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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Evergreen Content Ideas for Writers

One of the hardest thing about being a working freelance writer is coming up with content. Which is why you need an evergreen content strategy.

Trust me on this, it will change your life.

Evergreen Content Ideas for Bloggers

Writers who want to build an online platform know they should be producing content. Maybe a blog or something similar.

And in theory it makes sense.

A blog is an excellent way to showcase your skills as a writer and advertise your services. In reality things are a bit trickier.

  • What do you write about?
  • How do you balance writing for yourself/your site with writing for clients?

This is where an evergreen content strategy comes in

Evergreen content can be described as the foundation of your blog—and this surprises many people for a couple reasons.

First, because it’s hard to comprehend how timeless articles can stay relevant over time.

Second because hardly anyone has heard of it.

How can evergreen content be a foundation when I’ve never heard of it before!?

I know! But I’ll explain everything and you’ll never wonder what to write about on your website again.

Brainstorm Ideas for Writing Worksheet

Do you find brainstorming ideas a total nightmare? I have a process for that! Check out the worksheet and free training in my my resource library.

This is a free training but you’ll need the password—just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you it to you. Once you’re there, navigate to the writing section and download the “How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing Worksheet.”

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*Back to the training*

First I’ll talk about what evergreen content is, then I’ll explain how to come up with ideas in a way you can balance with your freelance writing workload.

What is evergreen content?

“Evergreen” is jargon but the word makes sense—think of evergreen trees, they keep their needles year-round and the needles maintain their green colouring thus, ever-green.

Evergreen content works the same way, it stays relevant year-round and answers questions people are asking years after it was written.

Why you should employ an evergreen content marketing strategy is because this timeless, relevant information will deliver a consistent stream of leads to your website month over month.

It takes a bit of time and effort to set up but once you have the wheels in motion this approach will allow you to spend your mental energy on your freelance clients while your website works in the background.

evergreen content ideas

How to come up with ideas

The best way to come up with ideas is to know your audience. In a freelance writer’s case, your audience is your ideal client.

Think about who you serve and what problems they’re trying to solve. Your website or blog content should solve those problems and answer common questions. The more questions you answer the stronger your foundation.

Here’s what you need to do when coming up with evergreen content ideas:

  • Get clear on who you’re talking to (your ideal reader) and what you offer (what’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve?)
  • Decide what your topics are
  • Put everything into a calendar template.

To systemize these ideas (and actually get them written) you’ll need to take your ideas and build a content calendar with them.

Of course we could go a lot deeper when talking about creating evergreen content—there’s SEO, keyword research and virality to consider.

But for today we’ll stick with the concept of evergreen content and building a strong online foundation as the base of your freelance writing business. When done well it’s a beautiful thing.

Bonus: here’s a helpful post on what type of posts work best for evergreen content from Thirteen Thoughts.

One of the hardest thing about being a freelance writer is coming up with content for your website, which is why you need an evergreen content strategy.

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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One of the hardest thing about being a working freelance writer is coming up with content for your personal website and digital platforms, which is why you need an evergreen content strategy. Trust me on this, it will change your life.

When to Query a Book | Fiction and Non-Fiction

On this long and winding road called the publishing journey there’s the question of when to query a book. The answer isn’t too mind blowing but it comes up enough that it’s worth covering.

When to query a book

The answer of when to query a book is different for fiction and non-fiction, and there are different answers within non-fiction as well. Here are the basics.

When to query a book: fiction

If you’re querying a fiction book it both needs to be 100 per cent finished and revised/edited. In other words, your book needs to be complete.

One pub tip I read from an agent read she shouldn’t be the first person to read your book. Good advice!

When to query a book: non-fiction

This is a bit trickier to answer but I’ll try. The best advice is to check out the agent or editor you’re querying and see what their requirements are—because it seems like all non-fiction agents/editors want similar yet different things.

If you’re writing memoir or narrative non-fiction then your manuscript needs to be complete before querying (same as fiction).

However, if you’re writing prescriptive non-fiction then you do not need to have a finished manuscript before querying.

elevator pitch templates

By the way, are you stumped for how to put together a pitch about your book? I’ve created two elevator pitch templates as a free download to my resource library. They’re versatile and can work for any project.

This is a freebie you’ll need a password to access the library itself. You can get the password by popping your email address into the form below.

Once you’re in the library, navigate to the “freelancing” section and look for “Elevator Pitch Templates.”

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I’m pleased about the prescriptive non-fiction rules because it’s what I’m writing but I’ve learned you still need to have the book figured out and, like, thought through because you need an amazing book proposal should you get past the query stage.

And another hitch with prescriptive non-fiction is you need a significant platform in order to get an agent or editor. I know. But you just do.

Since learning this I can see many reasons for holding off on querying even if you’re manuscript or proposal is ready.

Because getting an agent or editor isn’t the only moving target in this adventure—there is so much more to consider.

So. We’re all excited and just want to query the heck out of our books. But I challenge you to ask yourself if you’re really ready.

Is your manuscript ready? Is your platform ready? Are you ready?

If you have considered these questions then you know when to query a book.

Extra credit: What are the best times to query a literary agent? from Writer’s Digest

More about non-fiction publishing

On this long and winding road called the publishing journey there's the question of when to query a book. The answer is changes for fiction and non-fiction.

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

* indicates required
On this long and winding road called the publishing journey there's the question of when to query a book. The answer is changes for fiction and non-fiction.

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.