Networking Tips: Is This a Request for Support, or a Shakedown?
"This project is so important, not only to me, but to our community. With your talent and connections, I would love to have you be a part of it. Just one problem: We don't have any money to pay you. Knowing how important this is, would you be willing to donate your services? Or can we work out a barter or revenue sharing arrangement?"
*Sigh.* Before the "just one problem" statement, I might have been inclined to take this person or organization on as a client (emphasis on "client"). But as a freebie or questionable payout? No way!
Here's what's happening in this pitch. First, my "friend" has tried to make me feel as "important" as her important project. Can we call that for what it is? It's called flattery. Second, she's trying to sucker me into sharing her enthusiasm for the project... and the financial burden. What if I say no? You can almost bet that she'll feel I'm slamming her project and she could take offense to my resistance.
This is a classic networking no-no. Yes, projects and opportunities can and should be pitched to one's network. But once guilt, flattery, manipulation, demands and begging enter the equation, the pitch has turned into a shakedown that takes advantage of networking connections.
Pretend You're a Car Dealer
If you're unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of one of these pitches, it can be difficult to say no since you may be concerned about how it could affect your reputation. This scenario pops up frequently when it comes to services. Highly uninformed people believe that services cost nothing to provide. So why not ask for a handout?
But what if what was being asked for was a car? Would you waltz into a car dealership and say to the salesperson, "I really love this car! It's just perfect for my work and family. I'd like to drive it home today and I probably won't bring it back. Are you cool with that?" The dealer would escort you out of the showroom, probably with security or police at your side.
So when you're approached by a networking friend asking for a handout, pretend you're a car dealer and don't let anyone drive your revenues out the door.
Analyzing Pitches for Support When Networking
Some tips for discerning whether a request for support is really just a shakedown:
Watch for flattery, guilt, demands, manipulation, sob stories and begging. If you feel that any of these tactics are being enlisted to get you to participate or cooperate, it's time to evaluate what's really going on and whether your best interest is being served by you being involved.
Determine whose skin (and how much skin) is in the game. What is your networking chum putting up for the project in terms of time, talent and treasure? Does it equal what's being asked of you? An accounting of who's providing what should help make that clear. Also watch for those who over-inflate their contribution.
Important to whom? This project is obviously important to the person requesting your participation. But is it important to you and your business?
Relational or transactional? Aside from this interaction, how is the relationship? Solid and friendly? Or is this someone who wouldn't normally contact you? If the relationship is weak or simply transactional, where do you see it after you have participated? Is it a relationship you want to develop, regardless of the current endeavor?
Find supportive alternatives. Sometimes merely throwing out the possibility of another way to participate, other than what was requested, can help your friend rethink what's being asked of you. Caution! Don't strain yourself to come up an alternative solution to your friend's dilemma! It's this person's project, not yours. Don't expend time and effort on their problem. If you do, you've already contributed.
Saying no to a pitch does not mean saying no to the relationship. Hearing "no" may be a huge blow to your friend, especially if your relationship is close. Emphasize that your no does not mean no to the relationship. Be prepared for your friend's disappointment, but avoid simply giving in if it's not in your best interest. This helps prevent the resentment you'll feel while slaving away at this project.
Clarify and confirm expectations. As with all business agreements—even between friends—get it in writing! This is especially true if this arrangement includes any bartering or revenue sharing. As well, some of these deals may have tax ramifications; consult your CPA or tax professional for guidance. Also consult an attorney for help in creating these agreements so that they are fair for everyone. Being clear upfront will go a long way toward avoiding hurt feelings and unmet expectations. Click here to learn more about doing business with friends.
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© 2016 Heidi Thorne