Small business owners everywhere, regardless of profession or industry, will face the question soon enough: “Can I pick your brain about something?” Or, more vaguely, “Can we chat about business?” It’s flattering to know that you have knowledge to offer, and may genuinely want to help others, but business owners must value their time. Time spent dispensing free advice over coffee is time that could be spent growing the business.
When the question comes, it’s perfectly acceptable, even preferable, to politely decline. “I provide a valuable service, and it’s my business,” says Beth Donalds, a business coach based in northern New Jersey. “I afford my contacts the same courtesy that I give my clients. If you don’t value your services, how can any one else?”
Protect your investment
When contacts approach Donalds in a social setting, she responds with a version of the following: “Those are really good questions. I don’t think this is the place to discuss this, but I have a special pick-my-brain session for these situations that’s $90.” She hands them her card and asks them to schedule time with her. Many times, they don’t. But her response falls in line with her business values.
Protecting your time also applies to friends and family, but must be managed with care. Donalds recommends that business owners set a policy and stick with it. For example, a business owner may decide to charge everyone except his or her immediate family. “I tell clients to be true to themselves,” Donalds says. “I have best friends for 50 years that I charge, but I won’t charge my brother or my mother.”
In addition to a polite decline and a fee-based consulting offer, business owners can consider alternative ways to help colleagues with minimal time and effort. Regardless, remember to value your expertise:
Some business owners will agree to a 10-minute phone conversation. Donalds says that even this approach devalues your time. An exception applies when the business model includes a free 20-minute consultation. “Some business owners use this approach to vet potential clients,” she says. “That’s fine, because the business owner gets value from it.”
Refer the contact to your blog or website, a trade publication, or a book that might be helpful.
If you receive multiple requests for the same type of information, consider producing a webinar or hosting a workshop. The program could generate extra income for your business and answer those prevalent questions—for a fee.
Whatever route you choose, always protect and value your time. And remember, if the contact or client gets offended or angry, they probably aren’t the person to do business with.
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