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The Etiquette of Picking Someone’s Brain

The Etiquette of Picking Someone’s Brain

Named one of Marketing Magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30”, Erin Bury is a marketer, former technology journalist, and startup enthusiast. A monthly columnist for the Financial Post and a tech commentator on CTV News, Erin shares the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship, marketing to millennials, creating a killer personal brand, and how to harness the latest digital trends, from chatbots to VR. If that’s not all, her other claim to fame is she’s been re-tweeted by Oprah – twice.

In her most recent column, Bury offers us a guide on how to appropriately pick someone’s brain in the business world:

The prevalence of email, social media and smartphones means we have an entirely new set of etiquette rules — everything from putting your phone away while dining with friends, to putting your ringer on silent when in a crowded space. There’s also a new set of unwritten business etiquette rules.

Some of these are obvious — not cc’ing the entire company on an email — but some seem not to be catching on, especially among small business owners who are looking for advice.

I polled some entrepreneurs about the annoyances they feel over business etiquette when it comes to being asked for their expertise. The common thread was a lack of respect for their time, their expertise or their inbox — something that’s not specific to the startup world, but seems more prevalent as there’s generally no corporate email police in a small company.

Here are my top three etiquette tips on how to ask to pick someone’s brain:

Have a purpose

The startup world is all about paying it forward, and generally most investors and seasoned entrepreneurs devote time to meeting with aspiring entrepreneurs, new grads and anyone looking to get a feel for the industry. I get approached all the time to meet with potential partner agencies, early-stage entrepreneurs looking for marketing advice, or even prospective employees. I hold weekly office hours so I never have to say no to a request. What surprises me, though, is how many requests come through to “pick my brain” without a stated purpose or goal. Often when these meetings do happen, there’s no list of prepared questions or an agenda. So if you are reaching out to someone for advice, insight, feedback or just to learn more about a certain topic, have a specific goal for the meeting, and know which points you want feedback on, and come prepared with a list of questions. If people are generous with their time, return the favour by being prepared — it will help both of you get value out of it in the end.

Respect people’s time when asking for introductions

I often get requests from contacts to facilitate an introduction to people in my network. Depending on how close I am to the requested person, I usually say yes — with a caveat that I’ll check with them first. It’s always appreciated to outline to the requested person who it is that’s looking to connect and why they want to connect, and to ask if it’s okay to facilitate the introduction. Typically the target person says yes, but sometimes they’ll say they’re at capacity or that the introduction isn’t a fit. Doing an introduction without checking first means the person feels a much bigger obligation to meet, regardless of whether they can or should. Getting an okay for an introduction is always best practice, and the karma will come back when the shoe is on the other foot. If you’re the one requesting and getting an introduction, make sure to respond quickly, but don’t keep the facilitator looped in on your 10-email chain while you co-ordinate a time to chat. And always follow up to thank the person who made the introduction.

Read the full column at the Financial Post.