We’ve all been there. A client sends a short email asking, “How do I [fill in the blank]?”

The answer may or may not be a quick one. If it is, you probably type out a few sentences and hit send, not thinking too much of it. Until the next request. And the next. Suddenly, you’ve become your client’s new free consultant. What began as a simple reply turned into a slippery slope that has you on fast dial, 1-800-PICK-MY-BRAIN.

You want your clients — and potential new clients — to come to you when they need help, but you don’t want to be taken advantage of.

To get the most out of your clients’ requests to pick your brain, you need to set boundaries. And soon! Setting boundaries early in your relationship is the best way to ensure you don’t experience scope creep. But if you already have long-time clients who have pushed way past your comfort zone, it’s time to draw a new line.

Pick-Your-Brain Sessions Are a Blessing in Disguise

Do you meet your clients’ continual requests to pick your brain with a big sigh? You have already established a habit of replying to such requests, so it doesn’t feel right to turn your client away, but the thought of typing out one more tutorial, or searching for an appropriate one that already exists, makes you hate your job. That’s a sure sign that it’s time to make a change in your systems. In this case, you can transform a nuisance into a gift. Here’s how.

Create a Blog Post Series

Your client’s questions are a gold mine of ideas for future blog posts. The content your clients most want to read is found in the questions they ask you. Instead of viewing these requests as a burden, recognize them for what they are — research (that you didn’t even have to do)! Whether you dedicate a whole blog post to one complicated question, or create a post (or series) of “Top 5 Questions I Get from Clients,” you can refer clients to these posts when the same question comes up again. (And you’ll be building your credibility as a knowledgeable web designer in the process.)

Next time you sit down to brainstorm blog ideas, which you probably have to do anyway, search your old emails for content. You likely have quite a few posts already in the making. What a productive way to blog! And your clients will be listening.

In fact, this blog itself is the first in a new series of posts that touch on questions we get from our Support School Facebook group. This is the same advice we follow, because it works.

Schedule It In

If your client’s question is not one you want to blog about, or if she needs the answer sooner than you can publish it, you’ll want to suggest a paid option. Our student Stefani Harris, of The Essential Website, offers a “Pick My Brain Session” via Skype. I like to create a video tutorial in response to my clients’ submitted questions. You could tell your client, “I would love to help you solve this problem. I offer a 30-minute Pick My Brain Session for $___. Would you like to schedule one?”
Your client will either love the idea or bow out gracefully. Either way, you’ve set a clear boundary, and no one gets hurt. Win-win.

You Are an Expert

The main idea I’d like to hit home is this — you are an expert. And your clients know it. Put your knowledge to work for you. Don’t let it hide out in a sent email that you never see again. Create resources and products that your clients will love, all while building your reputation as a thought leader in your industry. That way you’ll never cringe when you hear the words “pick your brain” again.

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