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6 Steps to Asking for Advice from People Busier Than You

By ClientWise | August 14, 2013

“No man is an island” was originally a meditation by the English poet/priest/barrister, John Donne (1572-1631). In 1964, it was also a hit song by The Lettermen.

The essential truth that no one succeeds solely by themselves and by the dint of their own efforts, is a fact that carries forward today.

Many successful financial advisors, entrepreneurs, and professionals know this reality, and make a point of periodically reaching out to others for advice and assistance. On the receiving end, the busiest-of-the-busiest know this as well. In today’s era of hyper-networking, they get asked for help, favors, and introductions all the time. One renowned and established venture capitalist that I know gets multiple requests like this…daily.

However, reaching out to others who might be casual acquaintances or indeed complete strangers is a real skill that takes some forethought.

Here is some thinking that might help:


1) Don’t “Pick Their Brain”! Don’t ask for a meeting where you can “pick their brain”. Think of any other word or idiom that comes to mind, i.e. grab some coffee, bounce an idea off, etc.. Don’t say “pick your brain”. Just don’t.

2) Make It Easy for Them. When asking for advice from busy people, keep it streamlined. Advice has value. Time has value. Keep your message short and focused.

3) Think One Question. Don’t pour out your life’s story without clarity and without a point that comes to a vague “What are your thoughts?” question. Distill your thinking until you arrive at One. Thoughtful. Question.

4) Show Genuine Appreciation. If the person that you are seeking advice from is someone who you admire for their achievements, insight, wisdom, etc., tell them how their accomplishments have affected and influenced you.

5) Pay-It-Forward. Embrace the mindset that you will give as much as you get. This beneficent attitude has been the zeitgeist within Silicon Valley since the creation of the first silicon chip, not a bad model of creative and entrepreneurial success. Make yourself available to others. Balance the ecosystem.

6) What are YOU offering? We all have something to offer. When you are seeking a meeting with Mr./Ms. Big, think about what you know and what you have learned that would be of value. This does two critical things: 1) It changes the tone of the meeting from a hierarchical, one-way monologue to more of a bilateral, sharing concept of “we’re learning from each other”, and 2) It forces you to consider what you DO know, what you might have learned, and whether you can explain it to others in a coherent, compelling manner.


On the last point, what sounds better to you?

  • “Could we meet for 20-30 minutes. I’d like to pick your brain on something.”


  • “I’ve long admired who you are and what you do. Could we meet for coffee? I’d like your advice on a project of mine. In return, I’d like to tell you about what I know/learned about XX.”
We trust this helps.
The ClientWise Business Builders Workshop

Topics: Learning

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