Foolproof Formula for Handling Brain Pickers

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Foolproof Formula for Handling Brain Pickers

Foolproof Formula for Handling Brain Pickers

Calculating the formula for handling brain pickersWe all know they're out there — reminiscent of zombies, they issue a common refrain: “Can I pick your brain?”

Perhaps these brain pickers have no idea how many requests of this type the typical solo PR pro gets in a given month. Regardless, the next time someone approaches you for free advice, try this (unscientific) formula:

  1. How long have you known them (in years)?

  3. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being your best friend in the world and 1 being someone you don’t know, how close are you to this person?

  5. In hundreds of dollars, how much work has this person given you in the past 5 years? (for example, $1,000 = 10)

  7. How many quality referrals has this person provided to you? Multiply this number by 10.

  9. In minutes, how much time has this person spent directly helping/counseling you gratis?

  11. On a scale of 1-100, with 1 being not at all and 50 being “try and stop me,” how much do you want to help this person?

Add these numbers up, and that’s the amount of your precious time – in minutes – you could consider giving to this requester out of the goodness of your heart.

See something missing?

You’ll notice I didn’t list anything related to the potential future work they might offer. My experience (and that of many other solos) is that it’s almost impossible to tell who will actually be able to provide you with paying work down the road (and I personally know someone who “helped out” a “friend” for literally years, while he dangled that carrot in front of her). Suggesting the possibility of future work opportunities is the oldest trick in the book, and even when the person isn’t purposely misleading you, it’s never a safe bet.

Of course, you do not have to generously provide anyone any advice gratis, but if you do, please consider some of the issues raised here and limit your kindness to a short period of time. It’s important to your business to have some boundaries.

What do you think? Do you have any factors that guide your decisions? How much time do you devote to the typical “brain picker?”

Written By Kellye Crane
Kellye Crane is the founder of Solo PR Pro, which provides the tools, education, advocacy and community resources needed for indies to succeed and grow. She's a veteran and award-winning communicator with more than 20 years of experience - 19 of them solo.


  1. When someone wants to pick my brain, I have a simple rule – a consultation is $500.  And if they want to “just have lunch…” I tell them, the fee is $1,000 and lunch is on me.  

    Amazing how this really cuts back on the number of people who want to pick my brain – unless they pay for it.

  2.  I discovered so many interesting stuff in your blog particularly it’s discussion. From the tons of comments on your posts, I suppose I am not the only one having all of the enjoyment here! keep up the great work.

  3. I think a lot of folks have trouble knowing where to draw the line with colleagues, which is where the “formula” comes in. Your approach, however, sounds very effective!

  4. Kellye – this is a fantastic blog – and it really hits home. I’ve been in PR since ’72 and I’ve been solo since ’85, and I have been brain-picked I don’t know how many times.

    I know I bring this on myself, in part. I have “the soul of an educator” – I’ve been an adjuct PR prof at two universities – and I’ve written ten published books on PR (I made money on all of them, but not enough to offset the effort … they were labors of love). And as a result, I’m fertile ground for brain-pickers to plow.

    Even in pitching, part of this I bring on myself, as I’ve always felt that (in the proposal stage), overwhelming a prospect with great ideas that they like but have no hope of doing on their own is a good strategy. But I’m increasingly questioning that strategy.

    I did draw the line on book authors (the biggest leeches I know). I tell them up-front if they’re not ready to commit at least $2,500/month for six months then they’re not serious – and if they won’t pursue their dream, why should I? Need to do more of that with other prospects.

    You’re dead on about those who promise future business. But you perhaps overlooked one group – or more likely, this is a group for another parallel blog. That’s those who want you to work on the come, taking a percentage of the gross (or net) once success arrives. If I had a nickle for every one of those offers I’ve had since 1985, I could buy a new car. I have learned to tell them, as I do authors, that this is their dream, not mine, and if I want to invest my time in a risk-venture, I’ll work on my novel.

    I will take a share of equity as a bonus for performance, but not in lieu of cash.

    One final note, also related. I have learned to get paid up front, rather than write off losses or chase deadbeats after the fact. As with those who offer a percentage, those who want to pay after the work is done are legion, and too many of them are rip-off artists … from the smallest start-up to the world’s largest hospital company, I’ve been ripped off by them all. But no more!

    Thanks again for a great, inspiring blog.