I read the blog post No. You Can’t Pick My Brain. yesterday on the blog Kick the Sand by writer Nicole Jordan and I felt like standing up, shouting “Amen” and doing a happy dance in my seat. See, this blog post articulated to perfection the plight of the “popcorn” creative– the creative that can pop out idea after idea without effort and their woes when confronted by those with “Pick Your Brain” syndrome. What’s PYB Syndrome, you ask? Well, it is the situation where someone simply asks you for suggestions, ideas and general counsel about their professional business or career with the expectation that it is available without cost or exchange of services.
Let’s be clear. It feels great when someone asks for your opinion about something. To be considered a valuable resource is not only one of the biggest ego-massages, but also a winning illustration of how your hard work has built your reputation. But, as Nicole Jordan writes, “Strategic and creative counsel is one of the most under-monetized aspects …would you ask a lawyer to coffee to “pick his brain?” And, plain and simply, “NO”. You wouldn’t.
I talked about this before in my post “Defining Your Value”. Those of us who are writers, teachers, social media mavens, performers or visual artists with gifts in new technology or entertainment are often asked for advice or services over seemingly innocent scenarios– whether its lunch or a tweet chat– and it’s up to us to make sure that it’s clear that a consultation can happen only if its agreed that it’s a boundary involved (ie. no more than referring them to another resource) or cost involved.
The great ironic twist is that I had a situation happen this past weekend at the Spring preview for my play “Running: AMOK” where someone with PYB Syndrome approached me, in the midst of my communing with guests at the preview, and asked me to help him use Twitter so he could participate in Oprah’s live tweet she was having the next day, this past Sunday. While I told him I would have to talk to him later about that, I didn’t give it much thought later, as I was preoccupied with the preview show and the day’s events at hand. Plus, I was used to people randomly asking me questions and following up by email if it was a business contract they wanted to arrange with me. What I can be faulted for, though, is that, if I’m not really busy, I do tend to give folks a lot of “help” (READ: free consultation), for, it’s in my nature to teach and give advice. This man, who had participated in my writing workshop earlier this month, had picked up on that and had jumped on it– already calling me at least twice since my March 15 workshop for (unpaid) help about a project he’s working on.
What I didn’t expect was that this man grew angry when I didn’t return his call and help him tweet the next day, feeling empowered to leave a nasty voice mail on my business phone letting me know that he didn’t appreciate that I didn’t help him and conveying that it is my responsibility to help people whenever they express a need to be helped.
This sentiment alone is what encouraged me to write this blog post, for you, for me and for anyone else who is a creative who monetizes their skills. In short, WE DON’T OWE ANYONE ANYTHING. Aside from our ancestors, the next generation, possibly our parents and the bill collectors at our door, we are not in debt to anyone in this present life or responsible to give counsel to another adult at no charge.
Nicole Jordan concurs, saying, “So this is what I started doing, especially for people that I do not know well: I tell them I am happy to meet, I am flattered they asked and that because my time is valuable I don’t do these PYB sessions for free. Most the time I’ve said this, they’ve understood and honored it. The ones that got a little ruffled, are the ones who will suck you dry and likely leave you paying for your own coffee. And theirs.”
And, in that situation, like she writes in her post, my advice is the same–> make sure you get the heck away from them. As FAST as you can.
If you don’t run, though, and think that having a plan is in order, here are my three tips to responding to PYB Syndrome:
(1) Direct to Website- Carry cards and hand one to a new associate who says they want to “talk” to you about some things regarding a new venture. When handing it to them, say “That’s my cell number and website with my prices. So, when you call me, you can have a good idea about what service I may be able to provide to help you out.” If I had followed this rule at the beginning of my career, I would have been able to avoid the dozens of “coffee meetings” with corporate heads and other individuals eager to have me blog for free, provide free content or hand over my media contact list.
(2) “Meet” Over the Phone— Some people are a bit shy about setting boundaries in person then they are over phone. If this rings true for you, then you shouldn’t plan to meet anyone in person unless you are clear about what their interest in meeting is. Popcorn creatives give away ideas with such ease that you may have given ten dozen free ideas away before your main entree arrived. Stick to the phone and see what they want and explain what you will need in order to provide that service.
(3) Nix the Free Consultation–In our field, the free consultation is often what gets us the paid work, but what happens when ideas are shared by you during the consultation? Before every free consultation or presentation given to secure business, have the company or individual sign a waiver indicating that they are not entitled to use any of the ideas presented unless you are contracted for the work you are pitching for. In an industry where the free consultation has always been a given, it is up to us to change the rules this go round.
Do you have any ideas to share on this subject? Would love to hear them. Join the discussion HERE and add your comments.
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