How to Handle Freebie Requests Like a (gracious) Boss

Photo Credit: Sonja Langford unsplash

Photo Credit: Sonja Langford unsplash

Oh the joy of the "quick question" dilemma every busy professional navigates.

As small business owners we have likely been on both sides of the fence; the newbie who is just getting started with very little cash, but a whole lotta' questions, and the expert who is fielding weekly emails, text messages, PMs, and calls from what I call the "brain pickers."

In this blog I will share tips for the brain picker, as well as the expert whose time is precious. Let's start with the expert...


Experts: The Challenge of "Quick" Questions vs. Our Time

If you are on the expert side of the fence, you know the enormous time challenge of the "quick question" email or text message. We all dread those questions because let's face it, they are never quick, and are often followed by more "quick questions."

Business owners and therapists quickly learn that a request to "have coffee and pick your brain", or hop onto to the phone for a "few minutes of your time", usually means a free coaching or consulting session. And time is not on our side as entrepreneurs.

We experts have learned the value of investing in the support of other experts. We apply what we have learned, and, if we are wise, we create income streams from what we learn. Eventually our hard work and investment in our self, our skills, and our business model pays off.

Despite what the world of quick cash funnel schemes, or the latest shiny carrot marketing trick will tell you, most successful people have worked very hard, often for years, are dedicated to continually investing in their business (i.e. working late hours, attending paid courses, investing in coaching, working the weekends refining skills), and over time, due to their hard work, their profits and expertise grow.

As we learn and evolve, we eventually become the experts. As such, we begin to see ourselves in the newbies who now reach out to us. And when this happens, we begin to gain insight into how our earlier questions to experts ("I have a quick question..." or "Can I pick your brain..." or "Can you look this over for free...") did not always respect their time very well.

Let me be clear, this does not mean that you or I should never help a colleague by sharing a tool, tip, or answering questions. I continue to share generously in my blogs for those who cannot afford my coaching support. And I will answer a "quick question" from time-to-time (more on this later).

I also always provide a pro bono spot in all of my Like A Boss On Line Coaching Groups, as well as my webinars, workshops, and retreats. I enjoy helping people who genuinely do not have the budget for a coach, but are doing their best, approach me politely, and express gratitude when I help.

And, I also know as a busy professional how challenging it is to balance the desire to be of support and encouragement to colleagues, vs. holding good boundaries around one's time. No one wants to be perceived as stingy or unkind.

However, there is a gracious sweet spot between giving too much, and not giving at all, which is called boundaries. The art is learning how to state your boundaries, clearly and kindly. I talk more about that below, but for now, let's look at the newbie side of the fence before we go on.

Newbies: We all start somewhere

If you are a newbie (either recently licensed, or new to private practice and business) , please know that you are not alone as I've stood in similar shoes when I was just getting started trying to figure it all out. I have also sent the "brain picker quick question" emails to experts, hoping someone, anyone, would have mercy and throw me a bone (or 10).

However, I also made sure to credit the person who helped me, and I shared their coaching support with others, and I followed up with a public and private thank you. Sadly, it seems that expressing appreciation is becoming a lost art these days in the clinical profession.

When we are newbies and our budget is tight, we learn to be creative in our information gathering. We jump on free Facebook groups, attend free webinars, ask others for free support (aka "quick" questions), knock our head against the wall, attend free workshops, spend hours on you tube watching endless tutorials, we ask for freebies, and day...we begin to realize that the concept of valuing one's worth that we keep hearing about from all of the leaders we respect means that we also must respect the experts time as well.

With this realization we decide that it is time to either outsource to an expert, or actually invest in some paid coaching and consulting services. And when we connect with the right coach, consultant or assistant...magic happens!

And suddenly we begin to understand that all of the months (or with some folks, years) of running around in circles, trying to save a dime while we don't spend a dollar, was exhausting and sometimes, a gigantic time waster. Within a few focused sessions, and a small amount of monetary investment, suddenly we are meeting goals and learning tools with a coach who is partnering with us on our vision.

Over time, with focus, commitment to our business goals, hard work, hours upon hours of dedication...our investment begins to pay off. Eventually, we realize that we are no longer in the newbie shoes, and people are contacting us to support their efforts.

In the beginning when we are starting to grow in to our expert shoes, we will want to give back to other newbies as those experts before us gave back to us. We take our turn and answer "quick questions", and engage in "pick your brain" lunches. Eventually we fully grow in to our expert shoes, and develop good boundaries with those who ask too much, and when the time is right, we begin to charge for our expertise.

Becoming an expert and leader in one's field doesn't happen overnight. Though some experts who want to make a quick buck may tell you differently. Newbie to expert is the circle of business life if you will. And, that is a great segue in discussing my gracious boundaries, with no further adieu, let's jump in.

Brain Pickers, Boundaries and Time Budgeting...Oh My!

Here are my top 3 tips for responding graciously to the brain pickers. This will honor your budget of time, and still offer support to those in need:

1. List the top questions you receive from the brain pickers: As a coach who is an expert in helping other clinicians develop multiple income streams, I receive about 15-20 text messages, PMs, or emails per month from wonderful colleagues who would like to ask me a quick question, pick my brain, meet for a quick lunch, or send me over everything from their e-books, hard book drafts, webinar ideas, requests for website reviews, office interior design questions, practice management questions, "how to" questions - pretty much you name it, I receive it. I have learned to take the questions, add them to a list of "hot topics", and then...

2. Blog your answers: I go into my "hot topic" list of questions, select a topic, and I write a long or short blog that will address the person's question, as well as help others in the field. And best of all, it saves me time.  That way when "Jane or Joe" contacts me with their "quick" favor question, I can simply respond,

"Hi Jane,
Thank you so much for the trust in reaching out. Regarding your question on (xyz), it sounds like you have worked really hard on your (xyz) and, as a busy professional with limited time, I certainly understand the investment of time you have given your (xyz).

While I wish I had more time in my own schedule to meet for lunch so that you can pick my brain (or look over your xyz), unfortunately my current schedule does not allow for this. However, I wrote a blog a few months ago that has been of support to other therapists with similar questions, and should answer some of your questions on this topic as well (blog link).

If after reading through this information you still have further questions, you are welcome to set up a consulting or coaching call if you like. Here is the link with my schedule, please keep in mind I am typically booked about a month in advance.

Thank you again for the trust in reaching out, and I wish you all the very best on your (xyz).


3. Thank you Testimonial: If you do decide to meet "Jane" for lunch, or to look over her project,  and you extend your time to her as a free support, hopefully Jane will respond by thanking you, because, well, do I really need to remind anyone reading this that thanking a person for their time is important?

If you have given quite an investment of information, support and advise to Jane, then you may want to consider asking Jane if you could use her kind words on your testimonial page this way:

"Hi Jane,

What a lovely thank you email. It was a pleasure to meet with you last week, and I was happy to provide that time to answer your questions and be of support. We all start somewhere and none of us can do this work alone.

Given your lovely words of affirmation here, I am wondering if you might be open to me including these on my testimonial coaching page? (then write out the exact words you would like to use). If so, I appreciate that kindness very much. Or if you prefer not to do this, no worries at all.

Either way,  I am glad to know that I could be of support, and I wish you continued success.


I have found most colleagues are very happy to have me share their kind words. In fact, I can only think of one occasion where the person did not respond at all. If an expert went out of their way to support me, I would be thrilled to be return that support in their direction.

Tips on How to Graciously Ask for Free Support

For all of you who have been (or are considering) asking for freebies from coaches, consultants, colleagues and experts, here is my best advise:

1. If you are asking for free support, please be sure that you are actually a newbie or cannot afford their fee. If you are a licensed therapist with a busy private practice, and/or are not financially constrained, please do not ask for freebies if you can afford that expert's time. This is my pet peeve above any of the other brain pickers. No matter how nicely you frame this request, it is still not cool.

2. Along these same lines, if you are a friend of a coach and the coach offers their support or help, wonderful! I do this from time-to-time with my close friends, and it feels good to lend a hand to a friend now and then.

However, if your coach pal has not extended this to you first, please pay for their service. And, best of all, if you have more than a quick question, best to simply book a session, rather than putting them in the position of having to answer this question (every coach, if they were to be candid, secretly dreads this when a friend asks this very awkward question): "If you would like me to pay you for your time, please just let me know!" Nothing, and I mean nothing is more uncomfortable for a coach when we receive these questions from our pals.

If you are asking for your buddie's help, remember that your coach friend is running a small business, and they don't rely on a 9-5 job for a regular check, paid vacations, sick time or health insurance. Your entrepreneurial friend has to pay for all of that out of their own pocket. Just as you would want others honoring your way of making a living, please honor your friends way of making a living as well. Would you ask your hairstylist, dentist, accountant, therapist or attorney for a freebie? Then why would you ask your coach friend?

3. If you are Facebook "friends" with your coach, expert or mentor, do not PM her/him with a "quick question" when you see your coach on line.  Put your question in an email. And if it is not a quick question, or a crisis, then book a session. 

For example, I facilitate a busy coaching group called, "Like A Boss!" on Facebook. My LAB clients are incredibly respectful of my time. Once in a blue moon one of the coaching clients will notice I am on Facebook and may PM me, but it is usually a very unusual circumstance or crisis. And they always publicly thank me (I even had one lovely coaching client that I adore send me a Starbucks card. Though I don't drink coffee, the gesture was noticed and appreciated).

Remember, sometimes your coach just wants to be a regular human being and have fun on social media vs. feeling like they are on tap for your questions.

4. If you ask an expert for their free time and support, and they give this to you, say thank you. You would think this was pretty simple, but surprising how many folks think that they are entitled to an expert's time. And when you send your thank you, let the coach know that they are welcome to share your kind words on their website testimonial page.  Double points!

5. If an expert has consistently been of support, then go the extra mile and share about her/his latest service, event or work on your social media. A simple, "Wow, I spent sometime with (coach) today and am blown away by what I learned. She/he is a great coach, here is her/his website for those looking." Referrals and marketing are the best way to thank a professional, and coaches are no different.

6. Do something kind for that expert who has helped you: Send a card, post a public thank you with their website link, recommend them on a Facebook group, refer a client (who can pay), make a comment on their blog, share their blog on your social media, share about their workshop, webinar, or retreat, and so forth. Just because the expert is busy, just because that coach is booked, doesn't mean that they won't deeply appreciate this gesture of support from you.

7. And finally, when your own star begins to rise, please for the love of all things ethical and abundant, do not try and take a cut from your coach, or make money off of the experts or mentors who have supported you.

I am not sure when this sad marketing strategy started, or who created this, but it really is a turn off for so many: For example, now and then I've been contacted by people (thankfully not often) who I have gone above and beyond for, only to have that person then ask for my support once again with their project (podcast, service, marketing their idea/product/service, etc.). They request my help with their project or idea, then they request that I market their project or idea to my list and on my social media, and then rather than thanking me by offering to share about my service or product, instead they request a 20-50% cut for sharing about my service or event or product.

Some people frame this kind of strategy as affiliate advertising, others call this marketing tactic profit sharing. However, for me and for many, it just feels like scarcity, entitlement and/or lack of experience. It certainly does not align with my sense of abundance in a business model.

Unless the person you are asking for help and requesting a cut from for their help is a large organization, or raking in the big bucks (and even then it leaves a bad taste in my mouth), please don't do this. If you have been told by the latest popular group think that trying to make money off of a person who has helped you in the past is a good practice, I would gently suggest that you reconsider this way of doing business. To each his/her own, but c'mon peeps, does asking a person who has helped you in the past to support another one of your projects, then requesting that they market your project to their clients and list, and then asking for a cut from them if you share about their event or service, really feel like ethical abundance to you? Why not just say thank you and then offer to reciprocate by sharing about what they are doing? Seems pretty simple to me.

8. When you are ready, when people have helped you, and when you have a little more brass in pocket, then that is the time to pay for coaching and support, or attend a function or event that the coach is facilitating, or share their information with others.

So there you have it, tips on how to be a gracious brain picker, and tips on how to manage your time with those who want to pick your brain. Again, we have all been on either side of that fence, so there is no shame in one's game for reaching out for freebies, just as there is no shame in one's game for holding good boundaries around your time.

Lead with graciousness, be authentic, be kind, extend generously, express gratitude, operate ethically, stay away from the too good to be true shiny carrot schemes, and when you do, an abundance of support, connection, opportunities, and financial success will follow.

As I bring this blog to a close, I would like to end by sharing my appreciation to those of you who demonstrate this art of graciousness so well, and to those early experts who patiently answered my "quick questions" (you know who you are, big thank you!).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well below!

Kindly and in support, and always keepin' it real,