No MICHAEL, You Can’t Pick My Brain For Free

I love giving clients advice.

I love coaching.

I love providing value.

I love seeing results .. I loooove results!

I also enjoy helping my non-client audience with guidance and advice on online strategy.

I do it all the time, in fact, I spend over 35 hours a month producing free content for small business owners.

Fact: I couldn’t have chosen this line of work if I didn’t enjoy helping others – this is a core part of the work.

I help small businesses with their online efforts – this can include building a website, launching an ad campaign, planning for growth, producing content, promoting their business .. there are many areas I’ll touch on when helping with “online strategy.”

When not working on a client project, I’m providing added value in the form of advice or guidance to my audience, and this can include clients, but also non-clients.

I write on my blog. I write other articles at Moka Labs and other websites. I post on Facebook, I tweet, I dabble in Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Reddit. Every week I offer free coaching sessions to my clients .. on a daily basis I share bits of wisdom I’ve garnered over the 30+ years of being an Entrepreneur.

“I provide 35+ hours of free advice monthly, and Michael still wants more?”

After all this effort, I still get requests to “pick my brain” without having the courtesy, or respect, to expect to pay for my time.

I love what I do, and the gift I receive in return for all this effort is when I see clients and non-clients benefit from the information I’m providing. On occasion there is a dark side to providing free advice.

“Keith, why are you writing this? This topic seems a little antagonizing.”

Sure, I understand, but it’s relevant to your business – there are good lessons here, stay with me.

If you spend any time with me or my content, you’ll know right away I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy.

Having grown up in a beautiful small-town country setting, I always saw only the very best in people. For the first 17 years of my life, I never owned a key to my house, and I never had to lock my bike.

I refer to my childhood as growing up in Disneyland. I had wonderful parents, great friends, a lake nearby to swim in, ski hills to ski on, and our small town was peaceful, tranquil, and safe.

Today, I still approach new people – in daily life or in work – with the same open smile as I did as a child.

On day one, I trust you. You have my ear, and I’m there for you.

Unfortunately, on occasion, my good nature gets taken advantage of. I’m sure you’ve all experienced this.

Will I ever change – nope! I like my life, and we’re only talking about a few bad apples anyway. I’m perfectly content going about my day trusting in the human spirit.

So why did I write this post? .. are you still with me?

Meet My New Friend MICHAEL

Here’s what happened, and here’s the lesson.

A good friend reached out to me on Facebook and said: “… a person I know, Michael, needs help.”

When a friend refers a friend, I jump into action. They get VIP service (wink).

So, I immediately reached out to Michael, and within a 40-minute phone conversation, I saw he needed help. Also, his business case was a good fit for me, my company, and our skills.

I agreed to a follow-up call, and Michael made it very clear he was interested in working with me.

In good faith, I agreed to do some research before our next call.

Our next call lasted about 2 hours. We discussed much-needed work for him to see the results he was seeking and Michael was eager to move forward. We were in sync, and he was asking all the right questions.

At this point, I had a verbal agreement that he would hire me as a consultant and possibly some re-work on a new website he had just built. He shelled out about $10,000 for a website that not only didn’t look very good (my opinion) but also didn’t perform at all (objective, this was fact). He was getting zero engagement, and zero exposure online – more on this later.

If I had built “that site”, I couldn’t justify charging $1,500 for it. Clearly, he had been ripped off.

“Hey Michael, you use Twitter, and I noticed you don’t have a twitter icon next to your Facebook & LinkedIn icons on the new site.” His current developer emailed him a quote for $275 to add the Twitter icon … literally a few minutes of work. Not only is that price a complete ripoff, but it’s the designer’s job to connect those dots in the first place. Michael had hired an amateur, and paid a premium Agency price … you get my drift? 

In fact, I even offered (in writing) to completely re-do his website for $1k, with a laundry list of items & functionality his new site was lacking. A new website I would normally price at between $3.5k to $5k.

Why did I offer him such a low price?

Because he was being ripped off. I genuinely felt for the guy.

Also, (full disclosure) I was helping a friend’s friend, and when I help a friend’s friend, they send more friends .. so all good on my end.

Michael seemed very excited and eager to begin. He proposed I come to his studio – he’s a photographer – and we set up a time to meet.

Prior to arriving, I did more research – and it was during this period when I emailed Michael to get his current guy to add his Twitter Icon (one of many mini-tweaks). This was something the web-guy should have just added, not sent a quote for. Yeesh, pure amateur-hour.

I met Michael at his studio.

First, we talked about our working relationship, my rates and my proposed way to structure our contract – he was eager to continue – then we talked about his plan, covering these topics:

– online strategy
– what his website was missing
– technical issues with his setup
– his site wasn’t even indexed on Google, and why
– he was getting “zero” engagement, and why
– he had no metadata on his pages, images, or content – zero.

I had two full pages of notes from my earlier research – a comprehensive audit before arriving at his studio.

About 3 hours into the meeting, I re-iterated the necessity with formalizing our working relationship and the commitments from both sides.

Michael was in agreement.

I told him I’d put together a proposal based on our conversations & work to date. We also discussed that today’s meeting should be included in the proposal – ie. I should be compensated for my time – and he agreed.

Within 24 hours, Michael had a detailed proposal in hand with a list of items he could choose to prioritize, according to his availability and budget. I always provide options on what to work on now, with what should go on a wish list.

Options, Options, Options.

For example, if we’re undertaking a $10k project, I’ll break it down into smaller sub-projects. “Let’s begin with Phase 1 and as the project moves forward, we commit to more work and more budget. “

This protects both parties and ensures a good working relationship.

If things go well, we proceed. If we’re not a good fit for each other – we wrap up the current work and shake hands. No harm, no foul.

At this point, Michael kept calling me almost daily with more questions about the plan, his goals, “the work”, etc.

I kept answering his questions – at times, this would lead to a 30-40 minute in-depth explanation of “the task at hand”. All the while I’m thinking he’s using this info to structure how we’ll move forward, and I was tracking my time.

By the 5th call after I sent the proposal – they’re documented – I decided to push Michael into making a commitment, and formalizing our arrangement.

Respectfully, I asked him to hold any further calls until he’s ready to sign the proposal and send a retainer.

My request was justified – until now, I had spent the following time with him:

– Initial call, 40 minutes
– Second call, 2 hours
– Research prior to meeting, 2 hours
– In person meeting, 6 hours including travel time
– Time to prep proposal, 4 hours
– 5 additional calls to pick my brain, about 4 hours

So far, not counting emails, I had invested over 18 hours in his business. Michael was enthusiastic, engaged, rates were discussed, and I was eager to begin.

Michael kept calling for advice.

Hey Keith, Can You Train Me How To Run A Facebook Campaign?

On the sixth call, Michael asked if I could help him launch a Facebook Ad Campaign .. like .. today.

“Keith, Can you train me how to run a Facebook campaign?”

An Ad Campaign – hmm, yes, one item in our plan, but one that requires significant planning and forethought – for someone with experience. To train a complete beginner would take weeks or longer. Plus many components required to run a successful campaign were not in place – he would only be wasting his money.

I mentioned again, respectfully, we will need to formalize our arrangement before we do any more work and this would include these consulting calls.

In my mind – his latest request to train him with Ads further confirmed “were working together”. I was certain he was going to sign the proposal and retain me.

Up until now – I take full responsibility. I enabled this now abusive relationship.

Somehow, I still believed in Michael.

A week went by … no news.

Two weeks, no news.

Then I noticed changes on his website – changes I had proposed.

Now curious, I dug a little deeper – I noticed updates with his metadata in the SERP’s, and other changes on my “fix” list.

Somebody was taking my work and implementing it.

I reached out to Michael via email – no answer. 

After a few unanswered emails, I called Michael.

After an uncomfortable minute or two on the phone, he confessed he decided to stay with his current web-guy. He felt he had come this far with him and thought it best to continue “but thanks for your help.”

Wait .. what?

Now don’t get me wrong – I allowed this to happen, but I will say Michael did lead me on BIG TIME and took advantage of my better nature.

Not cool, Michael!

After my call, still in the no-stress zone – that’s where I roll – I wrote Michael a nice letter wishing him well, I included the list of consulting hours (emails, calls, in-person) and attached a bill for $250 – Canada’s minimum wage of $10/hour.

I never heard from him since.

I Still Want To Know, Can I Pick Your Brain?

Yes, that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to help, I’m available, and I enjoy helping others.

So when you ask me if you can pick my brain, please keep in mind the following;

  •  I already spend a lot of my time devoted to providing “free advice” via my content and training.
  •  Our relationship must be equitable. There needs to be something in it for both of us.

So when you need a little extra personalized coaching, I’m available to you. I’m standing by, ready to rock&roll, and I’m happy to provide it at a fair price.

[update 6 months later]

And to my esteemed local Photographer Michael .. Mahovl.. (cough) .. of Toronto .. Sadly, yes, sadly, your website still sucks. You only took a smidgen of the advice I gave you. Also, I looked at your web traffic, your social signals, citations, your Google rankings ..  and I hear .. *crickets*

I gave you the tools, the plan, and you squandered it. Going forward, hire professionals, and you’ll see results.

You’re a great photographer – love your work – but you didn’t learn from your earlier mistake when “that designer ripped you off”. You didn’t trust your instincts, you opted to stay with the amateur – another abusive relationship.


But .. Thank You Michael!

There is a silver lining here.

I learned from our experience. I owe you a little gratitude as I now have systems in place to prevent this type of abuse happening again.

Unlike you, I did learn from my mistake.

Rather than becoming a jaded curmudgeon in my later years, I’m still Snoopy-Dancing while eagerly helping business owners with challenges and goals. We work with fairness in mind, and in mutually respectful win/win relationships.

So THANK YOU, I mean it! I wish you luck and good fortune in all your future endeavors.


Hey keith, I’m serious! Let’s meet For Lunch and I’ll even Pick Up The Tab.

Ahh the memories of being approached with this most generous offer.

Fair trade right?

My 30+ years of experience, my yearly investment in training and knowledge, and you feel an hour of my time is worth a burger. Did I get that right?

Gosh, thanks.

Ok, If You Insist – but here’s the Deal

If you insist a meal is a fair trade for picking my brain – here’s what I propose:  First, this is on your dime. Second, I choose the restaurant. Third, don’t forget to send an Uber to pick me up.

#DontDrinkAndDrive right?

There are a few great spots I’ve been wanting to check out … Hy’s Steakhouse on Adelaide or Jacob’s on Brant Street that boasts a 70-day dry-aged ribeye that apparently is to die for. Let’s make it Dinner, we’re ordering wine.

Last detail, the “picking my brain” part if fine for an hour, then we change the subject.


Did You Know My Brain Upkeep Costs Money?

 Yes, my knowledge requires hard currency .. constantly!

A good strategy last year may be no longer be relevant today. Better tools & platforms, different rules, etc. The online landscape is evolving rapidly and the pros (

The online landscape is evolving rapidly and the pros (cough cough) must keep pace with it all.

I took a quick look at my numbers, and in 2016 I spent $8080.27 on staying up to date – this includes subscriptions & journals, courses, certifications, tools, etc.

In 2015, I spent $14,563.32 on these items.

This year, to date in 2017, I’ve spent $9,661.29.

So when you ask me a question – it actually costs me money to answer you correctly.

If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say; “I don’t know, let me find out”.

When I’m not sure, I’ll say; “I’m not sure, let me find out”.

When I do know the answer, I am confident in sharing good intel suitable for “today’s landscape” and in the context that is suitable for your situation or environment.


In fact, as part of my new system, I will let you pick my brain for free, for twenty minutes, once.

If you’d like to schedule a call – I do offer a free 20-minute consult – ask me anything – just go to and book a free call at your convenience.

“I’m still ready to invest in you before you invest in me.”

When you do schedule a call, please add as much detail as you can in the form under “purpose of your call”. If needed I will spend time doing a little homework before we chat.

I look forward to hearing from you!

QUESTION – ARE YOU GIVING AWAY TOO MUCH FREE ADVICE? Tell me your story in the comments below.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This