"Can I pick your brain about..." / On Coffee and Mentorship / by Andrea Beça

Coffee Blog.jpg

Freelancers and coffee - they go together like peanut butter and jelly. Once you go freelance, a lot of your life revolves around coffee, whether you're drinking lots of it to stay fuelled for late nights, spending your work days at various coffee shops to get out of the house, or meeting with clients over a cup of coffee to get business done. 

But somewhere along the line, coffee became misconstrued as a form of payment for freelancers, too. Suddenly, everyone wants to take you for a cup of coffee so that they can "pick your brain" or "get some help" with something - the thing you've made your career. 

It's a tough position to be in, because as freelancers, we're always trying to stay open to new connections and networking that could lead to potential work. But at the same time, we can't afford to spend our lives going out for coffees and giving away free information to people who have no intention of becoming our clients, but require a couple hours of professional consultation and guidance.

Now, if you're reading this and thinking it sounds extreme to say, "spend our lives," I can tell you this: in my own experience as a freelancer who works in multiple media from writing to filmmaking to podcasting and formerly social media, I receive a minimum of two messages a week requesting my knowledge in exchange for coffee. Not too long ago, I received six requests in a single week. On average, I'd say I get 3-4 messages a week from people who want to, "pick my brain."

Do I think all of the folks requesting my time and knowledge are malicious demon-people trying to steal my livelihood away from me? Of course not. And for a long time - almost three years, to be precise - I tried my hardest, often juggled my schedule around, and bent over backwards to say yes to as many of those requests as I could. 

Then I realized I was being a big 'ol hypocrite. A big ol' tired and sometimes frustrated hypocrite. I was always advising my friends and colleagues to make sure they were charging people for their time and knowledge, and always making sure that - aside from volunteer projects where all folks were on the same page about donating their time to something - I was compensating anyone who did any kind of work for me. 

I've learned so much over my last three years of full-time self-employment. So much. One of the most important things I've learned is that client education is a HUGE part of being an entrepreneur. We don't know what we don't know. Nobody does - including me when I am in the role of client rather than freelancer. 

I think there's a much larger conversation to have here about how the arts and creative careers are regarded in the grand scheme of things, but I don't have the time (ha!) or energy to go down that road right now.

Right now, what I want to do is send a love letter to all my fellow freelancers. I see you all. I have deep respect for the time, money, energy, passion, blood, sweat, tears, and years y'all have put into refining your unique skills and crafts. I want to encourage you to stand behind the rates you charge and know that your work is valuable. And I want to give you permission (if you need the nudge) to say no to any project or meeting that doesn't feel like it's in alignment, whatever that means for you.

And I want to reiterate that I don't think anyone who asks a freelancer for free time or free work is a "bad" person. I'm hoping that instead, this blog post will open up the conversation about how we approach and treat freelancers. The next time you start writing an email or a DM to a freelancer to ask them to teach you about something or help you with something over coffee, consider this: would you take your doctor for coffee to discuss your weird mole? Would you invite your personal trainer to coffee to walk you through a workout routine real quick? Would you ask your financial advisor or lawyer to coffee to pick their brain about your next investment, or to help you draft your will?

(Well, you might try, but I can tell you that unless there are some very special circumstances at play - i.e., your mom's your doctor - they're going to say no.)

My name is Andrea Beça. I have a BA in English and Creative Writing and a Master's in Playwriting and Dramaturgy. I have over 10 years of experience as a professional writer, director, and producer, almost 7 years of experience as a filmmaker and editor, and almost 3 years of experience as a podcaster. Storytelling is my life. Creating community is one of my passions. And I would be absolutely thrilled to go for coffee with you to share my knowledge and experience and guide you towards your next project. Please get in touch with me for a customized quote, or visit the Workshops, Training, & Mentorship page for my rates.