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The True Cost of Brain Picking Sessions with Marc Mawhinney

by | In the Magazine, Marc Mawhinney | 0 comments




There are three words in the English language that, when strung together, can cause irreparable harm to business coaches:


Pick your brain.


At first glance, the phrase looks like a reasonable-enough request:


“Can I pick your brain about something over coffee? My treat!”


But it often plays out like this:


You head over to the coffee shop. You’re excited because this is another connection you’re making – a potential client or referral source for your business. You sit down and exchange pleasantries, and she begins peppering you with questions. The realization sinks in that this person isn’t interested in actually paying you for your valuable expertise, but wants it all for free. You glance at your watch and then the door, wondering how you’ll escape the brain-pickers’ clutches. After the meeting wraps up, you feel resentful and used.


Up until now, too many coaches have been justifying their participation in brain-picking meetings. They tell themselves that it was only an hour of their time, or that they did something good by helping someone, or that the other person could eventually become a client.


An hour of your time couldn’t hurt, right?


Don’t kid yourself: these brain-picking sessions are costly. Your time is your most valuable commodity. That meeting isn’t just the time spent at the coffee shop. After factoring in the time to get ready, drive, find parking, and then sitting down to chat, you could be looking at a two or three hour time investment. If you’re charging your clients a few hundred dollars per hour, that’s an expensive coffee meeting!


Some coaches feel that they’re avoiding this trap by doing virtual coffee chats over Skype or other video conferencing platforms. Although you save some time (and could even do the meeting in your underwear, if your video isn’t turned on!), you could still easily waste hundreds of hours a year on virtual brain picking calls.


I know the costs of brain-picking sessions, because I fell into the trap throughout my first few years in coaching, to the point where I was close to burning out. If anyone would reach out to “pick my brain”, I would eagerly oblige, and hope that this meeting would be different than all of the others. I can’t recall a single instance where one of those calls or meetings turned into a client, and I finally clued in and put a stop on doing them.

Nobody wants to feel rude by turning down someone looking for help, so what’s the best way to do it?


Here are a few options when it comes to fending off brain-pickers:


1)  Ask the person to email you with what’s on their mind. This is a great way to find out their true intentions. If they don’t email you, you know that it wasn’t a serious inquiry. Or the information provided in the email will let you know if a meeting is something that you really want to do or not.


  • Answer with; “I’m sorry but I’m swamped with a project at the moment and I won’t be able to meet”. This may sound short, but there’s no need to get into a long explanation over why you can’t meet. You could also use Marie Forleo’s script, where she tells the person that if she doesn’t have time to see her mother, she doesn’t have time to do coffee meetings … and she hasn’t seen her mother in a long time!


  • Tell him “I’d love to meet. I charge $x per hour, and here’s the link where you can make that payment”. This is a direct method, and you’ll soon discover if the requester is serious about paying for your time or not.


  • Use a service like that you can send people to. With Clarity, a person books a call with you and pays by the minute, so you’re compensated for your time. One of my good friends is a successful coach who constantly has people asking for his advice. Since he’s a busy guy, he sends them to his Clarity link to book a paid call. He knows that the people are serious since they’re paying for the call, and many of them have become clients.


Warning: be prepared for backlash as you take control of your business this way!  Wendy McClelland wrote an article on LinkedIn titled Why I Say NO To Coffee Meetings to give her opinion on this issue. The post went viral – and although a lot of people agreed with her stance, many called her a “taker” and greedy for not willingly giving away her time to everybody who requested it.


You’re in business, and you should be treating your time as a valuable commodity like other professionals do. Would doctors, lawyers or accountants give up their time without being paid? Not likely. And think of the most successful coaches in the world, like Tony Robbins. Would they give away their expertise for free?





It’s not easy to make the mindset shift towards protecting your time. The good news is it gets easier to reject brain-picking requests the more you do. The first few times, it’ll be awkward and you’ll be tempted to give in. But once you see the tremendous amount of time that you free up by operating this way, you’ll never go back.


The next time someone asks to “pick your brain”, stay strong!


Marc Mawhinney



If you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below and we’ll get back to you. If you have a topic you’d like to see in an upcoming issue, or if you’d like to submit an article you can click here.

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 About Marc Mawhinney

Marc helps coaches with his podcast Natural Born Coaches, his FB group The Coaching Jungle, and his exclusive print newsletter – The Secret Coach Club

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