The Impact a "Quick Question" Can Have on Your Network
An honest look at the “etiquette” of one of the most important aspects of running a business: how to work and network with other business owners in order to expand their network in a healthy direction.
Counseling clients on building a business doesn’t just revolve around instructing them on the legalities; at times, it involves guiding them by helping them expand their network in a healthy direction.
An issue that many service providers commonly come across; particularly, those providing what I’ll refer to as “intangible products” (such as lawyers providing legal opinions, coaches providing coaches services, or any type of business owner providing an opinion on something), is fielding “quick questions”.
The lawyer in me is the first to admit that there are always two sides to an issue, and there are absolutely times that quick questions are as harmless as they feel. However, there is a way to do so that does not rub the recipient the wrong way.
I’ll use myself as an example. The majority of “quick questions” being asked are because the “asker” believes that it really is a simple question that I can answer just because the information is in my brain and I can answer quickly. And even if that is true, think of it this way: first, the legal knowledge in my brain didn’t just land there. I got into this industry to help business owners (and would never have left a safe paycheck to start this firm if I didn’t); yet at the same time, answering “quick questions” at the rate they come in not only unfortunately don’t help pay off those student loans I deal with every month, but they take away from the time I should be spending on work that actually pays. As much as I wish I had time to answer “quick questions” that come in, unfortunately the math just doesn’t add up.
Here’s an example: I receive (conservatively) 3 “quick questions” a day, 7 days a week. Let’s assume that responding to each of those questions (even just to say that I can’t answer it), takes 5 minutes a question (although it’s never that simple). That’s 15 minutes a day, which is 105 minutes a week. Times that by 52 weeks in a year, which equates to 5,460 minutes, divided by 60, equals 91 hours a year. That’s again (conservatively speaking) two and a half average work weeks a year.
That’s a lot of time on “quick questions”, which may explain some of the narrative behind “quick questions” are met with a low tolerance from those who’s businesses are built on selling intangibles.
That being said, you may be surprised to hear that I do think that “quick questions” are appropriate in some situations. Here’s how to do so tactfully, without disrupting the relationships that turn into networks in the future. Here are some thoughts:
The Etiquette of Asking For Free Advice
In my world, “quick questions” or requests for free advice occur daily, and the variety of questions can range from the sincere, honest mistake, to the lazy “business owner” attempting to save a little money. It’s usually incredibly easy to distinguish the two.
The former, usually from someone brand new in business who is asking a clarifying question about something they’re genuinely confused with.
The latter, usually from someone too lazy to actually send an email, so their question will arrive in my IG direct messages instead; and said question is usually incredibly specific to some aspect of their business.
The commonality between both? Both may not understand the harm in asking, because to them, the knowledge (or answer) to their question that they’re seeking is just “inside my brain”. On some level, I get that. But on the other hand? That “knowledge” in my brain is everything my business is built upon. And 1. That means, it’s a finite resource (meaning no human on earth has the energy to dispense legal knowledge all day); 2. That means, my brain is my business, for lack of better phrasing.
That doesn’t mean that all quick questions are bad or wrong though! Here are some insights on the subject (and read to the bottom for tips on how to ask questions correctly):
First and foremost, attorneys (and most other licensed professionals, such as financial advisors), are tightly constrained when it comes to advice we can give. Lawyers, for example, actually have to take a separate exam than the bar exam just on ethical considerations with clients, and if I am giving any particularized legal advice, I must have a signed client agreement with my client. “Particularized” advice means advice that has to do with your specific business; which is precisely why most “quick questions” to review something or answer a question aren’t just uncouth; they actually threaten to put me in breach with the bar. No thank you. If you’re asking anyone who has a license over their occupation a quick question, please keep this in mind.
BE CAREFUL where you get your info from
This is another big one. If you do want to ask a “quick question”- what is your end game in asking? Are you just going to ask this one question, and then never come back to hire me for additional work?
Word to the wise: this is one I can usually call from a million miles away. And as schedules grow tighter and less and less clients can be taken on, this factors into my decisions on who I bring on as a client.
More than this, in a field such as the creative field, reputations are incredibly important. Always stay cognizant of the reputation you are building.
Think like a business owner- would you do it?
This is where I’ve spoken quite a few other business owners outside my own field to get their own perspectives on the topic.
First things first, when you own a business, your time is arguably your most precious commodity. I’ll speak more on this topic in part 2 of this post, but for now, this: If I don’t have time to respond to texts from my family members, etc, I can with complete confidence assure you that I do not have time for your “quick question”.
I have to bill by 10ths of an hour,thats every 6 minis
Here’s the other thing one of my dear industry friends, a graphic designer has pointed out to me: By asking “quick questions”, particularly those answered already on our blogs, you’re not only acting entitled to our time; you’re insulting the time we put in to create free content in the first place.
Speaking for myself, I don’t write a blog because I have copious amounts of free time and I’m just bored; nor do I because “an influencer” told me I should. I write so that sound advice exists for business owners- it’s there to be utilized.
Tips on HOW to properly
Most likely, any business owner you are reaching out to has an option on their website to book a consultation time- reach out that way, and ask away!
If you’ve paid to attend a conference or speaking event at while I’m speaking, I’ll generally make an exception for you
If you aren’t sure if you’re question is inappropriate to ask, say so. Just be nice about it! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting a conversation saying “I don’t want to take advantage/cross any lines with asking for advice”….I do this to so many industry friends, they’ve generally all gotten sick of it at this point.
In conclusion, don’t let this article deter you from reaching out to someone if you do have a question, and you’re unsure if it’s something that should be handled in a paid consultation or otherwise, simply ask! This could turn out to be the best first step into creating a new relationship within your network- not only does it it demonstrate to the other person that you respect them enough to pay for their knowledge if necessary, it also demonstrates that you are a knowledgeable business owner, who can be a trusted connection.