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Here Come the Zombies

This came up recently on Facebook, posted by a networking & marketing guru that I’m
connected with. When she posted this, it reminded me of so many colleagues that complain
about clients (or other travel agents even) that repeatedly “pick their brains,” take up a
considerable amount of time & expertise, all without any compensation. And then naturally,
I thought of brain-sucking-zombies. 😉 Here is what was posted on Facebook (reposted here
with her express permission to share):

To my business friends, especially those of you who consider themselves experts in their fields. I would like to share something with you….

How often do people say to you? …….”I want to pick your brain”…which to me translates to”I like what you’re doing and I want to do something similar and I want you to teach me howto do what you do for free.” I’ve heard this so much over the last 24 years that I decided to track the number of times I am asked this in one year. So far we are 135 days into 2013 and I have been asked 27 times to have my brain picked, 11 of whom were from total strangers. Now, on one hand it’s flattering to think that people respect my work enough to want my opinions. That makes me feel great but I’m not in business to feel good. I enjoy helping people so I never mind sharing a tip or a few words of encouragement, but I do mind people expecting me to teach them my profession when I have put 24 years of blood, sweat and tears into learning. I am an expert at what I do. I am a professional and I am most happy to share my knowledge but only at a price, so I have learned to politely say “No, you may not pick my brain but I”m happy to talk to you about hiring me”……Does this happen to you in your profession and how do you handle this? Do you freely allow people to ‘pick your brain’?

In my humble opinion, I would never ask my chiropractor, my dentist, my lawyer, my hairdresser or my mechanic to work for free or to share their expertise with me. We may all be indifferent professions but we all only have 24 hours in a day and our time is the one resource that cannot be replaced, so please do not ask people to work for free! Even baby sitters expect to be paid for their time, so please think about this the next time you want to pick someone’s brain, for free!

Does this resonate with anyone else? Do you see yourself in this scenario – either with a
client, another travel agent, or someone wanting into the business? How much is too much?
When should you consider charging for your time, knowledge, and exertise? I loved her last
line, “even babysitters expect to be paid for their time…” This obviously is not an issue
exclusive to the travel industry. From reading responses to her post, it affects web designers,
photographers, marketers, social media experts, graphic designers, insurance agents, etc. Oh,
and the insurance agent specifically complained about new clients asking a lot of questions
and then taking the info to buy insurance via the internet. Sound familiar?

The overwhelming response was to discourage “brain picking” and to charge a consultation
fee. And as we know in the travel business, there are different models out there, and each
business owner / individual travel professional needs to seriously assess their VALUE. How
long have you been in the travel industry? What knowledge or expertise to you offer to
clients? Do you specialize in a niche (either a destination or a type of travel)? What kind of
mentoring can you provide newbies coming into the industry? What is your time worth to
you? If you don’t think consultation fees will fly with your client base (assuming you’re not
willing to change your client focus), how about plan-to-go fees? If a newbie wants to “pick
your brain” about becoming a travel professional, what will you give them “for free,” and are
you willing to charge a mentoring / consultation for anything beyond that?

At the end of the day, we’re not unique and not in this alone. Other industries are facing
similar issues with people expecting them to train them or give away hard-earned-expertise
for free. If you want to learn more yourself, we have plenty of industry gurus (Mike, Sophia,
Nolan, Cory, etc.) who freely share their expertise (sometimes for free, sometimes for a
modest fee). Be sure to check them out. In the meantime, how do you deal with the “can I
pick your brain” zombies out there?

  9 thoughts on “Here Come the Zombies

  1. Mark Newsome says:

    Susan – as a CPA and part owner of a small travel agency, I get frequent requests both for free tax and free travel advice! I made the decision to offer as much advice for free as I possibly can. Most of the time that decision pays off (sometimes it doesn’t) with goodwill, referrals, and future business. Give away as much advice as you can, but become an expert on the art of deciding when to charge (and it is indeed an art and not a science)!

  2. Mike, it is definitely a delicate balancing act. 😉 And I’m sure every TA will come to a different decision as to when to charge (not to mention how much). If the advice is not time-consuming, that’s one thing. What is harder is when a lot of your time is taken up, without any compensation, more than once (by other TAs, by clients, by newbies wanting to break into the biz).

  3. I/we used to give away valuable advice for many years (35+) but now we are getting better at using the freebie-radar. Future business and goodwill is not nearly as often as it used to be so rein in quickly. Yes, it is a balancing act but the intelligent shopper will recognize a professional. It’s the so-called travel writers who ask consumers to get all the information from TA’s and then to bookit themselves. Why? It is almost never any less. The knowledge wehave cannot be obtained from the internet.

  4. Susan, for almost 40 years if a client of our utilized our Recuitment Services we would provide them with our Consulting Services expertise for FREE. We felt it was one more benefit to utilizing our great and unique services. In 2013, we turned a new leaf, we do not have the time to provide FREE Services. We do always and will continue to offer a Free Consultation (maximum 1 Hour) then a client must choose what they need us for and pay us for our time. It is the only fair way of doing things. Very recently I had to tell a good client “NO”, and explain our new decision, he of course accepted our new business mode but did not like it very much. He now said “He will find other sources” we know he will not, not with our expertise. It is difficult, but it took us 40 years to put our foot down. Others need to re-thing their free-bees as well.

  5. This article is absolutely “spot on” — and represents the paradigm shift that must take place if we are to survive as a profession — not a hobby. True travel professionals have a tremendous amount to add to the travel equation and further, through the local justice system, are placed in position to be responsible for world events — many of which are outside our control. We clearly must value our expertise and our time and insist we be adequately compensated for both.

  6. john schmitt says:

    I think this happens to all professionals. The risk on a plan-to-go is the prospect is not given an opportunity to ‘test the waters’ of your service. It is important that true professionals limit the ‘free’ information which may compel prospects to want your service more. If the brain-picking is out of the office one easy way to find out how serious the prospect is would be to ask that they schedule a phone appointment later or in the office. Lastly, ask the hard question: Are you wishing to plan your trip today?

  7. Marylou Foley, CTC says:

    I/we agree – now make a fine line decision as to how much free information/ advice to give. After all, we have worked 35+ years to learn/gather this information and build connections, so it should not be passed on lightly. Be especially careful when you suspect that person is only asking so they can go to the internet and try to find it for less! Helping a new TA is another issue – if the training info will also help your business/ destination, then go for it.

  8. As a small hotel owner, I can see where you really have to draw a line somewhere;
    I had people calling me with questions about my property and in a matter of no time they want to know everything about every business in town, and… after all they didn’t book a room with me!!!!
    I have to prioritize and know where to dedicate my time and what or who benefits my sharing information.
    AAA agents might be able to do that.

    It’s understandable that you will give some free advise yet, there are many circumstances to consider.

  9. Madeline says:

    if somebody wants to pick my brain over dinner, that is fine with me. I do charge consulting fees for my time, so I’ll listen to their question and if I can’t answer it in one sentence I’ll ask whether I should put together a proposal for consulting services.

    The most amusing ones are people who ask “what are the best things to do in X city” – my only answer to that question is more questions, even after they have paid me 🙂

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