Should You Have To Pay To Have Lunch With ME?

This post is going to sound overly arrogant.

Significantly arrogant.

After all, I’m “all about networking,” right?  I talk about “nurturing the relationship,” right?

<start arrogance here>

Recently I got an email from someone saying they knew me through so-and-so and they wanted to have lunch with me.  It was more than a “get to know you chat,” it was a “you’ve done this and that and I want to learn from you.”

I get this type of free lunch invitation regularly.  All the time.

In the past I have taken the opportunity to do it.  I meet with the person, they buy me lunch, I get excited and share all kinds of ideas, and they walk away energized and thankful.

And then I never hear from them again.

For me, a lunch usually means three hours out of the office, IF you meet me at a restaurant close to my office.

After those three hours I don’t hear from you, ever.  Until the next time you want to buy me a free lunch.

When I got one of the last requests I replied that I’d be happy to meet with the person, for $250/hour.

That is my hourly rate.

Why did I do this?  Is it good “networking?”

NOPE. It isn’t good networking.  But I’m running a business, and I have to manage my time.

I could probably swing a free lunch every day for a month. I bet I could.

Let’s say that is 20 days.  I will get about $250 of free lunches.  To get that I’ll spend 20 days * 3 hours = 60 hours, in ONE MONTH, on helping people.

That’s nice … helping people for 60 hours.

But it is not sustainable.  It usually doesn’t help my business.  I miss 60 hours of work.  And my shirt fits tighter around the waist :p

Is it wrong for me to say “give me $250 and I’ll meet with you?”

Maybe it is for a lot of people.  But I have to do it.

Peter Shankman, a guy who has had an amazingly successful career (<– that is an understatement) wrote a similar post last year based on a tweet:

I know this sounds grossly arrogant, but there is a real issue here.  It might be about respect.  It might be about valuing the information.  It might be about supply/demand (my time, your needs).  I’m not sure what the issue is, but there is an issue.

</end arrogance>

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m missing out on a lot of networking opportunities, and the chance to meet a lot of cool people.

I’ll take the loss, because I have a business I’m running.  You wouldn’t give your product, or service, or time, away, all the time, would you?

I can’t either.

47 thoughts on “Should You Have To Pay To Have Lunch With ME?”

  1. Jason – thanks for sharing – yes I know the feeling as I get these kinds of email or in fact emails asking for advice.

    What was telling for me in the person’s email was the comment “you’ve done this and that and I want to learn from you.”

    If they want to learn from you then they should join your mentorship programme if you have one. You have invested thousands of hours to get to this stage in life and your business and there has to be a value placed on that.

    Take a look at what Christopher Penn does on his website if people are looking for advice

    “You can contact me via email by completing this form. If you have something that needs my attention, please choose from these pricing options”.

    There is always a balance about networking and supporting people around you and your community and also being clear about the boundaries you have to create.

    I am not sure there are easy answers – thanks for sharing your approach.

  2. you have to filter your time somehow. as you gain visibility and more people seek your attention you have to develop some filters and rules. It might be hard for a lot of people to justify spending that much for a lunch. On the other hand the folks willing to invest that will probably take a lot more value away from any meeting with cash on the table, just something different about having skin in the game.

  3. Jason, I do not think this is unreasonable at all and certainly not arrogant. Your currency is information and experience so you have to charge for it. I think you will find that alan Weiss is $500 for the hour and 7 days e-mail!

    Just my toonies worth

  4. Here’s why this situation is tough for me: PR pros meet with a prospective client to sell them before charging. My husband who is a financial planner invites people to lunch to get new referrals. It’s a way to get to know people to see if you want to hire them.

    I prefer saying something like, my schedule doesn’t allow for lunch meetings. Is there something I can help you with right now? Then chat, if there’s a fit then there’s a point you give your rates or suggest how you might work together.

    It does seem arrogant to respond to a lunch request with an hourly rate. I believe it makes a bad first impression because it’s a judgment (you’re too cheap to pay, or do you think I work for free??!?).

    I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth when asking questions to find out if I would be a good fit only to be told a consulting rate. It’s not like we can check reviews or there’s a standard way of handling this. I don’t want to hire someone based on reputation alone, I need fit too. As in they have something to offer that I don’t already have.

    I can usually tell when someone is clearly trying to get something for nothing. But I try to avoid making them feel stupid.

    There’s a balance between being sure you’re paid for your expertise and coming off sounding arrogant. I think you could fine tune your approach.

    Blog On,

  5. Totally agree – your words mirror my thoughts, based on experience. Time spent away from the paying biz is money doubly lost, especially in a case like this.

    I love to network and help others too, but when it comes to advising or instructing, the line is drawn. If the request states the inquirer “wants to learn from you,” offering them the best available option to do that is the appropriate action to take.

    The old saying sure rings true in this case: “no such thing as a ‘free’ lunch.” Ouch! Absolutely.

  6. @Janet – I think the difference is that we are in two different industries…. or, the situations you are talking about with your husband and with yourself are situations where you are essentially showing your warez with the idea that a business deal can come out of it.

    If you or your man get a business deal, you’ll be compensated for the time. If you never, ever get a deal, would you or your husband do the lunch?

    I doubt it.

    When people sit down with me they want to know about professional speaking, as it’s a career they want to pursue.

    Or they want to talk about being an author, and getting to from where they are to where they think I am.

    Or they want to talk about career options.

    Or they want to learn about ________.

    I have never had one of those lunches result in a revenue-producing gig because I don’t have something to sell to them.

    I have webinars they could buy for $50, but to be honest with you I don’t think I should have to spend three hours (prep, drive time, recoup from the time out of the office, etc.) just to make a $50 sale.

    I bet you wouldn’t, either.

    Since I have nothing to sell on the backend, and I can’t justify a “free” lunch on the front end, I’m left with one thing that can keep me in business: billable hours.

    Sure, I can go from my one sentence response and make it more flowery, but in either case I get the same response… once they realize it isn’t a free lunch, but an investment, they go find someone else they can get to sit down with for a lunch.

    I’ve had the same situation with “free presentations.” People ask me all the time to do a freebie, even to get on a plane for a freebie (that’s more than 3 hours!).

    You can guess my response to that one…

  7. Some key words here are “I’m running a business and I have to manage my time” and “sustainable.”

    A friend of mine, a fellow entrepreneur, said a similar thing with regard to time and the infamous “pick your brain” request. She said lunch would cost $750, which included her expert advice during the lunch AND travel time. Lunch truly is a minimum of three hours out of the office – and that’s if lunch runs on time and no traffic or parking hassles.

    In your link to Peter Shankman’s post, one responder said, ““Actually, you were asking me to design a logo which would have taken me a few hours and fifteen years experience. For free.” (link:

    And you may recall the Pablo Picasso story. He was sitting in a cafe and was recognized. The woman said, “You’re Pablo Picasso! Would you draw my portrait?”
    “Certainly,” he said. And he drew her portrait in about five minutes.
    “That’s lovely,” the woman said. “I’ll take it.”
    “That will be $5,000,” Picasso said.
    “$5,000?! That took you five minutes and you want $5,000?!” the woman said.
    “Ah, but this took me a lifetime,” Picasso said.

    And isn’t that really what we’re talking about here?

    As another biz owner and coach told me, “All we have is our brain and our time for inventory.”

    With that in mind, it’s important to manage them well to run a sustainable business, as Jason said.

    Perhaps the saying should be “givers gain, with boundaries.” I think that’s in line with Krishna’s statement, “There is always a balance about networking and supporting people around you and your community and also being clear about the boundaries you have to create.”

    Balance is key.

    Thanks all for sharing your thoughts! Good stuff!

  8. A few years ago, I went through a long period of lunches and breakfast meetings that were very time consuming, and produced no real business. Like your situations, it was with people who wanted to get advice – at low or no cost.

    With that experience, I have developed a simple rule: I only go to lunch with people I know and already do business with.

    For anyone else, I suggest we have a short phone call to determine what their goals are and if it makes sense for them to engage my services.

    Yes, I still do pro bono work, but it’s work I choose to do.

    So, no, not arrogant at all!

  9. I think unless you’re at the level of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg, you have no business charging such exorbitant fees for a lunch date. It’s obnoxious on so many levels and essentially you’re preying on ppl who are looking for work and advice.

    If you don’t want to give out free advice, just refer them to your website.

  10. @Ji Hyun Lee, thank you for making erroneous assumptions about my situation and reasoning.

    Are you saying that BG, WB and MZ are three people who are worth it, but no one else is?

    Our time isn’t valuable?

    Let me invite you to get a month of lunch dates and spend 60 hours letting people scrape your brain for ideas, and then disappear to never, ever help you.

    Let me invite you to share, and get excited, about what you’ve developed expertise in, and then get used like a dirty mop.

    I appreciate your free advice (which was, how should I put this, as valuable as what I paid for it), but I don’t have that type of information on my website.

    And, I find most people will just want the time, anyway. I could write blog posts, articles or a book on any of the things I mention in my post, but they would still want to buy me lunch and get my time.

    So, I’ve had to draw the line.


    If you don’t agree with it, that’s fine. I welcome you to spend all the time you want in those meetings.

    I trust you are doing what’s best for you and your business.

    Which is exactly what I’m doing in my business – what’s best for me.

    Finally, you think I’m preying on people? Are you kidding? They are asking for something, I’m naming my price… how is that preying on people? Does WalMart prey on people who need to buy something? Do consultants prey on companies who need their services?

  11. I agree that it is right to manage your time, and it’s cool that you charge, but charging won’t be the answer for most of us.

    Here’s something that works for me – I only lunch with people who I want to benefit from too. Even if they’re my junior, and they’re looking for mentoring, I filter people by who I can learn from.

  12. What a fabulous discussion and how brave of you to bring this up Jason!

    I don’t believe this fits the definition of “networking.” Networking is meeting people to develop a relationship so you can support each other in some way whether that’s in cross referring, hiring, or sharing ideas of value (as in a master mind group).

    Each of us has dealt with this and while I can understand a person wanting to “pick your brain” or “learn from you” then I agree that person is asking to be part of a mentor / coach relationship. I have set fees for that as I’m sure you do (or you will now!).

    I too no longer have lunch meetings with those I don’t work with other than rare exceptions. It’s not only 3 hours out of the office, it’s an hour to get ready and then an hour to get caught up from what’s piled up while you were gone.

    I could share stories that mirror those you’ve heard and I agree that in order to build a viable business there must be boundaries and a limit on noncompensable time. I donate time and money to charities. For people who I’m unable to provide pro bono work there are excellent books they can read whose titles I’m happy to share.

    Robert Cialdini wrote a fascinating book (not Influence….another one) that talks about these sort of situations and how the other party just doesn’t see the value in what you’ve given them. Or if they DID initially by the time you decide to ask them for some help (a referral perhaps) they simply don’t recall or place diminished value on what you did for them.

    The example I use is that you wouldn’t expect free groceries from the store. I sell ideas, information, and inspiration. If my work is good enough for the person to WANT it then why isn’t it good enough to get paid for it?

    In short, as one respondent said, I try to clarify what the person is looking for and offer a solution and my pricing for that. If they truly want to “network” with me then I’m happy to share my schedule of local speaking opportunities or events I’m attending and invite them to sign up. I’ve never had anyone attend.

    Thanks for bringing up this hot topic.

  13. Another HOT topic!
    I feel most people do not know what they want.
    If people can’t give me more details on why to meet in person, (what they need help with) I have to say no as I have a day job too.

    Always happy to help others, but PLEASE, have an idea of what kind of help is needed.

    And IF you really want to stand out after a meeting like these, “circle back” tell me how things worked out.

  14. Jason,

    I would not classify you as ‘arrogant’. I’d actually classify you as ‘wise’. Wise in understanding the value of your own time and wise in giving people something to really consider in how they are respecting (or disrespecting) the expertise you have behind your products and services. I understand you have come to this decision not because you want to, but because people somehow are all excited to get your good advice, then seem to either squander it or forget where it came from. Hence, they do not follow up. And you are finally fed up.

    I find that your wisdom in this approach highlights what has been ingrained in our psyches…and that is ‘you get what you pay for’. I bet ‘dollars to doughnuts’ that if you gave the SAME EXACT advice to a person over a lunch for free as a person who paid for your consultancy, person B who paid is more likely to value and implement what they learned from you. Soooo… then I deduce you are actually doing them a favor by stating your price 😉

  15. Jason – Certainly an active discussion! I remember you talking about the networking process as relationship investment and I think this is the part that people are missing when they approach you with only a “what’s in this for me?” attitude.

    I agree with Walter (Hi, Walter)–most of us should be able to make choices about what we do pro bono and what talents are shared for a fee.

    Thanks for inviting all of us into this touchy and sometimes controversial subject since most of us can share stories of “feeling used.” I know your your blog will make people think carefully in how they prepare for and present themselves in networking opportunities because it can be a brand killer or an amazing experience. It is a purposeful and conscious choice to make!

    Stay warm! And Happy New Year – Sunitha

  16. Great discussion.

    I get the same thing, and try to be patient, recognizing that most people don’t recognize their faux pas (and that I likely did the same thing to others in my younger years of business). :/

    Similar to the “lunch invite” is the request “to run a joint-venture-type business idea past you” or simply “to chat.” I’d love to talk with everyone who asks, but it wouldn’t be humanly possible to do that and get the work done (that, by the way, allows the company to make payroll, pay bills, etc.).

    I now have a template (in gmail “Canned Response”) that thanks the person for contacting me, apologizes for the complexity of my schedule that doesn’t afford the space to meet, and offers some direction to the person on how to propose a business idea or, in the case of those who just want to “chat,” asks if I can’t answer a question via email.

    If they send back one (or two) questions, I’ll try to answer those. If they have more, I’ll shift into consulting/coaching mode and offer some “investment” options for that!

  17. You can manage your time any way u see fit but it shouldn’t come at such a high cost to ppl. And yes, people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have accomplished enough in their professional careers to have contributed to the world in a very, very large way. I can’t say the same for you. It’s not about time management, it’s about making money off people in a unscrupulous way. If you wanted to offer your services, you can just charge consultation fees but if you ask people to pay to sit with u over lunch, it’s just you acting like you’re bigger than you really are. And I hope you provide some tangible value for such an outrageous ask.

    Like you said in the beginning of this post, it’s simply arrogant. Maybe I’ll just write another article about this.

  18. Good discussion, Jason. Well, mostly.

    Seeing some of the people who have commented here, I know that giving advice and pro bono work is a common occurrence. Even the dedication to publishing a blog without expectation of compensation is a way of giving.

    Yet, at some point, I do believe that we do deserve to be compensated for the time and effort we invest into putting our expertise to work for others.

    Wendy’s Picasso story so nicely illustrates this!

  19. OOh Jason – you can always move someplace less desirable! Just kidding. I think you’re doing the right thing. You must draw boundaries in situations like that. You are your product and therefore you have to charge for time with you.

    Time is a commodity so either sell it as you are OR write a book, webinar and or film a how-to video for your top lunch topics. Or, start an e-series and sell it.

    I recently read something that Chris Brogan said about meetings – they shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes.

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

  20. What a great conversation for me to wake up to this morning! ; ) I think that people who do work like us — basically “helping” people — are always in a situation where we can become depleted if we aren’t careful about boundaries. When I started out, I thought I was focusing on the Law of Attraction .. got to “give” to “get” — but maybe on a more smaller, superficial level. I found the more I “gave” the more I attracted people who wanted to “take”. With time, maturity, and some self-reflection, I think we all reach that point where we stand firm valuing our time and knowledge (and the decision we made to that investment). Sometimes we need to be reminded to stand firm. This conversation was a fresh reminder for me this morning.

  21. and when your business gathers more momentum, and you believe in it more deeply, you may start replying more like this:

    “thanks, I appreciate your interest in picking my brain, but I’m overcommitted. maybe some other time.”


  22. Here’s a quote from financial guru Suze Orman, which I think is truly relevant to all of us participating in this conversation: “When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.”

    Our brains, time, and expertise are valuable and worthy of proper compensation.

    And a shout out to Walter Akana re: Picasso story thanks. I love that story and felt it illustrated this situation well.

  23. For the record, since I was mentioned, it’s $1,000 for an hour on the phone and a week of emails, but that is an accelerator into my more expensive mentoring programs and workshop. I never help people for free, because my advice is too valuable and I don’t believe in the victomology mindset that says, “I’m owed….”

  24. Jason, what an interesting discussion!

    I see nothing wrong with your wanting to be compensated for your time and expertise. The only suggestion I would make is that you not make people feel bad for asking. In my experience, they simply don’t know that they’re stepping over a line … or they feel it couldn’t hurt to ask … or maybe they were referred by someone who DID get your free advice over lunch. So it’s ignorance rather than greediness or pushiness on their part.

    But I applaud you for your decision! Now all you need to do is find a nice diplomatic way of responding to these requests, because undoubtedly you’ll get more.

  25. Jason,

    I feel your pain. I understand both sides—you wanting to help, yet feel you need compensated. I have been in your situation a numerous times. I know you don’t mind sharing your expertise over lunch, but if it is costing you $$$ to be away from your office, then you feel justified in asking some kind of fee. My guess is…right now, you are actually losing more than $250 and the 3 hours out of the office. I’ll bet I know why.

    It’s all about timing. I think this particularly struck a vein because right now, at this very moment, you are very busy. You are working on your business, have numerous projects going, and you already have enough work to do. Why would you want to take time to let someone pick your brain when you are so darn busy? Picking your brain does not define, for most of us, enough of what the person really wants. What DO they want out of your brain? What is their underlying motive? How can you justify 3+ hours out of office that might lead to endless emails and phone calls wanting more…for free? TIME IS MONEY.

    My Dad, a successful businessman, taught us to be aware of a dole (and I don’t mean pineapple). They will suck the life out of you IF you let them.” If you do not know what a dole is, it is someone who wants a handout. They do not want to make any effort, they just want a handout and even go as far as to expect it. How do you know if this person is going to be a dole though?

    I have had many invitations that start with “I would just love to sit and pick your brain over dinner or lunch.” I have had people tell me they will pay me to come to their offices, or come to mine, so they can pick my brain. I have even had people say they will “fly” to my office, or “fly” me to their office. And, I have said yes, but it depends on THEIR AGENDA and it depends on MY AGENDA.

    I will tell you something that works for me and this is how you can weed out the doles. When invited to lunch, or dinner, or to an office to have my brain picked, I ask them to provide me with an agenda. I want to know what the discussion is going to be about and what the questions are before I commit. I want to know what they expect of me and what they are hoping to gain. I am a very generous person and really enjoy doing pro bono work, but I do like to shop (online…lol jk). I have businesses I am running and not just one, but two. I have a family and I take care of my ex-husband. I am very busy. I have many people depending on me to help them shop and feed their families…so be sure to figure that in to your hourly rate. I call it my ‘burdened’ rate. If you have overhead, employees, and subcontractors, you will understand that term.

    Instead of blowing them off, it could be an opportunity for you as well. So, what is the real underlying reason for the meeting? Find out first. Is it something that interests you? Is there a benefit to you? What is their agenda? For me it has to be something I am interested in such as: technology, new business start-up, target marketing, social media strategies, assessing and increasing productivity, streamlining procedures or processes, planning business continuity, federal hiring, human resources, helping with generational issues–mature workers and younger workers working together effectively, among other topics. In almost every single case when I did this early on, the “lunch/dinner date” turned out to be CONSULTING, not networking.

    Possible solution. Have your lunch date create an agenda. This will make him/her think ahead and get organized before the brain picking begins. Once you get the agenda, if it is appealing, you can determine if there is opportunity for you as well. You can tell them you are flattered that they want to pick your brain, then take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate that the $250 (or even a higher number) is going to be a fabulous investment in ______X (whatever X is…back to their agenda…get info and use it to your advantage). Prepare your agenda and proposal. Show them how you can help them so they understand your time and expertise is worth their investment.

    To help them come up with an agenda, you could ask the following:

    Which part of my brain do you want to pick? I have a myriad of topics I consult on.
    What are you hoping to learn?
    Are you willing to do some “homework” before we meet?
    Help them understand that time is money and if they are serious about picking your brain, they should be prepared for a commitment=investment.
    Try to get a feel for what they are looking for, so you can determine IF you are interested.

    Recently, I helped a high-profile client land a federal job. She said, “If you ever get to DC or Maryland, I would love to take you to lunch and/or dinner and pick your brain.” I asked her to send me an email with what she wanted to pick my brain about. Here is an excerpt from the email:

    “Just like you said in your initial quote email, you have helped me every step of the way throughout my journey to this position. I know I mentioned this to you on the phone, but I really would like you to consider assisting me with one of those three main ‘challenges the organization faced’ that we wrote about in the job proposal. You know the one: __________________. You have demonstrated your value and expertise. I know you can help me with this high priority and high profile situation and I’m sure your expertise will help me win my first award with this group. I am willing to pay you.”

    One of the questions I coached her to ask during her interview was to find out their highest priorities and what they needed done right away. I helped her outline a plan in her job proposal (thank-you letter) which demonstrated my value to her. Having her create an agenda solidified her need to have me help her, instead of “if you ever get to DC…”

    I accepted her offer because it is a win-win for both of us. To make the story short, the bottom line is: she is paying my “project consultant” fee out of her own pocket and I don’t have to leave my office. She thought I would have to travel to DC, but after educating her further, it can be done by teleworking! One of my other favorite topics.

    Bottom line: If you find out what they want to pick your brain about, and it is something you are interested in or passionate about, you might consider taking the opportunity to show them the value of your consulting. Then maybe you will want to buy them lunch. I will definitely be buying my client lunch when I get to DC, but until then, I did send a gift certificate for Ruth’s Chris. =)

    I do not always charge, but how will you know if it should be pro bono, or a consultant fee until you find out what it is that they really want? Just a thought.

    Good luck, Jason. Let us know what happens!


  26. This isn’t your arrogance – it is your insecurity. This blog post is purely designed to draw attention to you.

    Also, you should recognize that it was probably all the free lunches and networking that built up your demand to get you to this place. Hopefully if you are lucky, the demand won’t subside and you will be forced back into free lunches. Also, I don’t know who you are and what your business is but it sounds like you need more people “doing” for you so you can get out and evangelize. In other words, don’t take your current demand for granted.

    Lastly, your hourly rate is too low for you to be acting this way.

  27. @LAMEPOST – Nathan, the least you could do, if you are going to say something that strong, is not hide behind a fake name. Come out.

    >> This isn’t your arrogance – it is your insecurity.

    Don’t know where you got that from. Most people would so I’m overly arrogant and have hardly any insecurity. You lost me here.

    >> This blog post is purely designed to draw attention to you.

    Isn’t that what blogs are for? To draw attention? You got it wrong on this one, though. I think this post is quite cocky, and not inline with most of my posts. I have no reason to bring the attention to me.

    >> Also, you should recognize that it was probably all the free lunches and networking that built up your demand to get you to this place.

    Good point… although I disagree. My book was the main thing that got me to the point of getting invited to lunch a lot. And being the CEO of my company is another… I’m trying to think of how many lunches LIKE THIS I’ve had that have led to something big for my company and I can count them on … maybe one finger.

    >> Hopefully if you are lucky, the demand won’t subside and you will be forced back into free lunches.

    Excellent point, and I agree with you. Maybe I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth here and should appreicate it while I got it. HOWEVER, I have to make a business decision on this. Getting a free lunch doesn’t necessarily benefit me – so should I go, just because someone is hanging free fries in front of me? Give me a break… I can’t imagine you would do the scenerio above (spend 60 hours a month doing this type of thing). You seem to be a smart guy, based on the business you started and your tweets.

    >> Also, I don’t know who you are and what your business is

    I invite you to figure that out before you come out with such a strong opinion of my position, then. Isn’t it kind of lame to not know anything about me but come out with both fists swinging?

    >> but it sounds like you need more people “doing” for you so you can get out and evangelize.

    As a professional speaker I’ve spent plenty of time getting out and evangelizing. My time at the office is well-guarded. I’d like to have a bigger team, and focus on the evangelizing, but my point in this post is that the people I would be meeting with are not the people I would evangelize to. If you read some of the other comments you’ll see that a lot of times these types of meetings are with people who focus on taking, taking, taking. Evangelizing to a taker gets you nowhere fast.

    >> In other words, don’t take your current demand for granted.

    Point taken. However, if I don’t get one more invitation to lunch I’m okay with that because I have other things to spend my time on.

    >> Lastly, your hourly rate is too low for you to be acting this way.

    Acting what way? I’m not good enough to value my time? Or, I’m not worth it, until I’ve reached Bill Gates status (as a previous commentor noted)? Are you saying that I’m too low on the totem pole, and because of that I should let people take advantage of my schedule?

    I’m talking about me taking control of my schedule. It’s as simple as that. I don’t understand why you (and some others) have such a hard time getting that. This is MY personal business decision. It’s not going to affect you, or your company, or throw the world into another galaxy. It’s just the way I’m running my business right now.

    OR, I maybe I misread and you think I should charge $500 an hour, since my “hourly rate is too low” ….

  28. Great post, Jason. Thank you for sparking comments on both sides of this debate. I also get a lot of “pick your brain” requests and this post has been a great help in how to decline or accept tactfully.

    Camille’s response is spot on. It is important to find out what they want from you before declining. Her suggestion of an agenda is terrific. Not only does that save time but it shows how serious the requester is.

    The interesting thing about Shankman is that he very accessible. His website has a calendar detailing where he will be and he encourages his fans to meet him for coffee. I have a friend who has indeed met with him after he sent out a twitter message that he was at the airport. That meeting was a big deal to her and she ended up creating a social media conference out of it “picking his brain”. For the record, I don’t think he charged her $400, but then again, she didn’t initiate the meeting with an “I’d like to pick your brain” email…

    Thanks again for an excellent post!

  29. @lamepost
    I always appreciate when others can give a different point of view, even when I may not agree with their view.

    With that said, PLEASE publish your name, email and phone number. I’m happy to send hundreds of people to take advantage of your offer.

    Imagine, FREE lunch for years to come

  30. Jason,

    I’m new to both the blogging and to the area. This blog took up too much of my time but it was very engaging. I did invite you to present to our Riverton Employment Center networking meeting. I’m sure you know it’s without compensation but I find your professionalism and expertise in need for those members in job search.

    Neldon Demke, SPHR

  31. I recommend investing in a different network if this happens so often. Then, from time to time, someone makes a mistake where expectations can be set on a short phone call. Add value and good business development cost results in great referrals and thoughtful ask of your time. Everyone learns and you are a good guy.

  32. Good article Jason, and good for you for making a choice to charge for your time.

    To answer your question in your title, “Should I pay to have lunch with me?” the answer is simple: If I value your expertise enough to buy you lunch, then I should value your time enough to pay your hourly rate. And if I don’t, then I shouldn’t. That makes it MY CHOICE, not yours, and that’s really what you’re doing by putting the cost out there.

    Anyone who thinks $50 for lunch is a fair deal for 3 hours consulting either has no expertise worth much, no clue what a fair rate for consulting is, or is trapped in 1990. Or if you have some super valuable expertise that you normally charge $250/hour for that you’d be willing to discount to me for $16.67 per hour, please contact me and I’ll send you $50, and you can buy yourself lunch.

    NOTE: This is NOT to say that I always charge for lunch with me either, merely that if I feel you’re going to abuse my time/talent/treasure, I reserve the right to do so.

    Good topic Jason!

  33. I haven’t read the comments, but I did read the post. You should read (or re-read) ‘Love Is The Killer App’. Lunch never put anyone out of business. If it weren’t for lunches w/people who know more than I do, I’d be even further behind! Also, lunch can be kept to an hour. If you only eat near your office and make it known up front you can only meet for an hour, then 3 hours isn’t necessary.

    I think Karma will work against you on this one. My suggestion: reconsider your solution to lunch requests.

  34. Very interesting article. I’ve read through it and the comments a couple of times. Good points all around.

    I’m not in the position of getting asked to lunch 20 times a month, so I cannot agree or disagree with your thoughts since I’ve never experienced them firsthand. Nor do I know anything about your lifestyle or circumstances. I only have a suggestion: have you thought about having “office hours?” Much like a professor at a university has a block of time a day or two a week with an open door, perhaps you could have blocks of 15-30 mins for 1-2 hours a week and let people make an appointment with you, or just show up. These would be at your office to negate commuting time. Along with professors, there are well known techy people following this model. There’s even a site geared toward managing the hours. I have nothing to do with this site, other than having met @innonate one time at a conference. But it looks like a great idea:

    Good luck!

  35. Jason,

    Another great topic. It is always interesting to see the hostility that some people have to paying for other people’s time. They would never ask for a store to give them a $20 shirt for free, but have little problem asking for hundreds of dollars in other people’s time.

    I think Camille’s comment is profound and I am going to print it out and give it to my employees.

    I do not think the concept of your post is arrogant. It is simply saying that you need to get paid for what you do. If I take the owner of the local electronics store to lunch should he give me a new IPhone?

    The challenge for me is saying what you have said gracefully. Networking is valuable – giving away your wares is commercial suicide.

    I think whether you do lunches or give extended fee consultations all boils down to how much you want to invest in that relationship. I do free lunches all the time or do other free work. (“Hey, Rand, can you see any legal issues with this situation or that?”). However, other than when receiving a call from a prospective client, I only do so when the request involves a relationship I want to invest in. Even if someone is unlikely to be a paying client, there may be other reasons to invest in the relationship. It may be a favor for a friend or the person sounds interesting and I would like to get to know them better. For example, there are numerous bloggers in the community that frequently call and ask copyright and trademark questions. I am happy to go to lunch or spend 15-20 minutes on the telephone because I appreciate their voice in the dialogue. If it will take more than that, I can always offer my services at the going rate.

    I think one thing that may help is to contain your investment. Set specific limits. Any person worth meeting with will understand. Pick a restaurant near your office or next appointment. Tell the person your time constraints. “I would love to have lunch with you. “I have an appointment in ______ at 1:00, so I only have 30 minutes.” That gives you a chance to get to know the person and help a little. If you have been helpful, they can then pay for your consulting services. If they are simply looking for free consulting, that will end things. In a way, you are really helping the person by teaching them to respect other people’s time. That lack of understanding may be part of the reason they need your help.

    As for your outrageous consulting rate – whether you are worth it depends on the other person. If they ignore your advice you are very expensive and you have wasted your time (even if you got paid). If they implement your advice they will likely see a 100X return over their career. For 99 percent of people, an hour of time with your will be more valuable to them than an hour with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Steven Jobs.

    As for Karma – I would set aside one day a week to do these types of lunches. Investing 5 hours a month is reasonable and you may very well meet some people who become long term assets – professionally or otherwise.

    BTW – are you up for lunch?

  36. Jason,,

    As with everything in life, I think we must find a balance in considering these types of requests.

    In my prior job, I was inundated with requests for advice, mentoring, and sales calls, also. And, there’s a very real, hard-dollar cost to devoting your valuable time to even entertaining the initial contacts; no less meeting with the requestors.

    However, it’s very easy to dismiss the exponential and, possibly, intangible, not-so-obvious benefits that come from these meetings. If people are contacting you, I submit someone has told them good things about you. As reliant upon networking as JibberJobber is – correctly – the effects of becoming unavailable to potential network contacts can be staggering.

    Now, if you’re looking for an idea, or a tangible ROI from you spending $250 in “opportunity costs” to visit with someone over lunch, it’s simply not going to happen. But here’s another perspective – first, i don’t think it unfair to limit the time you’d devote to these “meetings” to just Mondays or Tuesdays, etc.

    Secondly, I’ve found that asking people to be crystal clear and laser-focused in what they want from me AND putting it in an email offers me two things. I then have an agenda from which I can prepare and to which I can reset expectations (e.g., time needed, etc.) Maybe a short 15 minute meeting over coffee will address the requestor’s needs. Also, there are often times when the requestor wants ME because of my title. If I can’t or don’t want to do the meeting, understanding their specific needs allows me to delegate – needs met, my approachability protected and my time respected.

    In summary, I think a wholesale, blanket response of “NO” fails to consider the networking power. If networking were, as you imply, only beneficial under a quid pro quo mentality, it wouldn’t work.

  37. I agree with Mr. Andreala, asking others to be laser focused on their request “prior” to the meeting because it would benefit both parties.

    One way I weed them out is if they are (1) not clear about their needs (2) don’t include a phone number in the email. For me, sometimes it’s faster to call and (3) best time to get back to you.

  38. It’s a tough balance to get right between helping out and running a business.

    My clients pay me a substantial amount to do what I do, an amount that most of the people who ask me for a favour could not believe or come close to matching.

    For most “favours” I find it easier not to explain myself but simply apologise and say I am not available at that time.

  39. It’s not arrogant, it’s business.

    We’re in an industry where people pay for our time. And our clients pay us preciisely to “pick our brain” – that’s the industry we’re in.

    Just because someone wants to book the hour of my time between 1 and 2 pm doesn’t make it free. And buying me a £20 lunch doesn’t make it free either.

    Recently I’ve started offering lunch with me as part of my mentoring package – an extra opportunity to “pick my brain”. If someone wants to buy that without the surrounding mentoring they’re welcome to enquire, and they get told my rate.

  40. I can’t really imagine where you’re coming from because I haven’t had people begging for my time, by I can understand that your time is valuable. However, why not offer to talk over a chat and save a little time and inconvenience, but still help someone? I owe a lot to so many good people who’ve helped me along the way. I only hope I can someday help others the way I’ve been helped.

  41. I know I’m a bit late to the discussion here, but had to share my thoughts on this (from last year) about wanting to start a National No Brain Picking List which includes a fun graphic and links to posts by others on the topic:

    Also, I found that offering an introductory rate, via what I called a 50-4-50 offer, helped weed-out the “doles” (nod to Camille) and even turned into lead generation for a few awesome new consulting clients:

    Glad you started this discussion Jason; lots of great insight and comments here! Sandy

  42. I completely agree with you Jason. I have “friends” who call only when they need advice. Take an hour or more pouring out their heart and questions. I’ve given advice that has lead to job opportunities and job offers without so much as a thank for my “friends”. Now I say pay for the career advice and the resume writing and at the end of the day if you still want to buy lunch that’s fine too.

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