Finding the balance in giving free advice
I’m all about helping people. I love being that kind of person. There were many people who helped me get to where I am, and I want to pay it forward. Unfortunately, I do nothing in moderation, including giving free advice. It’s both my gift and my curse. Why? Because it never stops. In just the last week alone, I have been contacted by 7 people who want to “pick my brain.” That’s the norm. You do the math. I don’t have that much brain to give. If I stop and “chat” with every person, it is a full time job – more than that, as it also takes me away from my family time.
So how do we find the balance between giving and respecting boundaries?
Have a system and a plan for handling the people who want to pick your brain.
I used to handle calls as they came in. I would just react. People would stack up on my to-do list, causing me great anxiety every time I opened that list and saw how many people were waiting for me. So I decided to be proactive instead and I have devised a system. You might come up with something different, but here is mine.
- Decide how much “free advice” you are going to give. What does it look like? One phone call? An email? Two people a month? Set a quota.
- Determine who will answer their message. You? Assistant? Assign someone the task of addressing all those messages that come in by email, facebook, linkedin, etc.
- Have a typed response so that they are answered until you can help. Gently point out that you are busy and that there are many people asking for advice. People tend to think they are the only ones reaching out to you. (For example: Thanks for reaching out. I love to share advice. I usually have a list of people waiting to pick my brain. I will happily add you to the list and reach out with a way we can connect.) This allows you to focus on your current project without getting derailed.
- Have a plan for helping them. Is it a free thirty-minute call? Is it a free handout? Do you direct them to a blog where you have written about all of this before? Not all your advice has to be verbal.
- Say no to those who want to circumvent the system. You don’t owe them anything. Don’t let them derail higher priorities just because you don’t want to make them mad.
My new system for handling people who need advice.
I can’t believe it took me this long to figure something out. But it’s brilliant. Every couple of weeks I am scheduling a “Group Chat”. I will give it a topic very similar to what people come to me for advice about. This group chat is going to be on Zoom. There will be a minimal fee to join the call because I believe people value your time more when they don’t think it’s free. In this chat I answer their specific questions, as a group, where I can answer and regulate the time and participation. Now when somebody contacts me for advice, I will invite them to join us on a group chat and bring their specific question there. This keeps me from having a lot of conversations and answering some of the same questions. It’s an opportunity for me to help them, make a little money (who knows, it may grow to be something that I charge more for), and it’s also a great opportunity to build a community and let them know what I do have available that may help them further. In short, it’s handling a lot of “Free Consults” at one time.
I’ll let you know how it turns out. If you want to join my next one to pick my brain, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the link.