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Domain experts have typically spent countless hours building their expertise, content, an audience and other facets that go with it. Many of them generously share their talents and knowledge in one way or another, but with the web making it easier than ever to connect with anyone, far too many entities are trying to take advantage of this in ways that go past any etiquette guidelines or just general common sense.
Here are just some of the things that you aren’t entitled to.
1. Don’t expect access someone else’s valuable audience.
Building a brand and an audience is hard. It takes a ton of time, effort and capital. But, when you create it, it is valuable.
When assets are valuable, the people who own those assets want to get some value for use of them. That’s how business works
Whether you work for a small business or a big business, if you want to leverage someone else’s reach because it’s valuable to your organization, you, in turn, need to give them back some value. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of cash, but lending out valuable assets for no consideration is not business: It’s charity.
2. Don’t expect someone else’s expertise for no compensation.
Not unlike access to an audience, an individual’s expertise is also valuable. When someone has amassed experience — whether it’s technical, legal, strategic, marketing or other expertise — that is how they earn a living. If you want some consultative input, you should be willing to compensate the other person for that expertise.
This goes for public speaking, too. Some of the worst inquiries that I get are those asking me to speak at a women’s conference — to tell women they should value their time — for free! The irony, while perhaps lost on the asker, is not lost on me.
Also, authors and speakers and me spend a lot of our time giving “free” advice. I use quotes because sometimes, we get compensated, but often, we get undercompensated or not directly compensated, but we invest the time to build our platform at scale. Writing an article can get viewed by tens of thousands of people, so that helps to build our brand and is part of our investment in that business or personal brand.
However, getting coffee requests for one-on-one counseling eats up a tremendous amount of someone’s valuable time with no pay, so think about what you are asking before you ask. If you are trying to build a relationship, take an approach that values that other person’s busy schedule and let them know how the relationship is a two-way street. If you are looking for advice, at least offer to compensate for the other person’s time and knowledge. While the price of Starbucks isn’t cheap, it doesn’t cover the value of most experts’ experience.
3. Don’t expect others to tell you the the step-by-step secrets of their success.
Some say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but not all folks who have built up businesses and brands agree. I am not alone in receiving emails from time to time from people who flat out say they like some aspect of our business model or marketing endeavors and flat out ask specifically what tools we are using for them so that they can do it too.
The lack of self-awareness and/or brashness is staggering. While it’s okay to be inspired by another person or business or even compete with them, it’s beyond tacky to ask someone to give you the step-by-step of how you did it.
4. Don’t expect others to risk their brands for you.
When a company or individual has built a brand, they need to protect it. So, asking someone to endorse a book they have never read or a product that they have never tried is naïve at best and generally offensive. The same principle applies if you are a small and unproven company, brand or product line. While you believe it’s a boon for you to partner with a big firm to leverage off of their credibility, what’s in it for them? You have to figure out how can protect the downside for them — and make it worth their while.
5. Don’t expect favors.
Please don’t ask an expert to do something that is outside the scope of your relationship, especially when the expert’s reputation is on the line. If you know the other person well, it’s easier to do a bigger ask, but if you don’t know the person at all, you should try to invest in the relationship first before you make a big ask. You ostensibly wouldn’t go up to a person at a networking event and ask them to borrow their condo in Hawaii after 10 minutes of conversation. The same litmus test should be used online.
And finally, be straightforward. Please don’t try to trick the expert into thinking that you are a big fan when you just stumbled across their website that day and really just want something from them. It’s very transparent.
Experts are willing to help others — in fact, they often spend a lot of unappreciated and unnoticed time doing so. But, stop making it an expectation that because someone has something that could help you, whether it’s knowledge, connections or otherwise, that you are entitled to it without giving them something in return or just genuinely investing in a relationship.