in asking for an in kind value service. Assess what they have that can be of equal benefit for you. If they are genuine, they should have no problem in an even exchange of knowledge."
  • "Refer them to your 'free' resources. If you write a blog, have published articles, have archived videos or podcasts or have a show in which you dispense advice, refer them to that information."
  • "Don't be afraid to send them to Google. You can recommend they go to Google, or any other search engine or to sites that have articles or information about what they need advice on. You can also recommend a book or magazine that might be helpful."
  • "Ask them for a paying referral. If they truly want your expertise, they have to be willing to help you out too. It's kind of like the Equal Exchange point I made above crossed with paying it forward. Before you dispense any advice, ask them to provide you with referrals to others who most certainly need (and can afford) your service.
  • "Don't back down. I know it's hard to say 'no' sometimes. But you can't back down. People will know how far they can bend or push you. Stand firm, set your boundaries and guard your treasures (your brain and the know how in it). The minute you compromise you devalue yourself and your expertise."
John and I agree that "[m]any in the marketing circles will tell you the freebie give away is vital. But it doesn't always lead to a sale. ... It's up to you to determine what you're willing to give away and how much of it. Know your worth, understand your value."

When and how do you determine the value of your time?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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