The voice on the other end of the phone line stunned me into silence.
At the same time, it also revealed to me a timeless business lesson, one that has proven critical to staying focused and growing my business in today's nonstop, hyper-notification marketplace.
The Phone Call That Changed it All
It was 2002, and I was a young, inexperienced 27-year-old entrepreneur with dreams of landing a book deal.
I'd paid $35 to attend a community education class taught by a local literary agent on how to get your book published. As the class was ending, I was bold enough to walk up and ask the agent for his office number - which he gave me.
A few days after the class, I called the agent on the phone. To my surprise, he picked up.
I proceed to "pick his brain" for free tips and advice, diving deeper into topics from the class and telling him my own story, etc.
As the minutes rolled by, I could sense something shifting in our exchange.
"John, I'm really glad you enjoyed the class, and so glad you called to ask additional questions," the literary agent told me. "But now we're veering into paid consulting territory. At this point, if you want to continue the conversation, I'd be happy to, but I have to put up my meter and start charging you my hourly rate for 1-on-1 consulting calls."
Time is Money
It was the first time I realized that people don't have to give away their hard-won expertise and knowledge for free just because you asked them to.
Podcast Trainer and Online Business Owner Cliff Ravenscraft has a great video about how to price your time and knowledge when someone asks you to "pick your brain" or wants to hire you for 1-on-1 coaching or consulting.
One of his key points is that when someone asks to buy an hour of your time, they're not just paying for 60 minutes on the phone or Skype with you.
They're also paying to access all of the accumulated experience, wisdom and insight that you've accrued over all the years you've been doing what you do.
Hours vs. Experience
As an example from my own story, some people will ask what I'd charge to personally optimize and rewrite their LinkedIn profile, then balk when I tell them my fee.
"How many hours does it really take you?" they will ask. "That price just seems high given how many hours it likely takes you to do this."
My response is simple. If you want to tap into my personal, 1-on-1 expertise with how to generate leads using LinkedIn, which spans six years and includes writing a bestselling book along with personally rewriting LinkedIn profiles for A-List entrepreneurs and business leaders including Chris Brogan, John Lee Dumas, Bob Burg, Mari Smith, Jairek Robbins, Tom Ziglar (son of Zig Ziglar) and many others, then my rate is what it is.
In addition, I've also got a proven track record of getting my online course students incredible and measurable financial results with my LinkedIn trainings.
Now, I'm not sharing that to brag or act like a egomaniac, but rather to illustrate an important point: Your accumulated knowledge and experience is worth money!
Would You Ever Do This?
Too often I have people approach me and say, "Well, I tell you what, give me free access to your training, or, write my profile for free, and if your tips work, then I'll pay you based on how well things work out. We can do an incentive plan!"
I always want to respond like this: Can you walk into an Apple Store, tell the clerk you want a new iPad, and say, "Look, I'm going to use this iPad for my business, and if it works as good as you say it does, then I'll be happy to pay you based on the success I have. That way, Apple, you have some skin in the game too."
Of course you can't!
Now, we don't do this with physical products like an iPad or iPhone, so why do people think it's okay to do it with "products" or services like your personal knowledge and expertise?
The Solution is Simple
Before you finish this post by thinking I'm some standoffish, full-of-himself jerk who won't speak to you unless you give me money, I've found a great solution to anyone wanting free advice or the ability to "pick my brain" about LinkedIn or other elements of online marketing and lead generation.
It's called content, and you can create it once, then share it over and over again to serve audiences no matter what their budget might be.
For instance, when someone wants free advice on how to improve his or her own LinkedIn profile, I happily offer up a free, copy-and-paste, fill-in-the-blank LinkedIn profile template as a PDF download from my website.
Not only does that PDF actually help someone get a quick win by improving his or her profile with some of my best tips and strategies, but it also adds them to my email list.
Now, I can offer more free content and "brain picking" sessions via training videos, automated webinars and more that I send out automatically via my email list.
Then, as someone consumes more of my free content, he or she becomes more convinced of the value I can deliver in a more personal, 1-on-1 coaching session or inside my full online (paid) course.
People pre-qualify themselves, and I don't have to spend time convincing someone my rates or program costs are worth it as a result.
Save Time + Make People Happy
Keep this in mind the next time someone asks you to coffee or lunch to "pick your brain," or sends a note requesting "a quick call to discuss mutually beneficial synergies between our businesses."
Instead of just dismissing or ignoring them, have something of value to give them (i.e., content) that you've already created and that serves as a virtual FAQ to the service or product you offer.
Here's why this matters: You simply cannot be effective and do your best work if you're constantly talking 1-on-1 to people all day who may or may not ever pay you for your wisdom and insights.
Not only is it draining and distracting, but giving away your time to strangers for free doesn't pay the mortgage or feed your kids.
It's an important lesson I learned all the way back in 2002, and it's proven true in my own experience to be an invaluable way to grow my business today.