By Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder & Chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization
Have you ever sought advice from people who are in a network you belong to? If not, you are missing out on one of the secondary benefits of being involved in a networking group. Sure, the primary reason you’re networking is to get referrals, but you also gain access to professionals in almost every type of business. Every good network can actually become a type of “mastermind” group that you can utilize to gain more information and knowledge. We all need advice at one time or another, and seeking advice from your network can be a win-win situation.
By inviting your network members to talk, you can get better acquainted with their knowledge, decision-making abilities, and attitudes. Receiving someone’s advice also gives you a perfect reason to contact them again, thank them and let them know what you plan to do. This is a great way to keep your resources informed and, of course, to get their opinions about what you are doing.
Here’s a story about how a simple request for advice led to much more…
An owner of a small creative services firm relocated across country, from one state to another. She wanted to move her business entity to the new state, as it was a more favorable business climate. However, the complexities of her business set-up in her former state caused her plans to stop moving forward. Frustrated from her lack of success in trying to communicate with government entities in another state and two time zones away, her plans for business development in her new state literally came to a stand still.
The business owner decided to approach a CPA who had recently joined her networking group. She sat with the CPA briefly after the networking meeting, and gave a brief overview of the situation. The CPA turned out to be very knowledgeable in inter-state business, and in one or two sentences identified the very crux of the problem and what needed to be done for the business owner to move forward in her new state.
That sounds like a happy ending…but it doesn’t end there.
Because the CPA proved to be so knowledgeable, the business owner enlisted the services of the CPA, who was able to take care of the problem in less than two weeks. Incredibly relieved of this burden, the business owner then transferred all of her financial and recordkeeping functions to the CPA’s firm, and referred at least three other business owners to that CPA, based on the wonderful help she had received. As an added bonus, the CPA, learning about what types of services offered by the business owner, referred her someone who ended up purchasing an array of services over a long period of time.
And all of this happened from one single request for a bit of expert advice from one member of a networking group to another!
When preparing to ask your network for advice, here are some important tips:
Ask your network member for advice or opinions on something she enjoys talking about, and to which you expect her to have an answer
Asking someone in your network for advice on an issue or area that is not in her area of expertise will only put her on the spot, and make her uncomfortable. People don’t like being put on the spot in that way.
Listen carefully and respond appropriately, directing your questions toward what your network member says in conversation.
If you’re going to ask for advice, then make sure you are seriously going to consider the expert opinion you are seeking. If the person feels you are not really interested in what she has to say, she will not be enthusiastic about helping you in the future.
Have a logical reason for wanting the information.
If the person to whom you address your questions feels you are just using them as an excuse to promote your services, or for reasons that are not entirely scrupulous, she will not only be less likely to help you in the future, she will also be less confident of your ability to help her…or her clients!
Avoid potentially controversial and sensitive issues.
This may sound like common sense, but there is a limit to what you should ask someone with whom you are in a networking relationship. If you delve too far into the sensitive or personal, you might cause the person to feel uncomfortable, and could even damage the relationship in the future.
Don’t ask your network member to give you advice that she would otherwise charge you for.
A quick question or two in the area of the members’ expertise is fine, but be careful not to cross the line between advice and free service. In the case of the business owner we described above, notice she was quick to recognize when to switch from a quick-advice conversation, to enlisting — and paying for — the valuable services of the CPA.
Finally, remember this very important — and often overlooked — piece of advice: People are more likely to remember their own words than others, so if you want people to remember your conversation, let them do most of the talking.