7 Ways to Excel at Asking for Advice From Experts

Experts want to help, but they'll be much more willing to offer you a hand if you follow these tips.

learn more about Stephen Key

By Stephen Key


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the first things I recommend to anyone who wants to be successful is to find a mentor. Seeking out the opinion and advice of someone who is currently doing what you want to be doing will help you in a myriad of ways. You'll avoid heartache and the costly mistakes made out of naivety.

But how do you get that conversation started? Social media has made it easier than ever to reach out to the experts who inspire us.

I believe experts want to help. I certainly do. Sure, I'm busy, but let's keep it real. If I didn't enjoy sharing my knowledge with others, I never would have founded a coaching program. I never would have written One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work. I'm in the business of education!

Related: 4 Ways to Get Anyone -- Even Your Heroes -- to Be Your Mentor

To be frank, I think "busy" is a lame excuse for not getting back to someone -- it's really that you just don't care enough. It's not enough to simply ask for help though. It's how you ask that will set you apart -- and make an expert more likely to offer a hand.

1. Before you ask an expert a question, try to answer it yourself.

I've been writing about product licensing online for years now. When I receive an inquiry about a topic I've covered at length in a previous article, I'm happy to quickly respond with a link to the corresponding article. But I always wonder, "Does this person know how to use Google?"

It makes more sense to study a subject until you feel like you know it well and then approach an expert for his or her advice. You'll have a firmer grip on the perspective you seek. To be honest, most experts aren't going to be willing to answer question after question, so make it a good one!

2. Briefly explain who you are.

Context is always helpful. Who are you? Why are you sending this message? Experts like to know. A long-winded explanation isn't needed. I'm talking about something as simple as "aspiring product developer" or "engineering student." Doing so will humanize you.

3. Never forget that flattery will get you far.

What expert doesn't love hearing what they do is appreciated? Try to be as specific as you can. When someone references my book or an article I've written, I know that they're already at least a little bit familiar with my work. I love that.

Related: How and When to Give Advice (Hint: It's Not as Simple as You Think)

4. Ask questions that are clearly defined, but not necessarily specific to your exact circumstance.

Experts can't weigh in on the exact scenario in which you find yourself, because doing so wouldn't be sincere. They simply don't know enough. I know I don't want to give anyone bad advice. Focus instead on asking more general questions.

5. Be even keeled.

I cannot stress this enough! Knowledge is what you're after, isn't it? Focus on starting a dialogue rather than confirming an opinion. When people reveal what they already think about a subject in their initial inquiry, I'm wary of getting a conversation started. The reality is that it isn't going to be much of a conversation.

Experts just want to share what they think, not convince anyone of anything. I wonder why the person messaged me in the first place if his or her opinion is already formed.

6. Proofread what you write.

I think a lot of what getting someone to help you comes down to is being genuine and thoughtful. Taking the time to craft a well-written, error-free message is one way of doing that. It tells the expert that you care. They'll care more as a result.

7. Double and triple-check how to spell his or her name.

Addressing me as "Steven" is far from a deal-breaker, but if I'm being honest, it makes me feel like you haven't put very much effort into your message. After all, it's such a simple thing to do. I might be especially sensitive to this, because my name is easily misspelled!

Related: 5 Essential Elements of an Email That Respects People's Time

Stephen Key

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-Founder of inventRight; Author of One Simple Idea Series

Stephen Key is an inventor, IP strategist, author, speaker and co-founder of inventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nevada-based company that helps inventors design, patent and license their ideas for new products.

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