Let’s talk for a second about creative entrepreneur business learning etiquette. There are not enough people talking about this, and in the age of the internet and social media when our mentors and the people we look up to are SO easily accessible, the line of learning and asking for information from other people can get SUPER blurry. Please take everything I’m about to say in this blog post in the sweetest way possible. I’m NOT calling out anyone specifically; these are just overall thoughts from years of encountering this over and over again.
When I started my business, never did I DM or message someone farther along in the industry than me asking them a bunch of questions expecting them to give me their hard earned knowledge for free. I never asked someone out to coffee to “pick their brain.” Not once. If I didn’t know something, I Googled it. I took the initiative to figure it out myself. I hustled. If that didn’t work, I attended workshops or purchased online courses that would help me learn that info. If I invested money into someone, THEN I felt comfortable asking them more specific questions that weren’t covered in the teaching.
I get messages, emails, and DM’s DAILY from people asking me if they can take me out for coffee or hop on a quick phone call to “pick my brain.” They phrase it in a super flattering way that shows their adoration for me and my business. They graciously want to treat me to a coffee or lunch while asking how I accomplished what I have in my business and for advice on their own business. Now I truly believe every one of these messages comes from a sweet place with good intentions, and that they truly don’t understand what a message like that feels like from the other perspective. Hence this blog post to help bridge that gap.
Here is what a “pick your brain” message is REALLY asking, whether the person asking understands the implications or not:
“Hi! I love your work and your business. I’ve admired and followed you for a long time, and even though I’m sure you’ve spent years of training, sleepless nights hard at work, lots of trial and error, failing and trying again, thousands of dollars on education, training, retreats, workshops, and equipment to get to where you are, I would LOVE to grab a cup of coffee with you in exchange to learn how you did all of it. My treat!”
Ouch, right?! Those OBVIOUSLY aren’t the words the person uses, but it’s exactly what they mean without understanding exactly what they’re asking.
Listen, I get it. Starting and growing a business is hard freaking work. There are COUNTLESS nights of frustration, questions, dead ends, and failures. I’ve been there. I still am there. No one escapes failure or frustration no matter how successful they get. When you’re first starting out and you see others that are 5 steps ahead of you, you naturally wonder, “How did THEY do it?” And in our age of the internet when we can go to Google and get an answer more or less for free in 0.5 seconds, we think we can do that with anyone. See someone crushing it at their career? A simple question won’t hurt, right? They surely have 2 minutes to answer a quick DM. I think because info these days is so easily accessible on the Internet & we have easy access to people via social media it seems harmless to shoot someone a quick DM asking them a ton of questions on how they do this or accomplished (fill in the blank). The problem comes when someone asks a question, or 5 questions, thinking that the answer is a super simple 1-2 sentence response, when in reality the answer is actually years and years of training and hard money spent learning that exact thing. We want answers instantaneously, and I hate to break it to ya, but the journey of entrepreneurship ain’t quick or easy. It’s long hard work. It’s complicated. It can’t be solved in a quick one sentence answer.
Now that I’m at the place in my business where people look up to me for advice and tips, I absolutely try and answer all questions I’m asked in some way or another. I also constantly provide FREE education via social media posts, blog posts, and Instagram live, because I DO believe in building others up and helping people succeed at their dreams. I don’t have to answer every question I get, but I have a heart to help people grow their dreams into careers. This gets tricky when people take advantage of your willingness to provide free content, & expect you to provide everything you’ve PAID money to learn & tell it to them for free. From an influencer or educator’s perspective, when we already provide a TON of free content for free, yet still get so many messages a day asking to meet up for coffee to “pick our brains” expecting to receive our knowledge for free, it’s SO discouraging.
Last time I talked about this topic on social media I got a bunch of comments in return that said, “But what about community over competition!? What about being kind and generous? What about sharing your knowledge to help better the industry? This stingy mindset is SO rude.”
Let me address something real quick: Community over competition does not mean you have to give away everything you’ve spent your hard earned money and time learning for free just because someone asked you to. Community over competition does not mean you have to say yes to every single coffee date you get asked on by a stranger when you don’t even have time to grab coffee with your own husband. Community over competition does not mean you can’t have solid boundaries in place for your business and for your sanity. You know how I live out the philosophy of community over competition? I create FREE resources for my audience. I show up and give away FREE advice and tips for creative entrepreneurs and photographers. I show up and try and answer nearly every question I’m asked. To me… that’s 10000% community over competition. Because it IS my goal to help other entrepreneurs succeed and KILL it in their business. My heart LIVES for that. But let’s be clear: I don’t have to set myself on fire to light someone else’s lamp. I don’t have to pour absolutely EVERYTHING I have out for free just because someone asks me to. If someone wants more info on how I grew my business? They can purchase one of my mentor sessions. They can join my online course. They can attend one of my in person workshops. They can pay for hard earned knowledge- just like I did. If that’s rude… call me rude. ;)
While I KNOW the “pick your brain” request isn’t meant to be rude, I wanted to share this uncomfortable topic because I don’t think it’s talked about enough. There is a way to respect people’s time & work. Use their free content provided, and if you want more in depth education and resources, then pay for it.
Now I’d LOVE to hear your guys’ thoughts! What are your opinions on this issue from a learning perspective or an educator’s perspective? Anyone feel the same struggle as me?
Lindsey Roman is an adventurous destination wedding and intimate elopement photographer based out of Oahu, Hawaii, but she travels worldwide. She lives for outdoor adventures, intimate moments, and candid images. Her style is raw, passionate, and authentic. She believes in chasing sunsets, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.