Help Others Help You

I was out for coffee with a new business owner earlier this week.  At the end, the owner tried to be proactive in his business and asked me “Who do you know that I should know?” I was a bit blunt in my response, which was “That is a bad question.  I don’t know how to begin to answer it.”  I admit that he was a bit taken back by that, but I stand by my assessment.  He then did a smart thing and asked why.

Let’s start with the good. He was trying to have me open doors. He wasn’t shy about admitting he wanted help.  Those are good things.  Do them. 

Now the bad part.  He gave me no direction.  We had been meeting about things that weren’t his company.  It had to do with a volunteer job we were both doing for a third party.  I had no real feel for where he was in his business other than it was new.  I didn’t know his goals, his immediate needs, or his pain points.  I don’t know his network or even what type of person will help his business.  Heck, I didn’t even know his niche or value proposition.  How can I provide useful contacts with that little to go on?  I could have thrown out random names but that would have useless for all parties involved.  In fact, when I threw the same question back at him, he gave me a good, blank stare as he quickly realized that he had no idea how to respond.  Exactly, dude!

So what could he have done?  First, he needed to set the table.  Hey, I am starting this company, and my first order of business is finding a place to do it.  OK, so you need real estate contacts – landlords, agents, people with excess office space.  My goal is to become the premier widget seller in the I-90 corridor.  Got it, you want to know who is selling widgets between Madison and Milwaukee, for starters.  My biggest pain point is that no one knows that I make widgets.  Oooh, have you talked to these marketing specialists?  I have a toehold now.

Second, he could go the step further and tell me what type of person he is looking to know. “I am looking to talk to a social media expert.”  “I want to know people who have complained that they don’t understand why widgets break so often.”  This helps me come up with names then and there but also later when I hear the widget complaint.

Finally, he could identify specific targets.  “Do you know Jeff Glazer?”  Uh, yeah. I see him around.  I may even be able to plead your case to him.  Once he shows me how to work the TV remote. Again.

What’s the moral of the story?  Ask for help. Please! Just make sure that the person that you are asking has enough information to actually be able to help.  Help me help you!

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