High-powered business leaders may have an abundance of ideas, influence, and experience, but the one thing they don’t have much of these days is time. As a result, the ability for many executive-level mentors to donate a few hours to simply “catch up over coffee” is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
In our increasingly over-scheduled, multitasking business environment, there’s a good chance that your rock star mentor may consider indulging in an informal coffee meeting about as productive as a “Mad Men”–style three-martini lunch.
The ‘What’s In It For Me’ Test
The reality is that the more successful people become, the more demands they will have on their time. Even the most well-intentioned mentors and executives are forced to place these types of meetings at the bottom of their busy to-do lists. They are generally the first to be canceled whenever a scheduling conflict arises and the last to be rescheduled for a later date because they quite often fail the internal “What’s in it for me?” test.
Think about it: You’re asking them to take an hour or more out of their busy day to solve someone elses problem for a $4 cup of coffee. To get a chance to pick their brain, you must have something to offer in return.
An Offer Most Mentors Can’t Refuse
If you genuinely need help with a specific business issue (and you know for certain that the person has successfully dealt with something similar in the past), instead of suggesting a general catch-up meeting, offer to interview him or her for your company website, your blog, or a publication on a site like Medium.
An interview is a great way to get the answers you’re looking for because you can tailor the questions you ask to trigger the responses you need. It also communicates to people that you truly value their time and experience. They’ll probably even feel flattered that you sought out their expertise for publication — whether your blog has 100 readers or 100,000.
As part of your pitch, send a brief email to the person you would like to meet with. The email should clearly describe:
- The topic: What do you want to ask them about?
- The reason for speaking with them: Why do you believe they have the right stuff?
- The commitment: How long will the interview last?
- The outlet: Where do you intend to publish the interview?
- The audience: Who will the interview reach?
- The payoff to them: How will you promote the report?
Let’s Talk About You
Most people will rarely turn down an interview request because it allows them to talk about one of their favorite subjects: themselves. By switching the focus of the proposed meeting from listening to your problems (passive) to telling you about their experiences (active), you have also shifted the decision-making process for the person you want to meet with.
So the next time you’re trying to get a meeting with mentors or other business leaders in your community, instead of asking for help, offer to make them famous by interviewing them. You may be pleasantly surprised by how quickly packed schedules will suddenly open up when you let them know you’ll be bringing a spotlight and a microphone with their name on it.
Wade Foster is the co-founder and CEO of Zapier, a service that makes it easy to move data between all the web apps you use to automate tedious tasks. Wade is also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Office Depot’s Small Biz Club. Connect with @wadefoster on Twitter.