How to Respond When People Want to Pick Your Brain for Free

“Hey, can I take you out for coffee and pick you brain? I have a question about freelance writing.”

This is such a common question and I’m sure you’ve been asked it in one way, shape or form at some point in your career.

How to Respond When People Want to Pick Your Brain for Free

In fact, I’ve heard this taught as an actual tactic for learning the business.

In fact, I’ve definitely asked people if I could pick their brain! (And still do sometimes!)

So, is it good to do this? Is it smarmy? Is it somewhere in between?

Hey, can I pick your brain?

Ahh…I guess it’s kind of a grey area.

When we’re just getting started, or trying to figure out how to level up, we need someone who is further along to point us in the right direction.

But if you’re that person who is further along, you’re probably REALLY busy. And you likely get asked this question a LOT.

The answer here, for the asker and the mentor is boundaries.

Because here’s the thing, in the content marketing game, sharing valuable advice and offering free information is important!

And literary citizenship is super important!

But sometimes you need to get paid for your advice.

Freelancer Positioning Worksheet

Let’s take a quick break from the training so I can remind you about my resource library!

Executing a solid marketing plan comes down to understanding who you serve, what makes you different in the eyes of your ideal client, why that difference matters and what you do.

If you can get solid here, your marketing will flow from there.

I’ve put together a worksheet to help you figure this out. You can grab the free download in my resource library. Just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll email you the password, then go to the freelancing section and look for “Freelancer Positioning Worksheet.”

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Alright, let’s talk about boundaries

Where you place your boundary on requests for free advice is different for every entrepreneur. That’s the first thing.

But you should definitely figure out where that line is and draw that line in the sand.

The next step is to maintain that boundary. And yeah, you may feel MEAN but your boundary is there for a reason.

And think about how much you give to your community already, and what this person is asking.

Like, you’re not giving enough already? And you should give to this random person…because they think you should? Because you owe them?

Sometimes giving free advice isn’t the right call at that exact moment in your specific situation. Recognize that and keep your boundaries in place.

How to respond when people want to pick your brain for free

There are gracious and kind ways to declining an invitation when people reach out asking for advice but don’t want to pay for it.

Because you want to treat everyone who reaches out to you with respect as a human.

The goal here is to acknowledge their situation and remind them that you run a business.

Here are a couple suggestions for investing in people without giving into every request to pick your brain.

Hey, can I take you out for coffee and pick your brain?

This first one I would use if I kind of know the person, or if a friend as given them my information and told them to reach out.

And I will note, I often accept these requests if I’m available and it makes sense. But here’s what I’d say if I’m declining.

Response to pick your brain 1/2

Hey friend, so good to hear from you!

I love that you reached out about freelance writing and marketing as it’s an area I’m passionate about. At this point, I’m fully booked through till the end of __________, which means my schedule is pretty tight for coffee meetings.

That said, I’d love to invite you to our next virtual co-working session! I’ve pasted the details below—let me know if you can make it 🙂

Also, I’ve written about this topic before on my blog (link). Hope this is helpful in your situation!

Robyn

PS What’s your Instagram handle? I’d love to connect with you there!


This second one is something I’d use if I have no idea who the person is or if the tone of their request put me off. Like, if it felt demanding or entitled or something.

Response to pick your brain 2/2

Hi there,

Thanks for reaching out! I have a lot of knowledge in the freelance writing and marketing field and would love to see you succeed in this area!

Here’s a little bit about me and my business.

And here is an article I wrote about TOPIC (link). Hope it’s helpful in your situation!

Let me know what you think and let me know if you have any other questions.

Robyn

PS If you’re interested, I will add you to my email list where I share weekly tips and tricks to move you ahead in your freelance business!

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Are you wondering what the right way to ask someone for free advice is? Here’s a helpful article from The New York Times.

"Hey, can I take you out for coffee and pick you brain? I have a question about freelance writing."

This is such a common question and I'm sure you've been asked it in one way, shape or form at some point in your career.

There are gracious and kind ways to respond when people reach out asking for advice but don't want to pay for it.

Because you want to treat everyone who reaches out to you with respect as a human.

The goal here is to acknowledge their situation and remind them that you run a business.

Here are a couple suggestions for investing in people without giving into every request to pick your brain.

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

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Creative Ways to Make Money from Freelance Writing

I want to talk about the different ways you can make money from freelance writing. This is an important topic to me because I see a lot of people limiting their income opportunities because they’re not creative!

Creative Ways to Make Money from Freelance Writing

And I don’t mean this as a slight at all. It just seems like we get stuck in a train of thought where freelance writing can only be one thing.

Like freelance journalism OR copywriting.

While you certainly can scrape out a living from one track of freelancing, most freelance writers I know have a variety of income streams. This can add a lot of variety to your work! Plus this approach can keep your business solvent when one income stream dries up.

Which happens. A lot. You were around in 2020, right?

But maybe you’re just getting into freelancing and you’re not sure where to even start. You know you want to write but…that’s it!

If that’s the case, you’ll definitely want to read this training on personal branding and then work on your positioning so you narrow down what you bring to the table and who you best serve with your skills and abilities.

Freelancer Positioning Worksheet

I’ve also put together a worksheet to help you figure this out. Just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you the password for my resource library.

When you’re there, navigate to the freelancing section and download the “Freelancer Positioning Worksheet.”

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Creative ways to make money from freelance writing

Below I’ve listed several of the ways I make money from freelance writing with a breif description. If I’ve written more on the topic I’ve linked to it in the heading.

There are many, many more creative ways to make a living from freelancing but I hope this initial list will help get the juices flowing! Income diversification. Yeah!

Journalism

Freelance journalism is one of the more popular areas in freelance writing. Even moreso these days with so many newspapers shutting down or merging. However, there’s more to journalism than newspaper!

Reporting is the most common type of journalism, and this can be local news, current events, sports, arts, features, lifestyle and MUCH more. A reporter writes the story as an observer, without inserting themselves into the situation for the most part.

Editorial is another popular type of journalism. You see this type of writing in magazines or the opinion section of papers. These are person-driven, opinion pieces (also known as op-eds) but the writer still needs to be qualified to write the article and it should have mass appeal to get picked up.

Copywriting

While some purist journalists see copywriting as the “dark side” of freelance writing, I would argue a lot of good can be done in this space! And for the most part, copywriting pays more than journalism.

Copywriting is everywhere. You see it on websites, in marketing, for product descriptions, in advertising and much more. If you need the art of persuasion in a piece of writing…it’s probably copywriting.

Businesses often need copywriters, to bring their brand to life and give them a voice that resonates with customers. Freelancers can often find a nice balance of retainer (ongoing) and one-off clients from copywriting.

Ghostwriting

If you’ve heard of ghostwriting (and don’t worry if you haven’t), you probably think of it as authors writing books for someone else. And it’s accurate! This happens all the time. In many cases, a publishing house will hire a writer to write for a celebrity or other public figure to help them tell their story.

But there are more opportunities for ghostwriters!

There are many busy CEOs and thought leaders who want to add a blog, newsletter or social media presence to their content marketing strategy but have no time to make it happen. Ghostwriter to the rescue! You would write in their voice and help them enhance their profile.

Blogging

While there are a zillion benefits to maintaining a personal blog for your business, you can also make a decent income from freelance blogging.

Likely, you’ve heard blogging is dead (or something to that effect). Great! Less competition! Blogging is most definitely not dead and is, in fact, thriving if you find the right niche.

I haven’t written much about freelance blogging but if you’re interested in learning more about it, I recommend Elna Cain’s Freelance Blogging in a Weekend. In this course Elna teaches you her strategy to charge $400 per blog post and shows you how to research and write with maximum efficiency. Highly recommended!

SEO writing

If you’re not familiar with search engine optimization, then you may not want to dive into this until you get a bit of training. This is a specialized area in the writing world as it combines technical know-how with writing skills.

But I think you should get the training!

Businesses need to rank in search engines in order to find customers and they’re too busy doing what they do best to worry about figuring out the details involved with SEO. If you can handle that for them…you will find a nice income stream from SEO writing.

Make money from freelance writing

Writing-adjacent services

I also recommend taking stock of your skills and seeing what services you can offer clients, which are related to writing. For me, these types of services provide a brain break, to allow me to continue working but not burn out from doing one type of writing too much.

Social media management

You can absolutely offer just social media writing for clients, but I like to add a bit more value by also handling management. This can include everything from sourcing images and creating graphics to scheduling posts and managing comments.

Affiliate marketing

This is big in the blogging world but I don’t see traditional freelancers utilizing this income stream as much as I would like.

Essentially, you promote someone else’s product or service and receive a commission for every sale you refer. This can definitely become a bit slimy so it’s important to only promote things you actually recommend (and would even if you didn’t get paid).

If you aren’t familiar with this concept try and pay attention to social media influencers and watch them promote products. Sometimes they’re paid by a brand to advertise a product on their channel and sometimes they’re affiliates for the brand, which is more of a partnership.

Content marketing strategy

Content marketing is everywhere, because every marketing initiative generally requires content! So why not step up your game a bit by offering strategy services to clients? A strong strategy is the framework that holds marketing together. It takes the random buckshot approach and focuses the shot so it’s smart and effective.

If you want to make money from freelance writing, this is a valuable and important service you should consider offering!

Other articles you may enjoy

I want to talk about the different ways you can make money from freelance writing. This is an important topic to me because I see a lot of people limiting their income opportunities because they're not creative!

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

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Network with Freelancers to Grow Your Business

The best marketing you can do is network with freelancers. A bold claim, I know. But I stand behind it. Building a strong network will help you grow your freelance business.

Network with Freelancers

Why building a network with freelancers will help you grow your business

If the idea of traditional networking fills you with fear and loathing, allow me to present a different way.

Think of networking as making friends with like-minded freelancers and treating them well instead of attending awkward events with strangers and trying to pass out business cards.

Doesn’t my way sound better?

In order to network with freelancers you have to avoid thinking of other freelancers as your competition. It’s easy to slip into a scarcity mentality and view every gig as something another freelancer can steal but the truth is there’s more than enough work for everyone.

The freelance life is tough enough as it is, and isolated.

Make friends with other freelancers and see what you can do to help and support them. It will make a huge difference to your own business.

But maybe this still doesn’t make sense. I understand.

When you haven’t experienced the amazing give-and-take of a true network this approach seems counter-intuitive. I’ll give a couple examples from my last year of freelancing to help you understand.

Freelancer Positioning Worksheet

By the way, I’ve created a worksheet to help you work through why you write/freelance and it knowing these things will help you make connections while you’re networking! Just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you the password for my free resource library. When you’re there, navigate to the freelancing category and download the “Freelancer Positioning Worksheet.”

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Example one

I attended a webinar through one of my professional networks, Canadian Media Guild Freelance (now the Canadian Freelance Guild) on how to price your work. As part of the training, the presenter asked if the attendees would share our hourly rate with each other. She said freelancers have to stick together and talk with each other about their rates, how they charge, how they put projects together…and more.

But we’re so afraid to share.

Maybe we’re charging too much! Or maybe we’re not charging enough! Maybe we’ll reveal how much we don’t know if we say anything!

Here’s the truth: you’re stronger when you ask questions and share with one another. Imagine how empowered you’d feel about your pricing if you knew what others charged and could stand behind your quotes with confidence!

Example two

I have a friend who is just getting started in her freelance career. Earlier this year I taught a series of workshops and she came out in support, which I appreciated.

A few months later we met up and she shared a bit more about what type of work she was thinking about pursuing. So you’d better believe when a colleague asked me if I knew anyone who was looking for work in exactly what my friend had said she was looking for I referred her first.

Now, this may seem like an obvious choice but think about it. I know lots of freelancers. I could have referred any number of equally talented, qualified, available people for the gig.

So what made this friend stand out?

Well, for one she supported me at one of my events without expecting anything in return. And for another we stayed in touch and she shared what she was looking for. So when the opportunity arose, she was at the top of my mind.

Helping others helps you (aka network with freelancers, it’s good for business!)

Get it? Helping each other benefits everyone.

Share what you learn with each other and help each other out when you can. Referrals are the freelancer’s bread and butter so keep your freelance friends close. Listen to them, support them, ask them questions, and refer them when you have an opportunity. Introduce them to people you think they’d benefit from knowing and grow your network one by one.

And, hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

Other networking tips for freelancers

The best marketing you can do is network with freelancers. Building a strong network will help you grow your freelance business. A bold claim, I know.

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

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The best marketing you can do is network with freelancers. Building a strong network will help you grow your freelance business. A bold claim, I know.

SEO Tips and Tricks for Freelance Writers

While we may understand the importance of search engine optimization on an intellectual level, these SEO tips and tricks will (hopefully) help freelance writers understand how to vet a keyword to give their articles the best chance of being discovered.

SEO Tips and Tricks for Freelance Writers

SEO tips and tricks for freelance writers

Finding keywords is just the first step. Next is to figure out if it’s a good keyword or a bad keyword.

But what does that mean?

Here’s how I like to think about good versus bad keywords.

  • A good keyword means if I use it my article will have a chance of being discovered on the Internet
  • A bad keyword means it’s too competitive so don’t use it.

Keyword vetting to me means this. If I write an article about the keyword I’ve selected, will it have a chance to hit the first page of Google?

How to vet a keyword

Once I’ve brainstormed my keyword ideas I take my top ones to KWFinder and do a quick check for difficulty.

Brainstorm Ideas for Writing Worksheet

By the way, I’ve created a worksheet to help you with brainstorming. Just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you the password for my resource library. When you’re there, navigate to the writing category and download the “How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing Worksheet.”

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Anyway, back to the training.

KWFinder is a simple keyword research tool to use—you pop in your word or phrase into the search bar and then click “Find Keywords.” A few seconds later your results populate and you can consider your options.

I thought I’d include a couple screenshots from my research for this post. After doing my initial research I was down to two key phrases for this post: SEO tips and tricks or keyword research tools.

My results?

The keyword “SEO tips and tricks” is possible to rank for with a difficulty score of 39 out of 100. The keyword “keyword research tools” is hard to rank for with a difficulty score of 61 out of 100. You can see these results on the right-hand side of the screenshot.

KW Finder keyword research example

On the left-hand side of the screenshot you can see variations on the keyword and the difficulty associated with it.

It helps you see what people are already ranking for and helps you come up with a strong direction to go with your article.

Final thoughts about seo tips and tricks

If you want to try KWFinder out there is a free account, which gives you five keyword searches every 24 hours. It’s a commitment-free way to try out the tool and decide if it’s a good fit for your writing flow.

You can make search engine optimization as complicated as you want. And you can make keyword research as expensive as you want. There are a lot of shiny objects in this world. But until you’re ready for that level of SEO, I suggest taking a simplified approach to vetting keywords.

Do you have a process for vetting keywords? I’d love to hear about it!

These SEO tips and tricks will help freelance writers understand how to vet a keyword to give their articles the best chance of being discovered.

One more thing. I think you’ll enjoy my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

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SEO Tips and Tricks: At some point in your writing career you'll be asked about finding keywords or SEO (search engine optimization). To be clear, SEO is a marketing skill, which writers may or may not have. So you're off the hook there. That said, it's a good idea to become acquainted with the concept as it will make you more valuable to your clients.

How to Write for Magazines | 7 Tips to Get Started

Learning how to write for magazines is one of those things I didn’t understand until someone else taught me. So I thought I’d do the same for you today.

Write for Magazines

How to write for magazines

Maybe you’ve been a writer for a while and you feel like you should know how to do this and now you’re afraid to ask.

Or maybe you’ve thought about writing for magazines but don’t know where to start.

Or maybe you know what you want to pitch to a magazine but you don’t know how to do it, if they accept pitches or where to send it.

All good! I didn’t know either.

A lot of magazines accept freelance pitches and pay for articles but figuring that out can seem a bit overwhelming until you understand how it works.

How to Write for Magazines Free Worksheet

Want these tips as a PDF download? You can grab it in my resource library! This is a free download but you do need a password to access the library itself.

Pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you the password. Then, when you’re in the library navigate to the freelancing section and look for “Write for Magazine Tips.”

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Ready to get started? Here are a few quick tips.

Tip 1: Figure out which magazines you want to write for

Tip 1: Figure out which magazines you want to write for

You should have a basic idea of the type of magazines you want to publish articles in, and even better if you have a few specifics in mind.

If you don’t know, start by doing some research. Go to your local library and look through their magazine stacks.

Ask yourself: Which magazines you’re interested in reading? Which ones publish articles in the style you write? Which ones would you like to see your byline in? Make a list.

Tip 2: Brainstorm several article/story ideas

Tip 2: Brainstorm several article/story ideas

When you write for magazines, much of the time it’s you, the writer, pitching ideas to them, the editor and/or publisher.

So you can’t go to a magazine and say, “I’d like to write for you, what are you looking for?” This approach outs you as an amateur and doesn’t get you far.

You need solid story ideas when approaching a magazine and, in general, you want a few in your back pocket so when the opportunity arises, you’re ready with your pitch.

So have a few ideas going before you need them and keep this list topped up.

Extra credit: How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

Tip 3: Before you pitch, do your research

Tip 3: Before you pitch, do your research

Cross-reference your list of target magazines with your list of story ideas. When you write for magazines, you want your pitch to stand out from the rest.

The best way to do that is to ensure your idea fits with what the magazine publishes and that they haven’t done it before.

Many magazines publish their upcoming themes on their website, which will also help you out.

Tip 4: Write a query letter or letter of inquiry (LOI) when pitching

Tip 4: Write your pitch (or write a query letter or letter of inquiry [LOI])

For the most part, you’re sending an inqueries about writing an article, not the full article itself.

This is a quick pitch, trying to see if there’s any interest in your story. Your goal from this letter is to get the assignment so make sure it’s good!

Extra credit: Tips on Pitching for Freelance Writers

This includes pitch templates!
Tip 5: Want to write for magazines? Ask your network for introductions to magazine editors

Tip 5: Want to write for magazines? Ask your network for introductions to magazine editors

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, your freelancer network is your strongest asset.

Your freelance writing friends may already be writing for magazines. Ask them which ones they’re writing for. Or, if there’s a specific one you’re interested in, ask if your writing friends have any connections there.

Then, ask for an introduction.

Not only will a referral get your query past the gatekeepers and into the right person’s inbox, it improves your chances of your pitch being read and considered.

One caveat: if you’re asking for a referral remember your friend is putting his/her reputation on the line for you. Be professional, be courteous and—above all—don’t be a flake.

Tip 6: Don't know who to contact? Look in the front flap at the masthead

Tip 6: Don’t know who to contact? Look in the front flap at the masthead

If you know which magazines you want to write for, look at the masthead and find the editor’s name for the section you want to pitch to. You’re looking for something like a departmental editor or features editor.

Can’t find their email address?

Look on the magazine’s website and see if you can find it. You may find a “write for us” area on the website where there will be more specific pitching instructions.

Do your best to send your query to the editor rather than the general info email unless you’re instructed to.

Tip 7: Wondering which publications pay? Get a market guide

Tip 7: Wondering which publications pay? Get a market guide

If you can’t learn anything from your research or network about whether or not your target magazine pays for article, you can purchase a market guide to help you.

It will also give you a ton of magazine titles to consider, contact information for the editor you need to query and special instructions for pitching. This is a gold mine of information.

Here are a couple I recommend:


Remember, grab these tips as a free PDF download in my resource library. Enter your email address below and I’ll send you the password!

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I hope this helps you write for magazines! Let me know how you do.

Learning how to write for magazines is one of those things I didn't understand until someone else taught me. So I thought I'd do the same for you today.

One more thing. I think you’ll like my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

* indicates required
Learning how to write for magazines is one of those things I didn't understand until someone else taught me. So I thought I'd do the same for you today. Here are seven tips for getting started.