Stop Letting People Pick Your Brain! How to Put Boundaries Around Your Knowledge


The words “Pick your brain” roughly translated into entrepreneur means “Please tell me what you’ve invested time and energy (and most often money) in learning for free”.

Not only that, but the main culprits for brain-picking tend to be the people who never (EVER) invest any of their own time or money in acquiring that knowledge.

The end result is you end up sharing what other people pay you for with someone who doesn’t even appreciate it and will never become a future paying client. So you are down two points: one for not getting paid and another for having your valuable time wasted.

The solution? Put a clear sales barrier around your time and knowledge.

How to Put a Sales Barrier Around Your Time and Knowledge

#1: Clearly Define the Boundaries – Know exactly WHAT you charge for and what you give away to demonstrate your knowledge. For example, a typical consultant will charge for a one-on-one consultation, but give away general how-to tips via a blog.

That means no one-on-one time without a client relationship! Direct the brain-pickers to the resources section of your web site or an audio recording so they still benefit from a little help from you without it turning into a free session.

#2: Know Your Value – Get clear in your own mind exactly how you benefit your clients. Do you help them avoid costly mistakes? Do you give them a jump-start on their project? Do you shorten the learning curve to success?

Knowing your value helps you be firm with enforcing your boundaries. Asking a potential client to pay you a consulting fee when you will end up saving them thousands of dollars on the wrong direction is a more than fair exchange.

#3: Communicate the Boundaries – Don’t hesitate to communicate what you charge for upfront. Often boundaries get unknowingly pushed when the pusher doesn’t know the rules.

The simplest way to do that is answer brain-picking types of questions with an offer of an introductory consultation or coaching session. It’s up to you if you want to offer that for free or a special rate, but the point is to clearly communicate when people are stepping into paying territory.

#4: Avoid the Sneak Attacks – Beware of the brain-picking sneak attacks. The seemingly innocent questions that turn into a full-on interrogation. Again, chances are the brain-picker has unknowingly crossed the line. Often the sneak attacks start is with a simple request for an opinion or an answer to a “quick” question.

Typically the sneak attacker will ask to set up a call or a coffee via social media or email. Respond to quick questions with quick answers, but stay in the medium. How sneak attackers work is they start with something small, but in reality it turns into something a lot bigger.

#5: Be Firm and Fair – Remember the golden rule: be firm with them and fair with yourself. If you ask yourself if you feel cheated or used by responding to a request for your time and knowledge, be firm with your boundaries.

Instead of wasting your time with people who will never value what time or knowledge, focus on over-delivering to those who do: your paying clients!


About Author

Carla Young, Publisher If there’s living proof that women can have it all – and then some – it’s Carla Young. Building her multiple businesses on a virtual work-at-home model, Carla is an inspiration to other mothers who want to start a lifestyle business. During her early days as a mom entrepreneur, Carla made every single mistake in the book (and a few new ones for good measure). Realizing that “doing it all” was unhealthy and unsustainable, Carla started by getting organized to the extreme, developing support systems for both her work and family. After other mothers started asking how they too could enjoy her lifestyle, Carla launched to support moms at work, at home and at play (because every mommy deserves a little me-time)!


  1. I like this post. while I understand some of the concerns below, I still think there are some valuable lessons there, especially about communication and knowing your value. This is good. kx

  2. Sometimes listening to the other person and brainstorming is valuable.  When it’s not a two way street don’t reveal anything too significant.  Create a quick excuse to make an exit.

  3. I think it depends on what you do as a professional. If you area  consultant, then yes – having your brain picked for free is a somewhat slippery slope. However, I believe in business karma. Being generous with my time and advice has built my network and come back to me in spades. It is one of my top pieces of advice: talk to everyone, take invitations and be generous.  It has served me well, but again – I am not a consultant. Entrepreneurs have a lot to learn from each other.

  4. Tricia, I too believe in business karma, but as an entrepreneur who has sat on both sides of the fence, consultant and entrepreneur, it can be a very slippery slope. I choose to share my time and resources via the magazine and social media and draw the line at one-on-one sessions (especially since lots out there still like to pick my consultant brain). 

  5.  Absolutely! I love doing reciprocal brainstorming sessions, but the key is establishing the boundaries up front and knowing that both parties are agreeing to trade advice and consulting.

  6. Thanks for weighing in Kiki!

    Clear communication is key! As long as you establish where you draw the line, whether it’s at one-on-one sessions or after an initial free consultation, you will protect your value!

  7. Nothing wrong with sharing information, but it is still important to know where you draw the line. How much time and energy are you going to dedicate to sharing and what do you need to get out of it in the end? Does it have to be reciprocal?

  8. Better do your homework, Dan. I’m not American.

    I would love to hear your reasons why you think it’s a terrible lesson since so often women are overly generous with their time and energy to a fault.

    How much time and expertise do you give away? If so, I’d like to book my free sessions.

  9. just came across this when wondering how to deal with a client that will offer little upside… they pick my brain all the time… thank you for putting this out there…
    stay adventurous, Craig

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post! HIts home — I’ve lived through this numerous times. It was one of the key reasons I started my BtoB Marketing Blog. Now I can say to folks, “You know, this blog post addresses that very topic – take a look at this post and then let’s talk about a project proposal.”

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