This post is part one of a two part series on 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 my 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:
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):
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.