Can I Pick Your Brain?

What is the most popular question asked in the New Year? As small business owners go into planning mode, it's "Can I pick your brain?"

I love helping people and paying it forward, but this expression really isn't very visually appealing to me.

While we realize that not every business meeting needs to have a form of financial return, there are certain guidelines we need to set in order to effectively give back to the business community, but at the same time accomplish the goals we set for our own companies.

Here are six rules to follow if you want to help. but not lose track of your own work:

1. Begin by asking: "Do you need help as a possible paying customer or just some friendly advice?" This sets expectations on both sides. Determine if this a future prospect or a one time free advice call? Schedule it appropriately.

2. Then ask "How specifically can I help you?". This focuses the call so it does not ramble on for a very long time without you being able to provide the help the person needs.

3. Do it on the phone. Everyone wants to meet for a breakfast or lunch. This takes at least two hours between getting to the appointment and having the meal. We can't afford this type of time commitment (or weight gain) on an ongoing basis.

4. Set a time that is convenient for you. I typically do these calls while I am driving or waiting at the airport. These are times where I am not looking to accomplish heavy work, but can still focus on helping the person.

5. Set a time limit and keep to it. I tell people that I have 15 minutes and announce it at the beginning of the call. If you haven't been able to help the person in 15 minutes, then they need to seek a free resource that is available or pay you.

6. Set a limit on follow up by email. Tell them they can follow up by email, but if more than a few emails come, see advice in #5.

While there may be some people you want to invest in on an ongoing basis as their mentor, these are the rules you need to follow for everyone else. Remember, time truly is money, but you can still help others without sacrificing your goals.

What rules do you have for people "picking your brain?"