“Can I Pick Your Brain?” – Part Two

This is Part Two of a two-post series. You can read the problem description here.

If you’re relatively new or just getting started, you might think this blog post hails from Grouchypants, USA, Population: Kelly Hogaboom. Maybe you don’t get my tone on this topic. Perhaps you just love putting up IG Reel tutorials and you delight in answering questions in your comments free gratis. Maybe you worry if you don’t keep providing Freebies, people will be pissed and you’ll have no friends.

If it’s working for you to make yourself that available to any/all who ask – honestly, don’t worry about it! There is nothing wrong with being generous as long as you’re not feeling beleaguered, overrun, or resentful.

But as you get more reach, more clout, and more well-known – your time resources may change. And a small audience who treasures you, may suddenly one day broaden into a lot of people who’ve just found you – and think nothing of demanding your time.

I have about twenty years under my belt of publishing helpful, edifying and highly-technical, quality content free of charge: from paper zines to an independent blog to twitch livestreams, video courses, and Zoom office hours.

I still put out a lot of great content at no cost – including this blog! In fact in this next month I’m teaching a no-cost yoga class, providing slow-sewing office hours with a friend, and helming a local Mending Lab – and last week I co-hosted a podcast episode on Professionalizing your Hobby. I also run a service Discord for Creatives – the best corner of the internet for people to get education, resources, and validation.

All high-quality stuff. All at no-cost. (i.e. “free”!)

Most people are kind, say “thank you”, and some of them even put money in my tip jar or – absolute favorite! – subscribe to become a Member on my writing platform (these people are the MVPs and they enable me to keep giving so generously)!

Not everyone is so groovy, though.

There are many people who think I have tons of free time to at no cost troubleshoot their sewing machines or share my tailoring skillsets or research fabrics for them or disclose at length my business acumen or give them accounting advice. I get, “What’s wrong with my sewing machine?” or “What sewing machine should I buy?” a fair bit. The ruder peeps are the ones jealous of my business success who demand I spill the beans. One fellow asked me via IG DM to tutor him in Wave software – for free (I declined; he promptly Unfollowed me).

These people are annoying but often… usually… they are just being a bit gauche.

But then.

Then there are the people who are real assholes.

Like the person who signed up for my emails, read every single one over a series of months (a mind-boggling 100% open rate of fifty-six emails in total), and would now and then ask me to teach a Pricing class for her cottage sewing business – again, for free.

When I eventually offered exactly that – and asked participants to pay registration for their seat, in order to receive a full refund after class (this is a great way to get attendance for a free event) – she snapped, wrote a rude response – and Unsubscribed.

Get that? She wanted help with her struggling business, to get that money rolling in – and she wanted it for free, and not just for free but on her terms of what free meant! 

(Obviously: good riddance! Also: I’ve gotta put together that blog post showing you how to create an email blacklist! Soon, my pretties. Soon!)

Then the other person a few months ago who sent me a series of demanding DMs in my field of expertise and when I didn’t immediately respond (reader – I was driving on the highway and couldn’t have safely replied if I wanted to) they started sending weird passive aggressive “I’m sorry to bother you” snark – before finally blocking me on Facebook (We’d been Friends for years)!

Bizarre!

So yeah. There are just real crumbums out there. I hate to tell you!

These are kind of extreme examples, but they are real examples from recent months. There is nothing we can do to make sure we never get in the sights of some entitled jerk. The truth is that as you journey into the status of being a public (or semi-public) figure, there is no way to make sure NO ONE is rude as hell.

What’s more important is we make a plan for the general population, and to help curate our audience – and teach them how to treat us.

Here are just a few ideas, that have worked well for me. I don’t think you need to do all of these (as that may be overkill), but a combination of one or two will likely position you for success, and minimize frustrations.

Remember that by clearly communicating your boundaries and worth, you are more likely to be considered an expert in your field!

Set expectations up from the get-go.
Make your policies and publish them – on your website, in your bio link, and in your email header or footer. In general when people know ahead of time what behavior is acceptable, they are less likely to do something socially embarrassing. They’ll be grateful to you for that! Most people are decent blokes and they don’t want to violate your boundaries. Make it easy for them to succeed!

By way of example, when I’m getting a lot of DMs I’ll write in my Instagram bio: “DMs closed. Please email!” and while some people ignore that or don’t see it – it really cuts those DMs down! This is a great short-term method when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need a break.

Put together a scheduler page with consulting rates.
You have expertise, and your noggin holds a lot of value! Set up a scheduler – the best eight dollars a month I’ve ever spent, by the way – and tell people you’d love to focus on their question if they would like to book an appointment. You can take any rate for your time – minimum wage or a huge fee! It’s your time, and you get to decide!

Schedulers are wonderful: you can create Public bookings that hang out all the time (like mine) – but you can also create private links and even send one-time links that expire if not used within a few days (be wary of giving people a carte blanche open ticket to your professional time)! You can coordinate your scheduler with your own personal electronic calendar(s) – keeping yourself from being double-booked.

Set up office hours.
Office hours are a great way to build camaraderie and community, and a great way to direct people to a property of yours – whether on Discord, Twitch, YouTube – et cetera. Invite them in warmly, and explain your time is theirs on such-and-such day and time!

If they complain they can’t make your office hours time – send them that emoji with a single tear. Just kidding! My point is – if they can’t make the time you’ve so generously carved out: well, Google is free all hours of the day, every day. I’m not kidding.

Just like any other stream or offering: expect your Office Hours to take time to catch on. If you can get some exposure that gets a larger audience, great. But be patient. Don’t offer Office Hours for just a few weeks, then give up. Make them a regular commitment and make sure to bring something you can work on, if no one shows. Put that time and consistency in, and you may find a community slowly but surely growing up around you.

Lay out what terms they can get free information from you.
This is the beauty of being an artpreneur: you can design any terms you like! You can ask them to follow you on IG, Twitch, Twitter or Facebook – or sign up for emails – in exchange for X minutes of your expertise. You can ask them to join your Discord and submit their question to a particular channel (this has the considerable advantage that *many other people* can benefit from your expertise). You can send them a link to your Venmo, CashApp, or Paypal tip jar and ask for $__ fee. You can ask them for a picture of their cat.

You really can!

Even if your terms are narrow – you’re still to be commended for providing anything at all – because you certainly don’t have to!

and on that note…

Make people work (a little – or a lot!) for your expertise.
It’s the easiest thing in the world for someone to quickly DM and demand information. Some of those people don’t respect you – they’re just grabbing for what they can get. You can separate those who don’t appreciate you from those who do, by asking them to work a little harder than a DM! You can write something like, “I don’t answer expertise questions via DM but if you email me at kelly@bespokehogaboom.com I’ll do my best to read and reply! Thank you for your interest!”

This isn’t rude behavior on your part – at all. This is a vetting process where you can make sure those you do good work for – work you do without recompense –  respect you in kind. They’re willing to slow their roll!

Think about it. Think about an expert in your field. An absolute expert! How honored would you be if they said, “Yes I’ll help you – can you submit your question via email?” I tell you, in cases like this I have absolutely opened up my email program and crafted a well-worded, compact query. Because I respect people and I respect their time. I know that five minutes of their time and from their brain – is worth an awful lot! And I’m happy to meet their terms.

Final thoughts:

If you’re a conscientious person, you want to be generous. I know I do! In fact in my business course I require my students to make time, space, or a platform for some kind of generosity. On their terms!

Because you want to be generous, but you also need to be treated with respect. It’s stressful to feel like you’ve gotta stop what you’re doing and respond – and respond quickly and cheerfully at that, while expecting nothing in return! – but that really is what some people expect. It’s astonishing, it’s rude, it’s absolutely wild and you have my sympathy.

But those Bad Actors shouldn’t dictate your policies; and those need to sustain you through the long haul.

Make policies that work best for you – not work best for any clownshoes who has access to the Message button.

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Interested in hearing more about my WHOLE ENCHILADA course? I send out emails on Mondays, gearing up for the spring and summer sessions. You can sign up for those here.