I may offend some of the Starbucks fanatics with this one, but it needs to be said. Now, before you get your venti iced caramel macchiato in a bunch, just hear me out.
Let me first start by saying this blog post isn’t for everyone. This one is for people who want to contact others to glean something from them in exchange for a perceived value that is typically unsolicited. You know what I mean, the type of people that send the random, “I would love to pick your brain over coffee!” sort of requests who have never met you or weren’t introduced through a mutual friend.
Whether it’s a sale, potential business venture, advice, or even encouragement, requesting to grab coffee without first expressing a valid need can easily get your message deleted out of your hero’s inbox.
For those of you who know my unorthodox career path, you know that I landed one of my first jobs out of college by sliding in the DM’s and asking a CEO for advice. However, that was 2012 when Vine was still poppin’ and four years before Instagram introduced 15 second videos on their timeline (do you remember those?).
Access to people has never been easier and the traditional six degrees of separation has turned into one direct message away. However, having access to someone is not the same as having a relationship with some one. With a lower barrier to entry than ever before, I’ve noticed an assumption: people believe they are entitled to people’s time.
REALITY CHECK: YOU’RE NOT.
Trust me, I get it. You have a need, you see a person is killing it on social media or even in your field, and you want to talk to them to find out what they’re all about. But before you shoot your shot, I would highly advise that you do these three things to make sure you’re not left on read.
1. Understand the value of the other person’s time
I’ve said this before on the blog, but I’ll say it again: you can’t get time back. If you’re asking for someone to drop what they are doing, drive to a location, and sit with you to exchange niceties while sipping an overpriced beverage they could have made at home…you better make it worth their while. It’s not that people aren’t willing to help you or even share their story with you, but understand the time they spend pouring into you could also have been spent securing a new client, figuring out a broken system in their supply chain, or simply taking a quick rest before answering emails.
Don’t waste time by asking them something that is google-able (not a word, but you know what I mean). If this person is someone you think is worth your time to speak with, I’m sure there is at least one random podcast interview, blog post, or PDF that has their biography, FAQ’s or credentials. Research them so you know about their career path and can have relevant conversation.
Unless you are writing a new feature story, try nixing questions such as:
“What made you start _____?“ or “Why did you get into __________?“
Those are surface level questions that make the ticking on the clock of wasted time go even slower. Instead lead with, “I read your interview on ______ and saw you got started by __________. Is that still what motivates you?” Just a little reshaping shows you’ve taken some initiative.
2. Know what you want and what you can offer
Notice how in the very beginning of this post, I stated you should have a valid need. The word valid is implying that you have a justifiable reason for reaching out to the person. In other words, you are doing this because you have already sought out initial solutions to your problem, and you are contacting them because you value their insight.
Remember that message to the CEO I talked about earlier? Here’s an exact screenshot of what I said. Now, I wouldn’t recommend you sending it at 10pm (Hey, the kid needed a job!), but I was very direct with my solicitation:
After an introduction, note that I referenced the following:
- What I’ve already done that led to my roadblock
- Why I believed she would be helpful for my valid need
- The official ask and my intention
Looking back on it now, I would have made this a lot shorter. This was also after about 37 label and label imprints had already told me “Thanks, but no thanks,” so again…I needed a job.
If you aren’t initially leading with a relevant and enticing offer (note the italicized words), that’s fine. Just make your intentions clear and direct so no one feels bamboozled by your invitation.[Tweet “If someone has ever asked to “Pick your brain,” send them this blog post by @vannesiadarby!”]
3. Offer an alternative to meeting one on one
It’s 2019 and people are busy with workplace and personal demands. If you are asking for time, it’s safe to assume that you’re not the only one. Of course face to face interaction is ideal, but there are plenty of ways to connect with someone until you can meet in person.
We have Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout, Zoom, Go To Meeting, Webex, BlueJeans, Demio….you get the picture. Don’t be so determined to get a face to face meeting that you disregard the flexibility that technology can bring.
Maybe the person can chat while they’re in the airport or take a quick call in between meetings. Perhaps they send you a voice memo answering your questions on their ride home. As long as you know what your valid need is, you can be creative in order to fulfill it. You may even see this person later at an industry related event, so keep your options open.
Oh, and one more thing…
If someone renders their time, be sure to thank them. Depending on your budget, offer to pay for the coffee when you meet (they probably won’t accept it, but it’s a nice gesture). When they take a phone call, send a hand written thank you card (it’ll be the best $1.75 you ever spend). You can even send them a Starbucks Gift Card online for their next cup of joe on you.
Before you hit send on that email, DM, or text, ask yourself have you checked these boxes. If not, leave it in draft mode and do your homework before reaching out.