We all get them: the dreaded, “Can I pick your brain?” requests. No matter how long you’ve been in business, seems like someone is always willing to ask you to give away your skills for free. Every business person has to learn how to handle these requests gracefully and in a way that generates more paying customers.

1. Create paid products.
Seems pretty obvious, but surprisingly, many online freelancers have no structured products or packages. Besides knowing your hourly rate, create packages of your most-requested services.

2. Consider the relationship. Of course you’ll give your best friend more than someone who calls you after you just met. Be prepared for that.

3. Offer some free resources the right way. Offer your paid products first, then offer a free alternative second. That could be a blog post of resources or a paper handout with some tips on doing it yourself.

4. Set limits on your free help. Many people use 15 minutes of your time, or will answer two questions before drawing the line.

5. Give away the “what” and charge for the “how.” For example, you can tell people all about why Facebook is a great platform for business. But when it comes to how to apply that in their business, it’s time to turn on the meter.

6. Get comfortable with the right words. Phrases like “time to turn on the meter” can help you convert free requests into paying clients. If you haven’t built in the other five steps, though, it won’t stick.

Work through all six steps, and the next time someone asks, “Can I pick your brain?” you can answer with a smile, and maybe even a new client.

If you’d like more instruction on how to draw the line between free and paid, I’ve developed a toolkit with more on the six steps, worksheets to complete and a short audio demonstration.

Image credit: Spiders