On Sunday, I was trolling through Facebook during the horrible, horrible, horrible Bears game (yet, I couldn’t bring myself to turn it off) and found an article someone had posted titled, “How Not to Be a Networking Leech: Tips for Seeking Professional Advice.”
If you read Spin Sucks often, you already know the “can I pick your brain” question is one of my least favorite (and if you’re new here, I really, really hate it). But this article offers much more than, “Stop asking people to pick their brains because we sell our thoughts for a living.” In fact, it’s rather valuable.
I found myself nodding along and then yelling AMEN!! when I got to, “Don’t argue about their advice or point out why it wouldn’t work for you.”
Even if you don’t sell your brain for a living, you likely know what I am talking about.
Someone is on the job market and is meeting with everyone he or she can to try to find a job. Someone else is launching a new business and needs to drum up clients. And yet someone else is going back into the workforce after a few years off and needs help networking with the right people.
All of these are very good reasons to meet with another person…and doing good deeds like that, particularly if you truly can help them, comes back in spades.
But there are also those people who pretend to be one of the above or worse, pretend they want to hire you, and do nothing but try to suck all of your ideas for free. They use networking as the reason, but they’re in it for nothing more than for themselves.
This is what we call Type OO: Output Only.
They’re not concerned with mutually beneficial networking. They’re not concerned with helping you in return. They’re only concerned with what’s in it for them and getting as much free advice as they can.
That is why the advice in the New York Times piece is valuable…for both people going to a “pick your brain” (or networking) meeting.
Get the Best Out of Networking
Following are the tips the article recommended, along with my thoughts on why each is important.
- Make the meeting convenient. I live in a gigantic city. If you live or work in the suburbs and you want me to come to you, you’re not only asking for an hour coffee or lunch, but the 60 minutes or more—each way—it’ll take me to get to you. But if you come meet me at the coffee shop down the street or, better, offer to meet with me while we ride our bikes or go for a walk, I am totally down.
- Buy their coffee or meal. Nine times out of 10, the bill comes and the person who asked for the meeting just looks at it…or goes to the restroom as it is delivered. You are the one who wanted the networking. Pick up the $4 latte or $10 salad.
- Go with a prepared list of questions. If I think back to all of the networking meetings I have had this year, only one showed up with a list of questions and made our time worthwhile. The second time we met (because I was super impressed at how she took my advice and ran with it), she showed me the results of our first meeting. And she bought my lunch. And she let me hold her five-month-old baby. Win. Win. Win.
- Don’t argue about their advice or point out why it wouldn’t work for you. The reason I yelled AMEN! at this is because it is SO COMMON. Don’t ask for an expert’s advice if you don’t really want it. You don’t have to take it. You can leave the meeting and think it wasn’t worthwhile. But don’t argue with the person or tell them thanks, but no thanks.
- Don’t ask for intellectual property or materials. There are certain things I will give you: Presentations that are also on Slideshare, videos we’ve posted to YouTube, even webinars that cost you an email address. But don’t ask me for a communications plan template or an example of our business plan. Not happening. Find out what the expert will give away (it’s easy to find on their website or blog), but don’t ask for anything you know you can’t find with a Google search.
- Never ask for follow-up. I once had someone ask me, in a follow-up email, if I’d taken notes and, if so, if I could send them to him. Um, no?
- Spend time at the end of the meeting finding out what you can do for them. Most of the time the expert will not have something that you can help with, but it sure does feel good to be asked. At the very least, share their content and follow them on the social networks.
- Always thank them more than once. You know what else is amazing? A handwritten thank you note. A public thank you on Facebook or Twitter. Even a small gift (cupcakes, FTW!) as a kind gesture.
- Do not refer others to the same expert. Just because the person helped you does not mean he or she will (or can) do it for anyone else. Don’t tell people, “So and so helped me get a job!” and then refer them to the expert. This is very, very bad form.
- Ask an expert for free help only once. If you find the advice you were given valuable, pay for it the next time. There are a gazillion ways you can work with most people, from extremely affordable to crazy talking money.
- As you ask people for help, always consider how you in turn can help others. Pay it forward. Enough said.And a couple I would add:
- Don’t require the expert to do the meeting scheduling. This one comes from Martin Waxman (we discuss it on Inside PR this week). Don’t require the expert to send you available dates…and then, when they do, say that none of those work. Send your available dates and times and work your schedule around the expert’s.
- Do a double opt-in when introducing the expert. This one is a biggie and I use it for everything. If I want to introduce two people, for any reason, I always email or call the expert first to tell them about the person I think they should meet and why. I give them the opportunity to tell me no before I make the introduction. If it won’t work out, for any reason, I haven’t offered the introduction to the other person yet so no harm, no foul. This allows you to make really good introductions that both parties are willing to work on.
If you are the person being asked, it’s important to keep all of these in mind for those you’re networking with. It’s business. Let’s respect one another’s time to get the best out of every opportunity.
image credit: Gustavo Frazao