Your Mom Was Wrong. Sometimes It Does Hurt to Ask. Asking a successful person you don't know for advice will often leave you without advice or the chance of building a relationship.
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Let's be honest, patience is not a quality most of us are born with. As entrepreneurs, we want to grow our business, and we want progress quickly. One strategy that has been passed around for ages is to ask for advice from successful entrepreneurs. You may have seen this in action yourself from people asking you for advice.
It can range from the, "Let me pick your brain," or "I have a quick question" email to someone trying to grab a few minutes at a conference or event. It seems harmless enough, and we're told to be persistent, but asking could be hurting your chances of making a real connection with someone who could help your business.
The ask exceeds your relationship.
I was at a conference last year and heard a speaker explain this eloquently. She asked a guy in the audience his first name. He said it was Mike. She then said, "It's nice to meet you Mike, can I kiss you on the lips?" The crowd erupted into laughter.
She went on to say that this is what we do with relationships, and especially with other entrepreneurs. We haven't connected with them at all, yet we ask them for information they either paid to learn, or took years to figure out. We are essentially asking for that kiss on the lips.
Maybe you think it's ok to ask because that's what we have always been taught to do so, but if your ask exceeds the relationship, you risk alienating that entrepreneur. It might even be offensive if your first interaction is to ask for free advice. You're asking for their most valuable resource: their time. It does hurt to ask and it could affect your chance of a future mentor, business partner or friend.
Related: Feel Dumb Asking for Advice? You'll Actually Appear More Competent.
The right approach.
Successful entrepreneurs produce a wealth of free content. They have blogs, podcasts, videos and webinars that give you clues to their success. Studying the material, and implementing what they teach, is hard work that turns off many entrepreneurs. It's a lot easier to ask, thinking you'll get that silver bullet to speed up your progress.
I have experienced this personally. Since I've started writing for Entrepreneur, everyday I get an email from somebody I don't know asking for an introduction to my editor. There's no interest in me or my business, or what it took for me to be writing this to you. They just want the quickest and easiest way to bypass the hard work.
There's a better way to connect with successful entrepreneurs. It starts with studying and applying their free content. They work hard to produce that free content, and are impressed and happy when you use it successful. While everyone else is trying to "kiss them on the lips," you are separating yourself by showing how much you value what they do.
Use their content and share it. Thank them publicly and tell them what results you've gotten. When I say publicly, I mean social media. Successful entrepreneurs get hundreds of emails, and most of them are self-serving. Tweet to them. Comment on their Facebook fan page. Leave a meaningful comment on their blog. Make it brief but powerful.
Try to establish a relationship. I'm not saying you have to be their best friend, but you have to build some familiarity. Don't approach influencers the way everyone else does.
Spend a little money. Buy one of their lower end products and put it to good use. Again, I'm not telling you to take out loans to pay for it. Buy something in your budget to show them you value what they provide.
Related: The Esquire Guy's Guide to Asking for Advice
You have to crawl before you walk.
We live in an exciting time. Today, you can be successful all on your own. There's no need to chase influencers, but if you do just realize it takes time and work. There are no overnight successes, just entrepreneurs who do what it takes to achieve success.
It's frustrating to successful entrepreneurs when someone doesn't understand their value or how much they value their time. A successful entrepreneur's time is the most valuable and expensive part of their business.
To get access to that time, you have to pay, or pay your dues. To be successful in anything, you have to pay your dues. Don't be like everyone else looking for a shortcut. Don't ask for that kiss on the lips. Figure out what you need to do to be successful all on your own.