I received the following email from a friend who has had a successful career as a business consultant and now works for a very cool tech company. She was seeking my advice on a networking and "helping another person" situation, and I felt the need to share this one here on my blog. With her permission.. here it is:
There is a man on the periphery of our social circle who is looking for a new job. In my estimation he is a taker. I have given him referrals during his previous job search and my husband has counseled him as well. We have never received anything in return from him or his family.
He emailed me asking to get together to pick my brain on consulting. I offered to meet him for coffee near my office, which is an hour from where we both live. I see this as the equivalent of your 6am offer strategy and also the best time for me to give him my attention. He responded to my email today suggesting we chat by phone instead as driving an hour each way for coffee is inconvenient for him. Frankly, as a working parent of three, any time I give him is inconvenient.
However, I feel sorry for him as I have heard from mutual friends that he and his family are in a tough spot financially.
I welcome your advise.
This made me smile as it happens all the time. Someone reaches out to "pick your brain" (which translates to them wanting "free consulting") and then want you to come to them or meet them half way. If this person really believed in his soul that her advice would be valuable in helping him launch a consulting practice, he would have happily driven the hour to meet near her office. I have known of people that have purchased plane tickets and flown across the country for one hour of time with someone who they value.
My guess is this guy wanted to chat over coffee more to show his wife and himself that he is actively working to solve the career situation, not that he felt my friend could really help him take the leap into his own business (Oh, and she could help him.... as she is brilliant and experienced. She is also a go-getter that would challenge him to do more!).
I offer up a 6 AM or 7 AM time slot at the Starbucks near my home for those who want to "Pick My Brain". I like meeting people and love to help anyone who seeks advice. But many tell me I am being unreasonable asking them to drive to my side of town (I live on the far southwest side of Austin, and for those who live north... it can be a hike). While I will meet half way or set it around another meeting when I am north if there is a clear purpose for my involvement, I get lots of calls that are simply an invitation for the delivery of "free consulting".
If you are going to ask a person for a meeting you should be prepared to drive to any location they will be at any time they are available. Additionally, look for a way to provide some value in return. Buying the coffee or lunch is the first step, but seek ways to give something back. There are lots of creative ways to make your meeting a "give and take". One very giving person once sent me an iPod (back in the day when those where new) after I did them a very minor favor (made an introduction for them). This person and I have now become great friends, partially because I discovered her focus on mutually beneficial business relationships! A bottle of wine, a restaurant gift-card, or some social media love (tweets, FB praise, etc...) can go a long way when someone does you a favor.
Here is my prediction: My friend will do a phone call with this man (maybe on her commute or on a Saturday morning)... and he will never properly show any appreciation or even acknowledge to their mutual friends how helpful and gracious she was in his time of need. Its a shame, but that is how it usually goes.
Have A Great Day.