This is quite a sensitive topic and I have heard so many people over the last few months, either asking me or someone else this question, that I feel an urgent need to address it.
Yes, we have all done it but it is now becoming what people expect as the norm, and as entrepreneurs, their right to other entrepreneurs knowledge and experience, without compensation for their expertise.
I think us, as entrepreneurs that have put ourselves in the public domain as an authority on our topic/s have heard this more times than we can remember.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the recognition and find it flattering that someone thinks my knowledge is of a high enough standard that they would like to get some instruction from me.
Over the last eight years or so, I have probably been asked for a coffee/brain pick close to a hundred times. Some I have had time to see and been happy to guide, others have just been blatant entitlement demands.
However, my life has got to a point where it is no longer an option. As I have got busier, and considering I work alone as an entrepreneur, impossible to fork out time, willy-nilly. I do not, like many entrepreneurs, have a backup partner to pay the bills.
I do on occasion collaborate with a business associate, and then it is a mutually beneficial project that is a fee-based arrangement.
Here are a few ways to politely say ‘NO’. Keep in mind that ‘NO’ is an entire sentence as well, but let’s be nice.
Ask them what it is exactly that they require and then refer them to a relevant source or if it is the service or product you offer, direct them to that information on your website etc.
Let them understand:
‘My workload is currently full as the services I offer are exactly what you are requesting and I consult for an hourly fee if you would like to book a time at a later date’. (I used this one recently and was shocked that it worked)
‘My workload is full, so making a coffee date is not practical these days. Are you interested in becoming a client or do you just have a quick question?’
‘I’m not available for lunch but you should consider getting onto the _______ (course etc.) It’s comprehensive, and created to assist people in your exact position.’
‘I don’t have time to grab coffee unless it is an official business meeting. And my hourly consultation fee, if you are interested, is _____.’
(Jokingly) Ask: When last did you walk into a store and scoop up an armful of clothing and walk out without paying….. (Wait for the ‘never’ response) Right….my hourly consultation fee is____.’
When asked if I could mentor them:
‘I do pro bono work and my quota is currently full’. Most people are not even aware of the volunteer work I do, and may, therefore, assume that as an entrepreneur, I have more free time than a regular 9-5 worker. In some instances you may feel the need to mention those, I don’t! I also facilitate soft skills courses for other companies, hardly anyone is aware of that.
If someone wants to pick your brain, ask them to pick a time and method of payment. If you want people to value your time, put a value on it!
I do appreciate you asking to feed my coffee addiction but unfortunately, I am unable to make it a social meeting unless it is a weekend and you are my friend.
FYI: If we do get to that business coffee meeting (for a consultation fee) the coffee is still on you, unless of course, you sign up as a client. 😉