I don’t know what I want. Can I pick your brain?

What is the most common topic of conversation that seems to take place?

I don’t know where to start? I have some idea what I want, but not sure where to begin or how to go about it. Can I pick your brain a little to get started on my own?

This a common question and topic of conversation. It’s also the most complicated and sometimes uncomfortable. Why?

Design takes time and it takes many years to become skilled in this area. There are certain people who might let you pick their brain… for about 5 minutes. But when you think about it: after spending over 20 years (plus college time) to reach the place you’re at, would you give away all your knowledge for free?

A service provider’s only true commodity? Time.

Yep. Time. There’s a limited supply of it and no way to get any of it back. If time is given away, there is no way to restore it. It’s those precious moments that might be taken away from YOUR project, or some other client who has hired a service provider to provide something. The domino effect is staggering.

This example may be viewed one of two ways: completely realistic and true, or a dramatic. But it is in fact truth.

Over the past few years, this “pick your brain” topic has become quiet a hot controversy yet few are able to answer without coming across as rude (despite the ‘not so fair question’) and others don’t stick to their guns and say “time is money”, and fail charge for consultations.

One example might be: Website Audits. In order to diagnose a website issue, it takes time. Often, a lot of time. Several hours poured into digging through a website which was created by someone else, none of which is paid for.

If you think about it, it’s starting to sound like an odd request to “pick your brain” or “can you take a look and see what’s wrong?”, right?

When you go to the doctor to see what’s wrong, you pay. You pay for the visit, the potential tests, and a variety of other things.

No, I am not saying I’m a doctor (although, the dry cleaner ruined mine so I can’t prove it). But I am saying that the core scenario is exactly the same.

A doctor will not spend the time with you, listen, answer questions, give medical advice, and even perform tests for free… all because you are curious what might be causing your overwhelming sense of malaise, right?

Service providers often get the short end of the stick.

Recently I offered a “website audit special” at a discounted rate for a limited time. And during that time, I was still asked (for free) to review sites, if I could find the problem, and fix them. That is why I charge for a website audit, no? The phone and diagnostic time, not to mention the time to fix the potential problem could take over 10 hours. That’s 25% of a work week (conservatively speaking) so would you do all that for free? What happens to the paying clients?

Basically, I would have to work overtime to make up the difference of all that lost time given away for free. That’s time I could be eating, sleeping, relaxing and playing with my dog.

But aren’t consultations always free?

Okay that’s a fair question, but sadly, no. Consultations are not always free. Even if you get lucky with a free consultation, it’s brief. Then, after a certain period of time, you will either need to retain that service provider, or the meeting is over.

There is a difference between “consultations” (which are usually shorter and meant for getting a general sense of what is needed) and a “pick your brain session” which tends to have the agenda involving specific questions with the expectation of receiving specific answers. Those answers are valuable because they represent many years worth of experience and skilled practice.

We aren’t horrible people, we simply value our time.

We always want to go above and beyond for clients and we’ll do everything we can to help and deliver great products. But that does have to come at a price.

With only so many hours in a day to complete work, there has to be a limit to the “pro-bono” or “free work”. Picking of the brain is a really nice way of saying:

I value your experience; I just don’t want to pay (or can’t afford to pay).

If only it were that easy.

What has your experience been?

We’d love to hear from you, regardless of which side you’re on (client or designer). Leave a comment and let us know!

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