“Verizon, My Other Cable Company’s Not Working. Can I Get Your Service For Free?”

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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Have you ever walked into a clothing store, saw something you loved, took it, and left without buying? Better yet, have you ever had a sales clerk give you something really valuable and say, “We want to give you this for free. Go ahead. Take it!”

Or, have you ever called a service provider who is the competitor of a current provider, and asked them to help you for free because their selected vendor isn’t doing their job well?

Well, someone tried to do that to me this week.  Someone tried to “pick my brain.” In this instance, that wasn’t the phrase they used. Instead, they wrote, “May I have 45 minutes of your time to tell you more and brainstorm?” This individual was looking for expertise on how to develop a speaking strategy to get selected for engagements, as well as connections to top networking communities.

This came from someone that I do not know that had connected with me on LinkedIn. I get these types of requests several times a month.

I respectfully declined the request with this answer:

Congratulations on your success, and thank you for the kind words. As you can imagine, I have a really busy coaching practice, in which I help my clients identify their current state, desired state, and the delta in between so that we can move them forward.

I will be happy to do a targeted 10-minute Skype session to address one of your top priority questions. Anything greater than that, and I do charge for my time. If you would like to do a single hour-long session, that is $_______.

I then explained my application process for engaging my clients and the work we do together, before concluding with this:

Thanks again for your note and for your understanding. It would be unethical for me to charge my clients for my expertise/results, and give it away to others. Please let me know how you would like to proceed.

She then told me that she didn’t need a coach because she already had a “strategic coach.” Of course that made me wonder why her own coach isn’t providing her this type of guidance.

There are two lessons to this story:

1. People will only value you and your contributions as much as you do.  You can’t expect others to ever value you more than you value yourself. And, as this example shows, you can always count on people to try to get something of value for free – but that does not mean you have to comply with their request. You alone set the bar for your value in the marketplace.

2. If you’ve engaged a service provider and somewhere along the way, you discover your needs have changed, or that your needs aren’t being met, have the conversation. People aren’t mind-readers. Open and honest communication is the foundation for any relationship. A mentor taught me long ago that “expectations are the termites of relationships.” They eat away at it until there’s nothing left standing. Adjust and align your expectations by regularly re-visiting the expectations of a business engagement, and doing a pulse check with your customers.

For those of you reading this who think I may have been a little harsh in saying “no I will not take an hour out of my schedule to meet you,” let’s role-play what would have transpired had I said yes.

  1. We would have set up a time to meet.
  2. I would have invested time up front to do some research on this person so that I was prepared for our meeting.
  3. The 45 minutes would have spilled over into an hour or maybe longer.
  4. The individual would not have gotten any real value from our time together because 45 minutes isn’t enough time to go deep enough into a real need. To create a targeted speaking strategy requires in-depth knowledge of the person, expertise, overall goals and how this strategy integrates into a larger framework, etc. Then there is the creation of the messaging, the creation of the speeches, the introductions, etc.
  5. The take-away would have been free work that is high risk on my part – opening up my network to someone I don’t really know and can’t vouch for. It takes a long time to gain the trust for a referral and introduction.

Also given that she has a coach already (who definitely should be able to address her two needs of building a speaking strategy and strategically selecting networking communities), this is not a viable prospect for me.

Both of us would have left this experience feeling badly.

I’ll leave you with a short video clip from one of my favorite mentors, Marie Forleo, on what to say next time someone wants to “pick your brain.”  This is the best response I have ever seen on this topic – it’s definitely worth your five minutes, you can view it here.

“If you want people to value your time, you have to put a value on it.”
– Marie Forleo

Keep Growing!

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