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Just say “yes” to “pick your brain” meeting requests

Updated December 10, 2021

Full disclosure: few things get me as worked up as the debate over whether to say “no” to people who ask for a call or coffee to pick your brain. This is a favorite topic for many who argue that “my time is valuable and you should have to pay for it” or “it’s time I lose from doing something else more valuable.”

A discussion recently came up in the Spin Sucks Community, with different agency leaders chiming in with with their own views.

Let me start by saying that your time is valuable and you should figure out how to maximize the benefit of all your work time.

But if you are not getting a positive ROI on Pick Your Brain (“PYB”) meetings then you are doing them wrong.

More likely, you just haven’t considered all the benefits and run the numbers properly.

Unless you are a former President of the United States, a major Hollywood celebrity, or a true titan of business, you probably aren’t actually inundated with PYB meeting requests — though it may feel like it at times.

How to Calculate PYB Meeting Value

Like most budgeting exercises, you should start by figuring out how much PYB meetings are costing you.

The two most popular types of PYB meetings are calls and coffees, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

The trick is to contain the amount of time you spend on any individual interaction. I’ll talk more about how to do that later in this article.

But for now, let’s assume that PYB calls are 30 minutes and PYB coffees are 60 minutes (because you schedule them close to your home or office to minimize travel time).

Next you need to know the value of your time. For simplicity, we’ll assume you have an hourly rate of $250.

This means that a PYB call “costs” you $125 and a PYB coffee rings in at $250 (assuming you don’t pay for your own coffee).

Now how many PYB calls and coffees do you do in a month? Perhaps a couple each week or an average of 10 total per month?

Let’s say that breaks down as 6 calls and 4 coffees.

6 calls @ $125 each = $750
4 coffees @ $250 each = $1000

Your total monthly PYB expense “budget” would be $1,750.

Multiply that by 12 and you have an annual PYB “cost” of $21,000.

That sounds like a lot, right? So I guess you should be saying “no” a lot more.

But wait. What’s the value of those meetings?

Let’s look at the value you can get from your PYB meetings as the “YB” part of the equation.

  • Business Opportunities. People ask to pick your brain because they have questions. They’re looking for solutions. If they’re asking you about them, then you must have relevant expertise. I see that as market research because I learn what problems need to be solved.
  • Networking. How hard do you work to set up meetings with potential clients (and people who can connect you to prospects)? If you’re like most agency leaders, probably pretty hard. If you’re putting someone solely in the PYB bucket, then you have written them off as a potential client (which often can be a mistake) but don’t write them off as someone who can refer business.
  • Market Research. A good PYB conversation includes the requestor sharing information about their own business. That means you develop more information about revenue streams, business size, profit margins, and more. That’s all useful information to have.
  • Brainstorming. If you’re like me, PYB conversations get my creative juices flowing. While the conversation may be focused on an individual’s particular challenges, it often helps my mind take a fresh look at other issues and come up with ideas that I might be able to implement for other clients, new lines of business, or for business development.
  • Serendipity. With all the tools we have to funnel just the right information to us, we tend to get less exposure to new and unique products, services, ideas, and opinions. That makes expanding our horizons even more valuable — and important. You might be introduced to a new restaurant, book, movie, business, industry, or something else that enriches your life.

Surely there are other values from PYB meetings, but you get the idea.

So how do you put a dollar value on the above? Obviously, some of them are challenging to assign a purely monetary value. So you need to be open to the idea of value in excess of the bank account.

But if you do PYB meetings well, then you probably at least recoup the cost in actual dollar terms as an agency leader.

If we go back to the earlier numbers and assume 10 meetings a month that means you will be meeting with 120 people every year. Out of those, do you think you can find a single $2,500 per month retainer (either directly or via referral)? If so, you have probably covered your costs (depending on Customer Lifetime Value and profit margins).

Let’s assume that 1% of your meetings result in new business. And the average Lifetime Value of a client for your agency is $50,000 (or that $2,500 retainer lasting for 20 months).

1% of 120 = 1.2 new clients
1.2 clients @ $50,000 LTV each = $60,000

Your total PYB meeting “revenue” would be $60,000 — or almost triple your “cost.”

Chances are you are going to generate even more money than that out of 120 meetings.

And if you have less meetings, the bar for profitability is even lower.

But you still haven’t even considered the value of the market research and other business opportunities that develop.

Of course, you need to adjust all of these numbers to reflect the actual number of meetings you take, the mix between calls and coffees, your own hourly rate, and the estimated value you receive.

How to Make PYB Meetings Work for You

The best way to get value from your PYB calls and coffees is to view them as opportunities not time sinks.

If you think you will get no value out of a meeting, then you probably won’t. Or at least you will get far less than you could.

Instead of seeing PYB meetings as a one-way street where you are doing all the giving, flip the script and look at them as a chance to extract the value outlined earlier in this article.

How do you do that?

  • Ask questions. Don’t just sit back and be interrogated. Turn the tables at the appropriate time and ask the requestor about things that you want to know.
  • Actively listen. And I don’t mean to yourself. If you’re mostly interested in hearing the sound of your own voice espousing brilliant advice, you have sabotaged the PYB meeting — both for yourself and the requestor. Instead, be sure to pick up on all of the data points, concerns, and opportunities being shared.
  • Open up. Be candid and share. Many people who request PYB meetings are in vulnerable places — seeking a career change, building a business, following a dream — and it gives you a chance to share your own worries and failures. You’d be surprised at how much that can help.
  • Seek new connections. Often, someone who asks for a PYB session is looking for referrals to prospective employers or clients. Be sure to make useful introductions when appropriate, but don’t be afraid to ask for some yourself.
  • Prep for the meeting. Don’t go in blind. Don’t assume you are the big kahuna in the meeting and that all of the work is on the shoulders of the requestor. If you don’t know the individual well already, hit up their LinkedIn page and do a Google search on them. Five minutes of prep time will really amplify the value you can get.
  • Contain the time commitment. Steer most meetings to calls instead of coffees (and save lunches, drinks, and dinners for the highest value opportunities). And stick to the time on your calendar — unless you have realized that the tables have really turned and that you are the one getting the lion’s share of the value in that session. Then grab as much benefit as you can!
  • Spread your PYB meetings out. You don’t need to take 10 meetings in a week. Don’t be shy about pushing a request out a couple of weeks for when it works best with your calendar.

Make “YES” Your Default Answer to PYB Meeting Requests

If this article hasn’t convinced you to say “yes” to most (or at least more) requests to “pick your brain,” then probably nothing will do the trick.

But if you start going in to PYB meeting requests with the assumption that you will agree to talk, I’m confident you will be increasing your value.

And as hokey as it sounds, “paying it forward” does have benefits and can create some good karma for you along the way.

So go ahead. Pick my brain.

Chip Griffin

Chip Griffin

Chip is the Founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance and a longtime agency leader and entrepreneur. He helps PR and marketing agency owners build businesses they want to own.

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