No, you can’t pick my brain.

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A lawyer met a man at a party, and asked him what he did.

“I don’t like to tell people. You see, I’m a doctor.”

The lawyer said: “nothing to be ashamed of.”

“No”, replied the doctor. “But you see, if I tell them my profession, they ask for free advice.”

The lawyer said: “I understand. I’m a lawyer. I give them the advice anyway, but then I give them an invoice.”

The doctor said: “that’s brilliant! I’m going to use that!”

The lawyer then handed the doctor a napkin: “Professional advice: $750.”


How to handle requests for free, high-value advice

When you get to a certain stage in your business career, everyone wants to pick your brain. They want to take you out for coffee or call you up.

Now, maybe it’s not everyone, but it can be enough for you to wish you had some sort of…arrangement…in place. Call it a retainer.

The retainer is a financial arrangement, ideally with a business for whom the advice is of high value. Although this retainer arrangement may be with a business, chances are you are going to make it with someone specific in the business. Probably someone in a managerial role, and who wants to be able to make faster decisions, based on the ability to have a hotline to an industry expert.

How do you set it up?

Identify who would need your help. This is not any arrangement where you get paid for the hours you work. Rather, it’s access to your expertise and advice. This would be suitable for businesses that either can’t afford to take you on for a long engagement, or for whom the benefit of having you available far outweighs the risk of not having you.

Work out what you can offer. This is may be nothing more than direct access to you. However, if you consider the sort of things people ask you about when they want to pick your brain, you could suggest a raft of reasons they could call you, without you ever having to do any hands-on work.

For example:

  • Write a white paper
  • Assist with job interviews
  • Be a silent auditor in their training program
  • Review articles for their social media
  • Sales conversations role plays
  • Create webinars or other content

The aim here is to help them be able to remove some expensive roadblock they’re facing, or to reduce their risk in some obvious way.

There is so much to be gained from a retainer arrangement that it is usually a no-brainer of an investment for a few thousand dollars a month.

No time sheets, no prepaid hours. Despite the name “retainer” which is used in the legal industry to have a lawyer on tap in 6-minute increments, this is a month-by-month arrangement.

They pay each month in advance, and the retainer arrangement begins when the first payment arrives. This arrangement ideally goes for three months, as that is enough time for you to have an impact, without you being seen as part of the furniture. That would be the total opposite of the value you can bring as an independent consultant.

Paid monthly (in advance). This is the big one. This gives you predictability of income and it gives your client … what?

  • Peace of mind
  • faster decisions
  • reduced risk to their business (and their reputation)
  • a safety net
  • insurance
  • an independent opinion about vendors (someone who has no skin in the game)
  • increased revenue

But why would they pay l’il ol’ me?

The same reason they pay anyone: because the value you bring is worth more to them than the money they pay you.

You can craft this retainer by answering these questions for yourself:

  • What’s the expensive problem you’re solving?
  • Why do they care?
  • What else are they using at the moment, or thinking of using, to solve this problem?
  • What are the big issues here?
  • What’s the trigger to bring this to their attention?
  • Once you have answers to these questions, they can be the topic of conversations.

When to propose a retainer

When you meet someone who may be a possible beneficiary of your retainer arrangement, you can suggest this approach, rather than a time-for-money arrangement.

And if you price it right, the end client may not miss the money at all, because of the value you’re able to bring.

It’s certainly better than giving away high-value business advice for free, and it beats writing an invoice on a napkin.