If you are a consultant, a coach, an advisor, or a known authority in a specific field, then you likely field this question with great regularity. To the person posing it, the trade-off seems fair: in exchange for your highly specialized knowledge, which has taken you years and countless hours to accrue, you will be treated to a meal. You on the receiving end can only sport the characteristic grimace of someone who has just had their platform stripped of its value.
When I am asked to lunch for the express purpose of having my brain picked on LinkedIn strategy, as is often the case, I am conflicted. I love to help; really, I do. I am a natural mentor who enjoys creating the Aha moment for my friends, clients, colleagues, and audiences. And I understand the value of developing trusted professional relationships. But, like any consultant, I need to let folks know the point at which the free lunch ends and the meter starts running.
Early on, I did not delineate. Against my better judgment, I let people take advantage of me, feeling that I needed to give more of myself in order to get. All I got was a mint and a toothpick. Eventually, I realized that even the tastiest, most expensive lunch would shortchange me, and that access to my cortex must come at a price. So I raised my self-belief (and my fees) accordingly and learned how to better market my consulting practice.
In the Digital Era, there is no shortage of resources geared toward helping those who feel undervalued, under-appreciated, and underpaid to step up and find their greatness. So I read books, watched videos, and listened to speakers. First, I had to determine what my time was worth. From there, I could establish guidelines in sharing my ideas. And when the questions delved too deep, I would have the right verbiage at the ready to neutralize any would-be brain pickers.
Granted, there are instances when free consulting is de rigueur. I do a great deal of public speaking. Before or after my talks, I am fair game. If you see me stuffing my face at a conference or networking event, feel free to coral me with your fingers in a pinch formation. I will tilt my cranium toward you and you can have at it. I will gently let you know if you pick too deep, and when it might be wise to address your concerns in a more formal setting.
When the Free Lunch Feels Like a Billable Hour
The business lunch is a courtship ritual of commerce and a tax-deductible expense. From Monday to Friday, in cities all over the world, busy professionals calendar lunches with each other for the purpose of getting acquainted, catching up, comparing notes, or seeding a sale. Make no mistake, the meal becomes the backdrop for business and requests for advice will be made.
At the table, there ought to be an equitable exchange, one that intends to create mutually beneficial outcomes. Should the lunch become a predominantly unilateral affair, in which one party is clearly there for the express purpose of mining proprietary information from the other, it is only natural for the person whose brain is being picked to take exception or feel slighted. Competitive advantage has its price.
Still, there are those who would test the limits of my generosity by just dangling lunch—or better yet, a mere cup of coffee—as consideration.
What prompts this?
1). They Do Not Realize that My Intellectual Property Has Value
Nowadays, there is a surplus of boilerplate content available on LinkedIn best practices. Google any phrase relating to any strategy or issue in using the site, and you will get an answer or find a fix. The lion’s share of this information is sketchy, derivative, and devoid of insight. The availability of what I call “quality” LinkedIn information—that, when applied, moves people to a place of proficiency, efficiency, and revenue generation—is scarce. That is what makes it valuable.
As a full-immersion LinkedIn consultant who has spent considerable time in the foxhole, I have innovated around the basic concepts of LinkedIn. My practice is more than just teaching people a thing or two about how to navigate a website. My clients and students receive the benefit of my unique thinking and years of experience, which catalyzes action and improves their performance on the site. Simply put, my ideas help them win business. Now, what is that worth? A little more than a blackened salmon salad and an iced tea, I think.
2). They Feel a Sense of Entitlement to My Advice
Ever since the first transaction, human beings have tried to acquire goods and services at a discount. Some look at it as a chance to test their ability to influence. Others will try to take whatever they can get in a harsh economy. Then there are those who throw caution to the wind, figuring—what the heck—if they do not ask, then they will not receive. Everything is negotiable or, at the very least, on sale. Over time, through this type of deal making, some people will assert a false supremacy over their transactions. They believe that they are immune to not paying the going rate. And if you can get something for close to nothing, well, that is quite a victory.
LinkedIn success is owed to no one. There are no shortcuts, magic bullets, or CliffsNotes when it comes to achieving on the site. It requires an investment—of time, effort, and, yes, money. I sense that many paid subscribers to LinkedIn reconcile that expense as more than enough for their social networking privileges. They look at what I can provide as the gravy. I am just their sounding board, someone who can answer their LinkedIn questions while dragging a fork through a mound of dressed greens.
3). They Do Not Respect My Time
Every consultant, coach, or advisor has undoubtedly heard the cringeworthy phrase, “I respect your time.” Is this a statement that needs to be qualified? Many consultants I know would tell you that those who purport to respect their time are the ones who most flagrantly abuse it. Time is our most precious commodity. We all have schedules to manage and agendas to run. For an owner, a 90-minute boost of insider knowledge and direct guidance from me as to how LinkedIn can help grow a business would surely come in handy.
Nowhere is the disregard for my time more blatant than in the dozen or so requests I receive per month from LinkedIn users all over the world to evaluate their LinkedIn profiles and make suggestions for improvement. Nowhere in this message is the word “please” or the phrase “when you get a chance” visible. Imagine emailing an estate planning attorney, attaching a digital copy of your Last Will and Testament, and insisting on a comprehensive review of the document with recommendations for its updating. At least, to sweeten the deal, throw in lunch.
A Parting Thought
Whereas this post may qualify as a rant, please realize that I am not referring to the legions of conscientious professionals who recognize the value that an excellent, seasoned consultant can provide. Nor do I infer that casual conversation over lunch with me rules out any discussion whatsoever on LinkedIn strategy. I am a giver to the nth degree. And I do offer a free initial consultation. But extraordinary thinking that will help you crack the LinkedIn code and generate new streams of revenue is worth more than $25 plus tip.
Impetus for this post comes from Kevin Dugan in his Strategic Public Relations blog, dated February 26, 2010.
Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His ability to spark others to action has earned him the moniker of “The LinkedIn Catalyst.” JD is considered one of the world’s top thought leaders on LinkedIn, and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn education. He is also a globally acclaimed social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and frequent broadcast media expert on LinkedIn for business. Additionally, JD is adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an academic discipline. In addition to his blog, The Wisdom Zone, JD is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Forbes.
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