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I have many people to thank for my creativity – some are workshops instructors, others are friends who gave their valuable time to answer my questions. I hope and would like to think that I’ve been able to repay this kindness with referrals, a good meal, a lifelong friendship, or other acts of service.

With that said, if you find yourself in beginning phases of work loaded with lots of questions, here’s what I consider good practices when you need to ask for help or guidance as you continue to build your business.

Before you inquire for help or advice…

  1. Consider a group where you are on the same level of experience. If you are starting out, you can collaborate on ideas and ask for feedback in an environment that is mutually beneficial.
  2. Always assume you pay for advice from someone who runs a legit business. I had a question about setting up an associate program and I willingly and gladly paid for advice from Melissa, a colleague and business expert. I know she has spent hours making decisions to share expert advice that should be compensated.
  3. Pay for their time or workshop at least once. I know every person who has paid for my online workshop and when they reach out with a question in the future, I am happy to respond. Because they have invested in me, I’m happy to invest back in them. I also respond to those who leave comments on my blog often so I’m aware of their interaction with me – but when I get an email out of the blue asking for location advice or feedback I am much more hesitant on how much information or time I can provide because I don’t know them and we don’t have a relationship.
  4. Ask if you can assist them for free – not to just observe. I’m open to having someone come and help out – and really help out, hold my reflector, call client names in order, like sweat on the field with me helping me on my shoot so they can learn. If you go, don’t observe by standing there doing nothing, ASK constantly if you can be doing anything to help so you can make the most of the time for yourself and who you are shadowing. You should be next to the photographer always, like a second hand, not hanging out in the shade when the photographer needs to look for you. On the way there, ask what you can do or what they expect you to do – should you constantly ask to help, jump in, or wait for direction? This conversation helps so you can understand expectations.

The Brain Pick Golden Rule

Treat others as if you were in their shoes. If you had spent thousands of dollars on equipment, took time to fly across the country to workshops and hours reading to became a successful full-time entrepreneur, how would you feel or want your precious time and talents to be treated?

I know some of my peers and myself have all gone through experience where we left feeling disappointed thinking a friendly meet up was instead requesting feedback on their marketing materials, asking for tips we learned from a recent collaboration, or asking for feedback.

It’s not that people don’t want to help, but they would just like to know up front.

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If you need advice

It’s more than OK to ask questions – it’s simply meeting to ask questions and walk off with a ton of overload of information without contributing can hurt people’s feelings. Just make it clear.

  1. Make it clear you are meeting to pick their brain and offer to pay for coffee/meal. It’s truthful, and it’s upfront. If you quickly say you’re willing to pay for their meal, there’s an extension of gratitude for time and you’re more than likely receive a response, even if it’s a decline. Freely allow that person to decide if they want to meet. If not, they’ll respond with decline or if smart, offer their mentorship pricing. Please be OK with this.
  2. Don’t be discouraged. People don’t have time, even if they want to. Once you are in their shoes, you will absolutely understand.
  3. Ask, but know your boundaries. My friends and students know they can come to me asking almost anything. There are some things I can’t do, like spend an entire day teaching lighting or a studio set up. In regards to editing, there are two people in this world who know how I personally edit. Both paid me $1500 each to come to a private workshop, and I will forever be an open book to them – because the invested in me, I invest back in them. Always ask a close friend for advice, but when it comes to technique, if it requires a few hours, pay for a workshop or simply listen to your gut. You know when you can ask or when you need more personalized attention.
  4. Respect you may not get a response, find an answer elsewhere. I once received an email from a photographer (this was the first time she has ever emailed me) complaining about other photographers not responding to an email inquiry about how to get started in XYZ business. The great news if you don’t get a response – most every question be Googled thanks to blog posts! There are posts and websites that post this information – hurrah! The person you emailed may have written a post about it already too!

It’s not that people don’t want to help, but they would just like to know up front.

Advice if you are asked for help

  • A friend is a friend.  To me, my girlfriends (like I know their birthdays) are like family so I would jump at helping and answering questions, open book, always. You have to decide how important your friendship is and remember that pouring into your friends, and encouraging them is what friendship is about.
  • Understand you are a trusted colleague.  This is an honor to have a skill that others admire, and if you are in that position, be aware that your response reflects your brand too – so take the outreach kindly and go from there.
  • Remember others who assisted you. We have all had questions that have helped us along the way, so answer what you can briefly, offer your best wishes and always be kind! You can refer to other websites or blog posts so those who came to you can feel good about your response. Did this person help you with another area of your business? Perhaps this is the opportunity to give back!
  • Offer mentorship. If you find yourself being asked often, consider having a mentorship hourly rate.
  • Always respond in kindness. No question.
  • You don’t have to spill the beans. Maybe techniques are under lock and key for you, that’s fine, but advice that can simply encourage a peer how to charge what they’re worth, invest in a new site, or deal with a difficult client, that’s not going to hurt you in any way.
  • It’s OK to say no, but offer a solution. You can’t do it all or for all, no matter who they are. It’s OK to say no not right now and still give a wink and a kiss. People will respect your time and if they are a true friend will still love you, but before you say no, you can offer a kind solution, such as a mentorship, or direct them to a website with lots of information, or a workshop you loved and grew from! You’re not able to personally help with your time, but you can direct them to someone else who can and they’ll appreciate it!

How do you feel about brains being picked? Do you agree or disagree on how to approach it?

Photo and styling by Scout and Briar.