How do I answer his question without giving away everything for free?
September 3, 2014 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I have been asked to have my brain picked on for a marketing consulting project, but its my livelihood - I need to get paid to do this! Additional info after the jump -

So a friend is consulting with a firm. This firm wants to take a look at options to expand their product line. I have experience in providing input to what they should expand into and friend asked me if he could pick my brain. How can I set-up a proposal to successfully (in a high level way) answer his question but then they can see the value of bringing me on board for the project (ultimately getting paid for my input) especially that they'll want to get into the details of the high-level ideas. Any examples of proposals that do this?

He mentioned "This may or may not turn into a paid activity."
posted by xicana63 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend couching this as an opportunity to see if you can help them.

"Hey friend, I'd be happy to meet up and go over what you're trying to do, and then give you an honest assessment of whether or not I can really help you out. If not, maybe I can at least give you some things to look for in other consultants. If it turns out to be a great fit, then we can talk about paid work!"

And then do just that. Ask/answer questions that go towards that purpose, instead of addressing the ultimate problem that they're wanting the consultation for. It sounds like this might even be what they're asking for to begin with?
posted by Lafe at 9:21 AM on September 3, 2014 [14 favorites]

Sending you MeMail but basically: productise the brain picking. I offer a Bootcamp specifically to meet this need.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify whether you will have direct contact with the firm itself? Because it sounds like you won't - your friend is a consultant and he wants to pick your brain - they haven't asked to pick your brain.

In which case I would tell friend what Lafe said to tell the firm: that you can help him as a subcontractor and your terms are XYZ.... Set a firm boundary with your friend.
posted by headnsouth at 10:21 AM on September 3, 2014

When someone asks me to do for free the thing that I do for a living, I respond "you know, I get paid to do that."

If it's not for commercial purposes, or the amount of money that would be involved is trivial, or it's just really interesting, then I'll consider doing it for free anyhow.

The fact that you are being asked by a friend can muddy the whole favor/commerce calculus, but only if you let it.
posted by adamrice at 10:35 AM on September 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

In your talks, you might be able to focus on the kinds of great results you've obtained for other clients in the past, as a way of showing your qualifications for this project.

In other words, you might be able to promote yourself without actually solving the problems of this new client.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2014

Decide some amount of time that you're willing to give to your friend for free. Yes, you're really giving it to your friend's employer, and it may not benefit the friendship, but whatever. Half an hour? An hour intense conversation? Phone attendance at 3 hour-long meetings that you may not have to pay full attention to? Pick some block of time you're willing to spend, and offer that, as a free sample of your services, or as an "initial consultation".
posted by aimedwander at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2014

How can I set-up a proposal to successfully (in a high level way) answer his question but then they can see the value of bringing me on board for the project

So, your friend is their consultant, yes? Most likely he doesn't have budget himself for bringing you on. Thus (at least in my market consulting experience), his goal is to reconnect with you and pick your brain for free while still having it be a positive conversation for you, and your goal should be to find out as much as you can about the project and the people he's working for, what they're trying to do, and if you do have highly relevant expertise, time, and interest, how you could fit into their budget. You want to guide things so that the end of your conversation with him to result in a meeting with the folks he's working for, because at the end of the day, unless you have lots of experience working with him, I wouldn't trust your friend to go to bat to you for his client.

That said, if you only have a couple hours you'd ever spend on this activity anyway, I'd just meet for 20-30 minutes of coffee and tell your friend what your consulting rate is so that he can pass it along if he feels like it.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like us meeting with vendors for lunch meetings, or talking with our consultants. Keep everything high level.

Suggest to your friend that he should take you to lunch to discuss things. At least then he's buying you lunch in exchange for your time. Not after-work drinks because you may talk too much if you're tipsy. Get him to talk details, keep asking him probing questions, and try to say very little. Keep your cards close to your chest. If he's throwing out several paths, if one or two seem like bad ideas then it'd be throwing him a bone to say "that may not be a great idea because *slightly vague reason without much detail*. If you can see areas of definite potential, then say so, and let him know you've got a few ideas for that, again as general as possible. If he presses you for more details, say you're sorry but that is what people pay you for, and smile.

You really can't feel bad about drawing the line when sharing your wisdom, that's IP.
posted by lizbunny at 1:42 PM on September 3, 2014

Can you put together some case studies that are related to (but not exactly the same as) their challenges? You're looking to demonstrate your ability to think creatively about their problem and the track record of experience that promises they won't regret hiring you.

By no means give away your work for free; it devalues you.

Talk about the questions and goals you would break their problem down into, and your approach. Don't jump to solving the problem during the course of the conversation.

Leave behind your case studies so your friend can pass them to his client, and your words will get through to them. Your case studies should talk in terms of clients' business challenges and your solutions, and whenever possible quantify your results.

And state a preference that your friend set up a meeting for you and the client, so you can represent your work to them personally.
posted by nadise at 2:55 PM on September 3, 2014

I'd say demonstrate creativity. We can do this or this or this or this. But you don't say which is best. "We have to do research, or work up more detailed proposals, or figure the costs." Work in a sentence like "When I do this, I usually take a month and it costs about $9999 for my time."
posted by SemiSalt at 3:39 PM on September 3, 2014

Let me be more explicit about how I manage this, because I genuinely do not understand why people are suggesting various prevaricating approaches.

When friends or acquaintances email or ring me looking for advice about their website, I email them back and say "Sounds like you're looking for a Bootcamp; if this matches your needs, let me know if you'd like to book." The cost is right there, so that element is upfront, but you absolutely still have the option of offering specific people a friends and family discount.

I also take care to be explicit whenever I suspect a friend or colleague may think I don't intend to charge their special snowflakiness. So when someone comes back to say yes, that is exactly what they want, will I cover X and when can we schedule, I generally ask "Will I be billing you or the client directly? Please provide the invoice details you need me to use."

It is completely and totally OK to charge people to simply pick your brain. They are absolutely availing of your professional expertise; you don't have to substantiate that with a proposal or other tangible work product. Your time has value.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:27 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

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