From the October 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

Stephan Schiffman, president of D.E.I. Management Group Inc., recalls a hot potato being lobbed his way at a New York City Chamber of Commerce panel discussion. In the middle of a discussion on banks, someone asked, "How do you get a loan?" Schiffman couldn't give an honest answer because his banker was in the audience.

Asking for advice at a chamber meeting can be as challenging as imparting it. One question overheard by a competitor or debtor could hurt your business. But don't resign yourself to not seeking delicate advice.

"Hire an agent to represent you," says David May, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president. He suggests your attorney or accountant as trustworthy conduits.

May also recommends talking with the chamber's president, who is used to acting discretely. "It's a good place to get an overview, and then they can refer you to specific people," he says.

Schiffman proposes opening the possibility for dialogue by reversing the flow of information. "Become active in the chamber as a speaker or director because that brings people to you," he says. As people come up to shake your hand, you can ask your questions.


Business writer Chris Sandlund works out of Cold Spring, New York.

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