No, I can’t get coffee with you. Ugh, I’m sorry. Am I a jerk? I feel bad just typing it – but it needed to be said. Years ago, I read this article in Forbes (that is highly circulated amongst creative entrepreneurs) and was enticed by just the title. “Here’s What To Say When Someone Asks To “Pick Your Brain,” I thought, “Wow! Genius! I need to read this!” but paragraph after paragraph I found myself nodding along less.
The sentiment was there, but the article was off base -at least for me. In my world, it isn’t about feeling undervalued and giving away advice for free (I’m not a business coach so I do see where she’s coming from there) rather it’s about my lack of time and their request for a face-to-face meeting.
What’s Hard About Sharing Advice?
I’m part of a creative entrepreneur group on Facebook and I can’t tell you how many women share on a daily basis how they are hit up by people they don’t know asking questions like “how do I become a blogger, I want free stuff!” or “I’d love to get coffee with you and pick your brain about becoming a photographer!” Women in this group share their challenges and frustrations when asked things like this.
To ask someone to summarize what they’ve done for years to get to the point of where they are in a simple Instagram DM or coffee chat is minimizing the tremendous effort that has gone into them developing their craft. If there is one thing an entrepreneur doesn’t have, it’s time. Certainly not to spend with someone they don’t know sharing free advice on what likely took them years to build and thousands in hardware, software, training, and education.
Whether it’s a superior at work or a professional you admire, taking a few steps before you ask them for help will hopefully establish a longterm relationship. Here’s what I recommend for seeking out advice:
Show Interest In Them
Asking someone you don’t admire for advice seems silly so don’t be afraid to slather on the butter. Women are usually terrible at giving each other compliments – in fact, we could love someone’s outfit, secretly take a picture of it, follow them on IG, and still manage to have RBF and throw shade when they look our way. Ugh, we’re the worst. Channel your inner bestie and build a relationship by sharing what you admire about the person. They are more likely to want to give you their time if you show that you’ve invested yours first and why you want to hear from them? What makes them your go-to person?
Ask Specific Questions
If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this. Ask specific questions. While I did the bulk of my growth myself, there weren’t as many resources as there are now, in fact, there were none. When I started blogging was a hobby not a career, but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing or able to help others. If someone asks me “How do I become a blogger?” I usually redirect them to my website with posts on blogging including What I Wish I Knew Before I Started A Blog and A Day In The Life Of A Part Time Blogger With A Full Time Job. However, if someone takes the time to ask me a specific question like,
“I love the graphics that you create, would you mind sharing the program that you use to create them? I’d love to learn! Also, are you familiar with any online resources that you would recommend to learn how to use the software? Thanks for your time!”
Depending on what I have going on that day, I’m usually happy to quickly answer (Keynote) and let them know that it’s a pretty user-friendly software with tons of free YouTube tutorials online.
Give Them An Out
The best way to solicit a response is to not demand one. Be genuinely understanding of that person’s workload, clearly, you admire their hustle for a reason, and give them an out with your request. Unless you are paying a business coach, no one is required to answer your questions so like every other favor, be kind and ask politely.
For example, instead of saying:
“What software did you use to create your presentation?”
You can say,
“Hi there! Just wanted to quickly reach out and let you know that I really admired the presentation you did last week at the company retreat. I felt like I truly understood the project that your team focused. Your presentations are always created so well! Do you happen to have any information regarding programs or software that I can look into to help polish my skills? I’ve already explored YouTube and found some good tips there, but really looking to up my game. Totally understand if you are slammed, just wanted to ask in case you get a minute to respond :)”
Final Thoughts On How to Ask For Advice
You get to a point where your most valued commodity is not money, it’s time. Just because they make it look easy, doesn’t mean it is. Perhaps they work a full-time job, have a family, take care of a sick or aging relative, raise children, and have a side hustle. Your $5 cup of coffee won’t buy them more time in the day.
I don’t want to discourage you from seeking out advice. The most successful people know how to ask for help and that’s just it – how to ask. The internet is full of incredible information and people willing to share it for free. Do your research and search for answers. In the true path to success there are no shortcuts, so ask to be pointed in the right direction, not for a treasure map.