No, You Can’t Pick My Brain Reminds Entrepreneurs of Their Value

No You Can't Pick My Brain“If you’re good at something, never do it for free” – The Joker, as played by Heath Ledger

In the movie The Dark Knight, The Joker bargains with the Gotham mob dealers for half of their holdings if he kills Batman.  He replies with the above quote when a Gotham mob boss asked if killing Batman was simple, as the Joker had implied, why hadn’t the Joker done so.  Even in a fictional council of criminals, there’s an code that implies worthwhile endeavors, especially strategic ones, are seldom free.

In the more honorable and less sociopathic world of small business, the need to gain value is certainly a cornerstone of commerce.  But a great blogpost shook the small business community to its core about establishing value.  That post is now a book, No, You Can’t Pick My Brain, It Costs Too Much by Adrienne Graham (@talentdiva), Founder of Empower Me!, a media publishing company that supports entrepreneurs. A certified recruitment trainer, she is also a 19 year diversity and executive recruitment veteran and has been featured in numerous media like MSNBC and Black Enterprise.  I bought the book, currently only in Kindle format, and was impressed by Graham’s determination to set straight a networking trend in which providing information can make or break a profitable transaction.

Graham wrote Too Much  after numerous posts and retweets to her Forbes blog post on providing free advice.  What is the new line in providing a useful tip versus abusing a favor that should be paid for? The question of free has been debated before – see Anita Campbell’s review of Chris Anderson’s Free for another perspective on value.  Graham’s choice offers nuance to the debate, given the increasing number of services offered.  While being open to provide help has rightful value, Graham reminds the reader that:

“There are no amount of pleasantries, well meaning deeds, gestures or sandwiches that will pay your bills.”

The book expands the free question with no jargon, infused with sprinkles of Graham’s past lessons and, wisely, up-to-date awareness of the internet’s influence on the value of information. I say wisely because the core challenge facing professionals in the real world is the impression that freely available information means the labor to understand that information should also be free.  Relying on her media experience, Graham outlines the arguments against that thought and how it leads to brain-picking activity.

“The fact that social media has made it easier for the shy or introverted to break into networking, it has also produced a bunch of ill informed, selfish people who don’t know how to do it the right way….Networking of any type takes interaction on and offline to build a trusting relationship.  Social networking has made the inhibited uninhibited, and the greedy greedier. And it’s made people entitled because they “know” you.”

Graham’s well-reasoned advice showcases world-class solutions to murky encounters.  For example, Graham explains how to organize information online for mutual advantage for you and potential clients.

“Make it easy for people to learn about you by ensuring there is an easy trail to follow. Make sure everything links back to your own site. This includes social media profiles, interviews, write ups, your own writing, etc….”

Graham includes a few scenarios, with insights on the personas that distinguish time wasters, tire kickers, and genuine inquiries.  All are suggestions designed to build valuable client relationships over specific details, such as how setting a fee schedule links to a conversation qualifying a new customer.  Throughout there are reminders to manage the failures that will come along the way.

“Once again if you run into a determined brain picker, none of this will matter. It’s not for you to get frustrated or offended by it because, remember, some people are out to get what they can.”

I really liked how Graham’s suggestions raises key questions that need to be asked during networking.  Take the idea of vetting contacts. Not every exposure is great exposure:

“For now you should be vetting people before saying yes to meeting them. Be warned, not all meetings will be fruitful….If you’re the type of person who prefers to keep it professional, decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business.”

Graham is direct, yet honest sharing of miscues with friendships or misunderstandings keeps a sympathetic tome with the reader.

“It does not matter if you have two years or twenty. You are worthy and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or try to capitalize on your insecurity or relatively new experience.”

Who will benefit from this book?

  • Entrepreneurs who are providing services, since service value diminishes with delays.
  • Beginning (and even established) business owners who need a psychological boost to address pricing and deciding how to deal with clients.

There are some aspects that could expand the topic even further – situations regarding working within a team for the first time would have been great additional material, given social media’s propensity to connect people quickly and the increasing remote nature of people and businesses.  Other books like Service Innovation can provide specific detail for refining service delivery.

Graham’s leadership in writing No, You Can’t Pick My Brain, It Costs Too Much elevates the starting point for developing service business models.  The book is an excellent match to a popular savvy blog post – business owners-turned-authors can really learn from this example. It takes an every-businessperson’s-experience into a unique, resourceful guide without overselling a point. Most importantly, Graham has succeeded in helping new entrepreneurs find their value and voice in business.


Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

5 Reactions
  1. Hi Pierre,

    I had the pleasure just a week ago to be on a panel discussion that Adrienne moderated, in the SocialBizAtlanta event. What a wonderful coincidence to see this book come up for review so quickly after that!

    I want to add that this book looks like it would be a perfect mental shot in the arm for owners of small businesses like mine that are in the publishing business. We are in the business of providing information to serve a small business audience. Our revenue model involves sponsors and advertisers paying to reach the audience that we’ve worked almost a decade to build. Our methods and knowledge are extremely valuable.

    Yet multiple times a week we will get contacted by representatives of companies (sometimes of very large brands) that seem to think we (or I personally) will be thrilled to spend hours actively promoting their latest viral whatever with no compensation, or educating 3 or 4 people from their company who want to jump on a conference call to “pick my brain” about the small business market but not to worry because it will “only take an hour,” or go through a long demo and conference calls to give them feedback about their new product they are developing, or that we will help promote their latest whitepaper that they spent $25K getting written but somehow believe we should be thrilled to market for free.

    I am not talking about simply sending us a news tip or release (we consider that part of our news function).

    No, I am talking about expecting us to essentially participate actively and devote time and expertise to whatever they are doing.

    And by the way, I am not talking about entrepreneurs — we do a LOT of favors for entrepreneurs who are friends and we’re happy to do them, time permitting.

    No, I am talking about established companies that are big enough to afford to pay. The next time someone who works for a company that is big enough to afford to pay us asks us to do extensive work for nothing or devalues access to our audience, I will remember Adrienne’s advice. And I am going to buy this book!

    [Vent finished – LOL] 😀

    – Anita

    • Pierre, thank you for such a wonderful and thorough review. You certainly have me thinking about a sequel to answer the questions about the areas I missed. The intra-team dynamic is a great topic and one I will be mulling over for a follow up. When I wrote the book, I was focused on the small business owner, consultant and job seeker. Thanks for opening my eyes to take this even deeper to help more people.

      Anita!! Had a blast last week. And you and I are right –><– on this! Trust me, I know what you go through because I get it too. On the media/publishing side it exists for me, but it is more prevalent on the recruiting side. I get approached by Fortune 100 companies who clearly have the budget to pick my brain and help them come up with solutions to why their recruitment is lagging. But I'm often expected to do this for free because after all, I already give out tips on Twitter, G+ and my radio show. I do TweetMeTuesday to give them a chance to have their jobs reshared with my network and beyond. So it stands to reason that I want to advise them for free too.

      I think people forget this, our knowledge and skills, is our livelihood. It's how we live and pay the bills. As I said in the book, and have shouted from the rooftops, service denotes free to some people because they can't physically put their hands on it. But we, the pickees, have to own our role in conditioning people to believe this.

      I hope everyone finds value and courage in this book.

      Thanks again for the support and the write up!


  2. Pierre,

    Great post-review. Thanks!

    As you know, “Free” is a huge part of some of our business models. it seems like it can’t be avoided.

    I receive around 20-40 PR pitches every week, via email. Some are even addressed to me. (My name is actually used at the beginning.) The way I’ve chosen to handle them this year… actually, since the middle of last year, is way different than I used to handle them.

    I read two sentences of their pitches, and then delete them.

    Why would I want to spend an hour or two helping PR professionals, (you know-the ones that already got paid for their work) spread their clients message around for free?

    I don’t understand the logic here, and I have tons of friends in PR–good friends. They even agree with me.

    The really good PR people make their pitches very personal, and always include an offer to help me with whatever I am trying to do.

    I’ve done tons of stuff for free, and continue to do so. It’s part of doing business theses days.

    But, I AM doing less of it this year. And, it’s freeing me up to do other things…the types of things that will help me pay for college which is coming up in a couple of years.

    And it isn’t free, by the way.

    The Franchise King®

  3. Pierre: Thanks for writing this review! I have to get this book at once!

    Anita: It is a like a boost of fresh air, reading your “vent(ilation)” comment!

    I will show this post for Ulla-Lisa Thordén, author of “How To Sell Yourself and Make Them Pay”.