Adrienne Graham of EmpowerME: No, You Can’t Pick My Brain

Ever been invited to lunch, dinner or a cup of coffee by a friend, family member or an associate, only to find that it was an invitation for a free consultation session cloaked as a social engagement? If this has ever happened to you, listen up as Adrienne Graham of EmpowerME joins Brent Leary to give you the strength to say, “No, you can’t pick my brain, it costs too much!”

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Adrienne Graham: CEO and Founder of EmpowerME

Small Business Trends: Can you give us a little bit of information on who Adrienne Graham is?

Adrienne Graham: I’m a former or retired recruiter. I guess you can call it that. Empower Me started out as a network for women of color.  It has morphed over the years into this consultancy to help people grow their businesses and their careers. The final piece of that is my baby that I have developing in the Empower Me Institute, which focuses on entrepreneurial education.

Small Business Trends: You wrote a book called “No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much.” Can you tell us how this came about?

Adrienne Graham: One Saturday morning I woke up and a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that said, “You know, I am tired of people picking my brain and asking me, ‘Oh, can I have a few minutes of your time?  Can you help me with this problem?’ and it turns into this long drawn out consultancy.”

So I said, “You know what I am tired of?  My friends and family – I love you all – but I am tired of you and it just gets to a point where they want you to give your livelihood to them for free.”

Small Business Trends: Draw the line clearly.  How important is that?

Adrienne Graham: That is very important because a lot of people cannot distinguish between a free assessment and a consultation. I tell some of my clients that, just by switching up those two words, instead of using free consult, use assessment.  Because really what it is, it is you gauging what their needs are.  How you guys can work together and if it is a good fit. You’re not there to give them everything.  So you have to learn to drawn that line so that they are not reaching over the boundaries and getting more.  Because if you give them more, they won’t have to pay you for your services.

Small Business Trends: You speak of “socializing is not consulting and vice versa.”  How thin is that line?  How important is it to stay on the right side of those lines?

Adrienne Graham: I have had to learn to distinguish.  If someone calls me and says, “Hey let’s do coffee.  Or, “Let’s do lunch’, that is what we are doing.  We are doing that not to talk about business. If you want to talk about business call my assistant and set up some time or an appointment with me. A lot of people want to be courteous.   I am courteous.  I don’t want anybody to think I am mean.  But it’s just that when you want to sit down socially with me lets do that. I got ambushed by a group of recruiters who had invited me out to trivia night.  As soon as I sat down, they pulled out notebooks.

Small Business Trends: So it was a learning session for them?

Adrienne Graham: Yes, it was an ambush.  It was, “Tell me what you think about diverse recruiting.”  Or, “Where is the best place where I can find…?”  I am sitting there like. . . huh?

Yes, I am trying to be nice at first.  But people do not like to be ambushed. Be very clear.  If you want an information session say, “I want an information session.” On the other side of it, you have to be very clear.  “What do you need from me, because if this is something that we can hash out in five minutes, I don’t need to go out to have coffee with you.”  So you have to be able to learn how to draw the line between socializing and business.

Small Business Trends:  How important is it for people to understand what they are actually worth?  And be able to say, “I am worth it, give it to me?”

Adrienne Graham: That is the biggest thing that I get.  I get that from women and I get if from a lot of minorities.  I get it from them because they feel I am not like the big dogs, I don’t have as much knowledge. Or I have only been in the game for three years.

It doesn’t matter if you have been in the game for three years or 30 years – your knowledge is valuable. A lot of people feel that because the Internet is so readily accessible that people will say, “Oh well, l can get that for free.” Yeah you can.  But execution of that information is not free.  Once you start thinking about it that way, you feel the power shift and you can leverage that.  Because yeah, they may think they may find the technical details, but someone still needs to make it happen.  That’s you.  And you have to place a premium on that.

Small Business Trends: How challenging is it for people to stand their ground?  Because there is a fear factor.  If I do stand my ground they may walk away.  How do we get over that?

Adrienne Graham: Yeah, you get over that by continuing to market yourself to the right people.  Because the right clients will understand that.

It was hard for me because my initial thought was, “I do not want to hurt someone else’s feelings or mess up my chances for repeat business.”  But I had to learn that if they really value me, they would be ok with me speaking the truth.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more and find out more information about the things you are up to on line?

Adrienne Graham: They can go to or follow me at @TalentDiva on Twitter.

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

12 Reactions
  1. Great article! I have never personally experienced being ambushed or invited out with misleading purposes in regards to business. I have many times been invited out with the intentions known. Just yesterday a local woman contacted me and invited me to connect with her over coffee or lunch in the near future who is starting up a legal virtual assistant business and wanted to pick my brain and discuss possibilities of working together in the future. Which is fine by me. She was open about why she wanted to meet, and I honestly don’t have issues with doing this from time to time.

  2. This was a very informative article, thank you!

  3. I like your style, Adrienne!

    Here’s what I’m doing to combat the pick my brain overload that happens when one is visible, like me;

    I am aggressively offering free 10-minute calls. (They usually last a little longer- but not much.)

    It’s a great way for prospective clients to get some free information, and at the same time, they can figure out rather quickly if they like me, and if they feel I can help them.

    Everybody wins, and I’ve been able to pick up some franchise consults because of the way I am now doing things.

    Let’s stuck together on this!

    (And, great interview, Brent)

    The Franchise King®

    • Thanks Joel,

      And when she says NO you can’t pick her brain she means it! I tried to ask her a question after we were done recording the convo and she thew the book at me! Good thing I have great reflexes… 🙂


  4. The anti-Seth Godin? I believe in generosity. If I can help a friend solve their problems it will all come back to me. We live in a world where the winners are connecting and interacting. Yesterday business may have been about building walls, today it is about building bridges.

    • Hi Shannon,

      I agree with you and Joel about the importance of sharing/giving in building business relationships today. And so does Adrienne. Sharing some of your expertise and time are great ways to build relationships today, but as Joel said it does take two. I appreciate when folks give me a couple of minutes of their time to help me out, but if I need more than that, I want to pay them because I know that’s part of how they make their living.

      And if you didn’t have a chance to listen to the conversation, Adrienne actually offers anybody who is interested to download a chapter or two of her book for free. That’s pretty generous of her to do.

      Thanks for your comment, and for checking out the conversation series!

  5. Giving is great. Most of us that are in the small business space give lots of free advice. It’s not optional. But, a bridge can’t be built by one person. The Franchise King

  6. Adrienne Graham

    Thanks for inviting me to chat Brent!

    Some people misunderstand the intention of my book (and article) and assume I’m just a mean, selfish woman who doesn’t want to share or help others. And that’s OK. I urge you to read the article and the book to understand my point.

    Being a small business does not give people the right to expect you to give it all away for free. For most consultants and small business owners, the knowledge they have and the implementation of the knowledge is how they eat. And it’s not fair to expect them to give away that knowledge at the risk of going broke.

    No, You Can’t Pick My Brain is aimed directly at the habitual brain pickers and opportunists who want you to give them a blueprint AND do the work for them without paying you. There’s a big difference between giving well meaning advice and handing you the keys to the kingdom. Hope this clears things up for you Shannon.

    Most people understood the intent, some people didn’t. Either way, that’s fine. To each his or her own.

    Thank you all for the comments and I hope you check out the book! 🙂

    And Joel, I like you style too!