“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.