The business leaders you admire the most are often the busiest. They run businesses, manage hectic schedules, and often don’t have time to sit down for a leisurely conversation. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask them for help.
Industry leaders and seasoned entrepreneurs are usually more than willing to give quality advice to less-experienced business owners if someone mentored them along the way. They are more likely to pay it forward and spare someone else the pain of making the same costly mistakes they once made.
Here are seven tips on how to pick someone’s brain without being a pest.
1. Get on his or her radar. Important people are much more willing to give assistance to people they know or have something in common with. If you have a mutual contact, ask for a proper introduction. Check out LinkedIn and see if you have any shared connections. If not, follow the person you admire on Twitter, subscribe to his blog and read his books. Learn everything you can about him, his business, and his perspective on business. Try to integrate yourself into his network.
2. Have one specific question or favor in mind. General advice is everywhere — all you need to do is Google a question and the results will give you thousands of articles filled with answers. If you approach a busy person and ask for basic advice, you may not get a response at all. Most successful entrepreneurs are simply too busy to dole out general business advice to everyone. If you have a mutual friend, mention it. Name-dropping can work, if you’re genuine. And remember to be as succinct and specific as possible.
3. Address your message directly. If you send an email, address it with the person’s name (and make sure it’s spelled correctly). When an email doesn’t contain a proper greeting, it may be perceived as spam or a message sent to more than one person. Use the first sentence or two to quickly explain why you’re reaching out. If you have something in common, mention it. If the person has written a book that has made a huge impact on your life, say so. Tell the person exactly why she’s the best person to give you advice. Most people want to know what’s in it for them.
4. Honor his time. Most busy entrepreneurs don’t have time to meet for a long lunch or dinner. The best time to meet someone is early in the morning before he gets his day started. Suggest meeting for a quick cup of coffee or set up a phone appointment. Set a time limit for your meeting. Keep your meeting to 30 minutes or less. You’ll be more likely to land a meeting if you keep it short. Remember, time is valuable. When all else fails, offer to pay the important person for his advice. Let’s face it, money talks.
Related: The 3 Qualities of Likable People
5. Consider alternative venues. Do some research. Is the important person is a member of any local organizations? Which charities does he support? Will he be speaking at or attending any conferences or events? If you’re going to be at the same event, take the opportunity to seek out the advice you need. Send him an email ahead of time requesting a brief get-together. Be sure to send it early, before his schedule gets too hectic.
6. Show your gratitude. There are many ways to thank someone for giving you advice. You could write a short thank-you note and drop it in the mail. A small, personalized gift is always a nice touch. Or, you could offer to do the person a favor in return, particularly if you have any valuable connections. You don’t have to be particularly influential to be helpful.
7. Be an active part of his or her network. Your professional relationship with someone you admire shouldn’t end once he answers your question. If you are lucky enough to meet face-to-face or have a phone call with a successful business leader, grow the relationship. Stay in touch and pay it forward whenever you can. Remember, referrals are the highest form of compliment.