'Pick Your Brain Over Coffee' -- Is It The Best Approach?

Workin' Girl

Have you ever slid into your favorite influencer, industry expert, or entrepreneurs' DM asking to pick their brain over coffee?

Slowing raises a hand.

You may be wondering why you never received a response or why you received a consulting rate sheet as a reply.

From afar, we live vicariously through other people's social feeds, studying the way they move so we can mimic their steps to success, but when hitting the "like" button isn't enough you slide in the DMs to ask if you can “pick their brain."

Nowadays, this question has become a topic of discussion on and offline about the proper ways to set a meeting with someone you admire to get their insight or advice. Many of our favorite women to follow have cried on their Insta Stories or had a long rant on Twitter about the exhaustion that comes with being asked to “pick their brain."

We asked a few women whose inboxes get filled with inquiries to share their feelings on this unpopular question and what advice they give aspiring entrepreneurs, young professionals, and influencers on how to properly reach out for the advice they are looking for.

Chelsea Williams

Her Occupation

Founder & Chief Strategist of ThatsChelsea.com


Washington, D.C.

Pick Your Brain Requests

Chelsea's wellness site has garnered her opportunities to speak on panels and to be booked as talent on television. The busy writer receives around three to four inquiries to “pick her brain" a day and feels that the request needs to be more formal.

How She Responds

“I typically respond explaining why I don't participate in these types of meetings. I then offer to provide a Calendly link that includes my schedule and rates if they want to continue the relationship."

Why She Doesn't Think The Pick Your Brain Approach Works

“It took some of us years and thousands of dollars to acquire this knowledge. This is worth more than the price of a cup of coffee. I have two degrees; I'm certified in my field and pay for continuing education courses throughout the year to maintain my credentials. Employers pay their employees for their time and expertise. Why is that we view entrepreneurs and independent contractors/consultants as unworthy of the same treatment?"

Her Advice

“In my opinion, one of the best ways to approach someone is to be present. Show up to a workshop, conference, or meeting that they are either attending or hosting. Tell them what you have learned thus far from their platform and/or experiences. Ask if they have a consulting fee and let the person decide if they want to turn the relationship into mentorship. I feel more comfortable mentoring someone who has been in my circle, rather than someone who I have never interacted with."

Michiel Perry

Her Occupation

Founder of BlackSouthernBelle.com


Charleston, SC

Pick Your Brain Requests

“For every person who doesn't like the pick your brain email, there is also someone who loves it," the Southern Belle admits.

The former lobbyist left her Corporate America job to start up her website BlackSouthernBelle.com and, in four months, gain $50K worth of sponsorships. Her lifestyle website sent her to London for speaking engagements, as well as public appearances throughout the South.

How She Responds

"The first thing I do is Google their name and then connect on LinkedIn. I try to respond within a week and schedule something over the next 6-8 weeks or ask them to follow up in a few weeks if my schedule is crazy. I find that asking people to follow up in a few weeks is a good way to filter people who are serious about the request or just doing because they are sending out a blast of emails."

Her Advice

“I would tell people who are trying to connect with busy people to try and work with people who fit their personal and professional personality. If you are shy, connect with a mentor who keeps a low key social media profile. If you are the life of the party, send a bold email to a person who fits your style. Picking your brain can work for everyone but it is best when the strategy is targeted to fit your style and the style of the person you are reaching out to."

Marielle Legair

Her Occupation

Personal Brand & Publicity Strategist & Founder of Women Who Influence


New York

Pick Your Brain Requests

The author of upcoming book, The Personal Brand Bible for Ambitious Women moved from her hometown of London to establish her career in the Big Apple. Marielle receives around four to five “pick your brain" questions a month about her career in PR or her move to a new country. “I'm willing to help because I know what it's like when you want to make a big career or life change," she shared.

Why She's Willing to Help

"The question in itself doesn't bother me, but people need to get better at networking. We all need a strong support network and I wouldn't be where I am today without the guidance of mentors. But the key that's all too often overlooked, is to add significant value before even needing to make an ask. That's why I wrote The Personal Brand Bible for Ambitious Women because I've encountered so many women who don't know how to network effectively, which will have an adverse effect on their long-term success."

Her Advice

“Adding value and taking the time to build a rapport before 'needing' something is key. Otherwise, you look like a user. Plus, there are so many alternative ways to fill knowledge gaps before approaching a busy person, such as attending seminars, listening to podcasts, and reading career profiles online. There's nothing more annoying than a random person contacting you to ask a basic question that can just as easily be found online!"

Kandia Johnson

Her Occupation

Communications & Visibility Strategist


New York

Pick Your Brain Requests

As Kandia builds her consulting business and brand that has taken her to Africa to lead workshops and share her expertise, she filters her "pick your brain" requests each month by fielding questions.

How She Responds

“There's a difference between someone looking for free business advice versus the person who needs a mentor or business bestie. At first, I'm leery because many people forget that investing in yourself comes at a cost. To get to any level of success you want, there will always be an investment or sacrifice. You can't go to a therapist for free, you can't grow a six-figure business for free, and you can't join a gym for free—so how bad do you want it?"

Her Advice

“With the power of social media, you can take time to study that person, add value to the relationship and build a relationship them. sometimes you can attract mentors by what you create. For instance, let's say you heard them speak at an event, you could write or vlog about the top 10 things I learned from [he or she]. You could also invite them as a guest on your podcast or to speak about their experiences on your FB live or YouTube show."

Whitney Headen

Her Occupation

Managing partner of 19th & Park Creative Agency & Founder of The Life Currency


New York

Pick Your Brain Requests

Whitney's past experience working for some of today's most popular media brands has made her someone people want to connect with. “It begins with someone saying they admire the work that one of my companies has created and [they] would love to pick my brain about how they can apply some of the same strategies to their businesses or personal brand," she shared.

How She Responds

"I usually always answer with 'I offer 15-minute consultations' and after that, we can discuss the opportunity to join one of the five coaching sessions I conduct per month. If the person is really interested in gaining information, they almost always book the session with me. I feel extremely blessed to be in a position to offer help and expertise to those who don't have the same skills, however, I am consistently protecting my magic to make sure I'm not taken advantage of."

Her Advice

“Approach people for informational interviews and come from a place of wanting to learn and listen versus a place of trying to gain an outcome or a tangible result of the interaction. Also, mentorship has to be an equal exchange, I've never gained a mentor by asking them to mentor me. I've made myself able and opened myself up to learning and absorbing so that the relationship naturally fosters itself."

With the advice from these women you are well on your way to securing a meeting and maybe even a mentor with a woman who inspires you.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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