When you're an expert in any field, people may regularly ask to "pick your brain," buy you lunch or some other form of asking for advice. For free, of course.

It's obviously impractical to agree to every request that comes you're way, so why do we feel so guilty saying no? More importantly, how do your decline coffee dates and requests for free advice without coming across like a jerk?

Believe it or not, saying no gracefully. Sometimes, it's necessary, despite the fear that comes along with it. If you say "yes" all the time, you may be sacrificing your own priorities. You lose the time and energy for the things that matter most to you.

Even when you feel confident with the concept of saying no, honest, assertive communication is a skill that takes practice. In the moment you may be at a loss for words, agonizing over the right thing to say to put up a supportive-yet-firm boundary that doesn't burn any bridges.

The next time someone asks to "pick your brain", try these techniques:

1. Redirect them to another resource

When someone reaches out, ask questions first to get a sense of what they're looking for and whether a meeting is even necessary. Often times you can be helpful by simply pointing the person to a valuable, pre-existing resource like a book, community, or blog post you've written: 

"Great question! Here's a [book/podcast/networking group] that addresses [particular topic]. Check it out--I think you'll find it helpful!"

2. Offer an alternative

If you can't do lunch or a coffee date now, you can offer to meet up in the future. If you're too busy to meet in person, ask the person to said over their top three questions via email or pose the option of having a quick 20 minute call. 

3. Index your advice

As an expert in your field, you probably find that people ask you the same types of questions over and over again. For example, "how did you get started on this career path?" or "how did you build up your client base?"

Make your advice scalable by creating a Frequently Asked Questions page. Writer Kris Gage has an excellent example of this on her website where she answers top questions about her writing process. You could also consider bundling up your advice and turning it into a paid course. 

4. Invite them to hire you

You deserve to be compensation for your knowledge and expertise. If people want to pick your brain about something you get paid for doing, it's perfectly fair and reasonable to explain how they can hire you. For instance:

"Thanks for reaching out! I'd love to work together and help you solve this problem. The best next step is to fill out this form so we can set up a call and discuss a package that makes sense."

With practice, you'll learn to create boundaries, honor your time, communicate diplomatically.  

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