Lately I have been approached with requests to "simply introduce" a startup to their person of interest (about 4 times now). When I tried to offer them a strategy or a concept, I received that "Just introduce us to that person and that's it. We can't pay for services". Somehow I consider this rude and not sure how to handle such situations. Obviously, I value my reputation and will not introduce anyone I don't know well enough to be associated with that person.
What is your input on the above? Is it too thin-skinned approach and I am overthinking it and how am I supposed to build a business with this? I also don't want to scare people off without trying to create an opportunity for everybody.
You have a very common problem. Intellectual capacity is undervalued in society- if you make an introduction or answer a question, people assume the value is the time it takes to respond or send an email, not the years of work uilding knowledge and cultivating interests that underpins that. So you have to know going in that people won’t properly see the value you bring simply by virtue of the ephemeral nature of your deliverables. This isn’t as much a problem with CPAs or even graphic designers - they have a more concrete deliverable. But such is the nature of most answer-based fields. So consider how happy you’ll be in this field, or if working for someone else with a bigger sales funnel and separate collections department may be more enjoyable for you.
However, I’ve been in your position (and keep getting dragged back), so I recommend the following. You need two things: standard procedures and a script. Standard procedures are basically a set point of what you will do in an initial consultation (for free), how long it will be, and what you won’t do. For example, I have had a policy of a 30 min consult, nothing that creates liability, and I’m free to cut it short if it seems clear that someone is just milking me for free advice (which happens more often than not). Second, the script. This is basically a set series of statements you make at the outset of any meeting, and during it (or as often as necessary). This is basically something like “I am happy to speak to you for x min to see what your issue is, and how I can help.” Then, if they just want an introduction, you say something like “great, I’d love to do that! However, I have a strict policy of only giving introductions to client, and I need to be very comfortable with you. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I’m quite careful with my introductions, which ensures that people find the introductions I do make very valuable.” Alternatively, “great, I’d love to! Let me tell you about my fees.” The point is make it clear you know you have something to offer, but expect to be compensated in some way for your value.
As to whether or not it is rude or you are thin skinned - sort of irrelevant. People are notoriously incapable of putting themselves in someone else’s place. That is to say, they overvalue their own contributions and undervalue the contributions of anyone else. (Incidentally, this is why revenge is rarely actually satisfying, but that is another story.). So you have to be ok with people trying to get something for nothing, especially because they value that something far lower than it’s true value. People are also quite bad at detwrmining competence of service providers, so many have been burned and are bringing baggage from failed (professional) relationships. It is what it is: it’s people, not you specifically.
So try not to take it personally, and just establish your boundaries - then stick to them. I generally err on the side of too much help for free than not enough, but I have my own motivations and boundaries, so only go as far as I am comfortable before freely dumping people who are abusing my good nature. I don’t hate them, I’m not angry at them - as I said, it’s not personal. (Though it is more likely to happen if you are a woman or PoC, but, again, I digress.). Just establish your boundaries, stick to them, and move on when people try to push past.
You will feel like you are losing a lot of people. A LOT. But you are just making room for people who really value what you have to offer. Just a few of those make up for thousands of empty promises lost.
Sent from my iPhone - please pardon errors.
Please read the article when you have time
Reputation is all you've really got. If these people don't have the emotional intelligence to realize that they're being rude and just using you for your connections, they won't impress anyone you might introduce them to. They obviously see you as simply a conduit to what they want and, although the honesty might be refreshing, it reveals a person or team of people with little understanding of how business really gets done -- through personalities. They reveal a sociopathic quality that is very off-putting. Blatantly telling you that all they want are your connections seems to blatantly disregard your time and effort. Business is a not a zero-sum game as they are trying to play it. Don't bother replying to them, don't waste your time with them. Can you imagine introducing them to one of your contacts, who turns out to be just another stepping stone for them. I once had a partner who had viciously stabbed me in the back and amazingly asked me if I would help him find someone to replace me in my position. I basically told him, I wouldn't introduce him to anyone I knew because if he had acted as sociopathically towards me, he'd certainly do that to anyone I introduced him to and then I'd be getting an earful down the line from anyone I had sent his way. Cut them off.
DO NOT under any circumstance offer or mention your strategy or the concept. You are basically giving away insights without being aware that they can copy and paste it wherever they like and get returns without giving you credit. From what you have been going through, you will not get credit. Credit is the stepping stone to building reputation.
Instead, tell them what you have on offer and give them a skimmed version of what you can do. One way of knowing if one is an entrepreneur and willing, is to provide them information that is not detailed. If the so called "entrepreneur" doesn't understand the pitch, you should realize that your pitch is not good or the person getting to explore your pitch is not well informed. Either way, the first impression would be a negative, and a cue for you to move on. Find someone else. You will find a matching mindset somewhere.
If you still want to pursue after a negative first impression, be prepared to meet the maker, because they will take you on a ride, undermining your potential.
Natalya, I'm with Jason Chen on this. Just because people ask doesn't mean they're rude nor does it mean that there isn't some benefit for you in making the intro (other than money).
An introduction to someone you know of a product/service that might be of interest to them could be a wonderful way for you to help your contacts, reconnect with folks you haven't spoken to in a while and establish credibility with (potential) work from the startup that asked later on.
Yes, they might only be looking to mine your rolodex but offering them something they're not looking for (like strategy or a concept) isn't probably the way to go.
Some of us make intros because we like it; and some of us place a large worth on the contacts we've built over the years (and therefore think they're worth $$$ to us). The simple truth is that your contacts do nothing for you unless you interact with them and not making an introduction doesn't get you more $$$ in the long run from some other startup that (in theory) could pay for the introduction.
Warmly -- Gil
While I appreciate Alexandra's framing of the issues often at the heart of exchanging value, there are other ways to control such situations rather than making it pay for play, and still maintain a friendly discourse.
I agree with a couple other people that enabling communication is a high-value exchange between all parties involved. Since it doesn't obligate anyone to anything, it's still up to the connected parties to make something of it. But you also don't want to be a free rolodex for contacts you've worked hard to develop.
There are two separate issues you've included in your statement. 1) Wanting an introduction, and 2) Not paying for services. There's a little bit of overlap, but here's how I address someone who wants something for nothing. The discourse might go something like this:
"I think I understand why you want to talk to Mr. Smith, but like me Mr. Smith values his time and since you've already said you can't pay for services it's unlikely he will take much interest in spending time with you. I can let him know you're interested in communicating, but I won't give you his contact information unless he says I can."
If you want to leave the money issue out, you can alternately say, "I can let Mr. Smith know you'd like to chat, and if he agrees I can share his contact information. If I simply forward anyone who asks, he will stop taking my calls."
I'm not sure what services you're trying to offer to these prospective clients, but it sounds like you may need to set some pre-meeting expectations.
I'm all for making connections, but it should be ones you identify as likely fruitful, not just someone asking to leapfrog.
They are not being rude. They just don't see enough value to pay you just for services.
Since you are basing off your services as a middle man, it is basically your relationship to your principals. Relationship management is tougher than what you do as a service.
Some basically, who you are charging for service provider is not a good payer therefore you have a problem.
What is your fee charging model? Per hour? Per referral?
Sort your own fundamentals out before playing a blame game on making it someone else problem.