Here’s a recent question sent in from Colleen Hunter:

“Should I charge people for my time? People keep asking me to meet with them for an hour or two so they can pick my brain. What’s the best way to go about this?” 

Great question Colleen, we liked it so much that we decided to open it up to our experts so they could share their tips and advice on this topic. Here’s what they had to say:

“Protect your time and do what is best for your business.”

“I’m a big fan of collaboration and that often means giving your time for free. Being willing to help others, without any strings attached, can do amazing things for both relationship building and reputation building. And it just feels good to help your fellow entrepreneurs! But, we’re all in business to make money, so you generally can’t go around giving away your expertise for free. There are a few things that I do to get the best of both worlds.

The biggest issue is the mode of communication. If someone shoots me an email with a question or two, and I know I can provide some advice or point him/her in the right direction with very little time invested, I will do it. Many times, I’ll even do short phone calls without charging, provided the calls are scheduled in advance when it’s convenient for me and the other person is aware and respectful of the time limit.


If, however, someone wants to meet in person specifically for the purpose of a conversation (i.e., we’re not meeting up at a conference or event we’re already both attending), that changes the game. Those are billable. So are any phone calls over a half hour that are consulting focused.


There are other issues when it come to brain picking, too. Such as, who is this person asking you for your time? Do they ask you for free help all the time? Do they pay it forward and often help others? Is it your brother-in-law or a long-time friend? The “who” is usually a big part of the equation. Personally, I like to err on the side of being collaborative and helpful; I have good will until there’s a reason not to.


The best tip I can give is to take measures to protect your time and do what is best for your business. You can start by developing your own policy that outlines what you’re willing to do for free and what kicks in the time clock, and make sure you share your terms when you are approached by the brain picker. A short, honest conversation can go a long way to starting a great relationship, even when you’re not committing to giving away all of your wisdom for free.” Alyssa Gregory, @smallbizbonfire


“Eliminate as many non-mission critical meetings as possible.”

Protecting one’s time has always been the struggle for an entrepreneur. But as entrepreneurs we quickly learn that time is our most valuable commodity. In my own businesses, I am working countless hours a day and preserving my time is must. Time spent on the phone or in face-to-face meetings cuts down on production time. As a result, early on we set a policy of eliminating as many non-mission critical meetings as possible. However, in situations when clients or acquaintance simply want to meet and discuss marketing ideas, etc. we do initiate a consulting fee. To help preserve our time we also set up an upfront boundary and time constraint, i.e. “I have to be out of here by 3:00pm” and let the other party know what the boundaries/costs are on the meeting. That’s not to say that every single time I meet with some one they are charged— of course not, but it’s just vitally important to properly manage my time and protect my productivity for my paying clients. It’s very easy for entrepreneurs to be taken advantage of by ‘others’ that are not mindful to protecting your time. No one else with protect it for you, so don’t be afraid to protect and place value on it yourself! JP Jones, @Paige1Media


“Picking your brain is like picking your pocket.”

Yes, absolutely! Letting someone pick your brain is like letting them pick your pocket – don’t do it! We are now in an age where information is readily available but knowing what to do with it is valuable. When someone wants to meet to pick your brain, politely explain that you now offer consulting services for people who wish to leverage your knowledge and experience. Offer them a complimentary 20 minute phone consultation and let them know that you’re happy to meet with them should they be interested in using your services. Beware of strangers who value your opinion enough to ask for it but not enough to pay for it! Lisa Nicole Bell, @LisaNicoleBell


“Be mindful of people’s time.”

How much time you decide to give away to people really depends on your business model and what it is you are selling at the end of the day. However, I saw Guy Kawasaki speak at a recent industry conference talking about some of the points in his book Enchantment. He mentioned that coming from a mindset of “yes” will usually only bring good things to you later on. As a woman I am constantly reminded by other women to embrace the power of no, so it was refreshing to hear someone succesful say that it was okay to be a giver. He of course finished up his thoughts by saying that when they thank you, always be sure to say “I know you would do it for me” to give the circle of reciprocity of jump start. Now, I know, like many of you do that Guy Kawasaki charges $40,000 for these thirty minute talks he gives… so he doesn’t give away everything. A line has to be drawn somewhere, right? I’ve heard one of my favorite copywriters say that she frequently gets asked out to coffee by bloggers. Her response was that “I walk my dog every morning at 6am. Want to talk? Come walk my dog with me.” I thought that was smart to be open to letting others “pick her brain” while being mindful of her time. Jennifer Donough, @OvalEye


“It’s okay to say no.”

“I always want to help everyone I can especially since so many took the time to share tips with me when I first started out with BB. I started to notice how many people were emailing me asking for tips and wanting to do a skype chat and soon it just became overwhelming and to the point it was taking away from things I needed to get done for my own business. It was not easy but I finally had to start saying no. It’s one thing to have someone email you and say, “Hey, do you know anyone that does this that you can introduce me to?” That’s easy, it’s a quick email intro and boom. Now to sit down at a coffee shop and have them bust out a pen and paper is a completely different story. Although I truly enjoy getting to know every single person I meet and wish we could sit to chat for hours, you just can’t do it. Your business is going to suffer and there is nothing wrong with offering a time to consult with them. You put in the time to get where you are and they have to do the same because that’s just how it is being an entrepreneur.


I once had someone ask if I could introduce them to a bunch of media outlets to help them get some buzz for their company. My first thought was that we took the time to cover their story and it was if that wasn’t good enough and they just wanted free PR anyway that they could get it. Complete turn off to me and most who take the time to share your story. That one was easy to say no to and always remember it’s okay to say “no” because ultimately you have to look out for your own business at the end of the day.” Ashley Bodi, @BusinessBeware