It started off slowly, just a couple of requests a month, and in the beginning of my career I would always say “yes.” I went to coffee with strangers and answered questions. I took hours out of my day, because I truly wanted to help people. But as the requests started pilling up and my time became more unavailable, I simply could not continue to run around town meeting up with people.
I also found myself wasting a lot of my time meeting up with someone who didn’t really know what they wanted to ask me. Now that I am more hip to the phrase “can I take you to coffee and pick your brain,” I have to say “no.”
When you ask someone if you can “pick their brain”, it sounds like you want them to do all the work, and you just sit back and take in all of the knowledge they have spent years working really hard to accumulate.
If you admire someone’s work and/or career, a better way to approach this is to email them and ask them: “Can I ask you a question or two?” and then proceed in that email to ask them your question.
I was recently invited to coffee by someone who wanted to “pick my brain” about my career, I responded with, “I’m sorry I don’t have time to meet up with you for coffee, but you can email me a question and if I can, I will answer it”. Well guess what? This person NEVER wrote me back with a question.
One of my passions in life is to help others succeed. So, I decided to publish a book, Create your own Career in Hollywood. The book is a way to give back but also save myself time. “Sorry, I can’t go to coffee with you, but you can buy my book, it’s only a few more dollars than a cup of coffee and probably the gas money you would have spent to drive to the coffee shop.” You won’t believe how many people don’t buy my book after asking to pick my brain. This boggles my mind, because it gives ALL of the information on how I started my career and how I have gotten to where I am today.
I even started teaching a class on Distribution, because I was getting daily emails from people asking to take me to coffee and pick my brain about how I got my indie films distributed through major companies. AND again, you wouldn’t believe how many people who ask me to coffee, don’t take my class. In fact, one person emailed me and said “I really want to take your class but I’m just really strapped for money and can’t afford it, can I come for free?” And my response was “I’m sorry, I don’t have any free time.”
Then I started offering private sessions for a small fee, and again most people don’t sign up. Which frustrates me to no end, it feels like people think my time isn’t valuable. Guess what? It is. It has taken me twenty years to acquire all of my knowledge and it’s worth more than a cup of coffee.
Respect people’s time. I highly recommend offering to pay people for their time, especially if you want to meet up with them in person. If someone doesn’t know you, there is a good chance they don’t want to meet up with a stranger. I am so thankful to have been interviewed by some high profile publications, but now I get a lot of random emails. I’m sorry, but truth is I don’t feel comfortable meeting up with strangers. Assume the person you’re trying to meet up with, who doesn’t know you, is protecting themselves from being put in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Try to get a referral from a friend who can vouch for you before reaching out.
The other option is to offer a trade with someone for their time. Be sure that your trade is equal to what you are asking of them. I was contacted by someone who heard an interview I did and reached out. We started emailing and soon found out we both had information we needed from each other. He had self distributed a movie, which I wanted to learn about, and I had sold films to major distribution companies, and he wanted to learn about that. So we did a fair trade swapping information. I taught him my distribution class and in return he spent two hours going over everything he learned from self distributing his own film. We became friends and he even cut the trailer for our film “At Your Own Risk.” Reaching out can create valuable relationships when it is done in a respectful way.
To sum this all up:
- Be willing to pay for information.
- Don’t ask to pick someone’s brain.
- Be deliberate with a question that can be answered in an email.
- Offer an equal trade for information.
- Be respectful and value people’s time, you only get one chance to make a first impression.