Social psychology teaches us that panhandlers asking for specific amounts of money are typically far more likely to receive a handout. A specific ask conveys an effort to complete a clear-cut task, which makes it easier for normally apathetic passersby to assist in what they might now view as a worthwhile effort. This psychology works for getting advice from busy experts as well.

How I mastered getting advice from busy people

After college, when I worked as a business writer for a newspaper, I tried a similar tactic when accosting business people or political leaders.

“Hi, Mrs. Brown… I’ll only take up three minutes of your time.”

Compliance was nearly 100%. They either stopped and talked, called me back after-hours or put me on the calendar between meetings. Lesson learned: When people know you’ll respect their resources (i.e., time, money, etc.), they are far more likely to share them with you. Few things get me more excited than talking to entrepreneurs, especially those with a solid idea and plans to do great things for their customers.

Unfortunately, time is resource that’s not in abundant supply, which means there is only so much of it that can be used to answer emails, field phone calls or type LinkedIn responses.

Make time your asset.

The fix? Specificity.

Folks looking for help should have a crystal clear idea of what they’d like to learn before reaching out for advice. This way, the busy person you’re reaching out to is more likely to take the five to seven minutes needed to respond. The less the person you’re reaching out to has to think (do), the more likely you are to get the information you need.

A few things to keep in mind before reaching out for advice …

  • Be transparent: Upon initially reaching out, let the person know explicitly what you’d like help with and how you see it as potentially benefiting your business? That way, they can more easily decide where the conversation fits within my schedule, or if they are the best fit as the source of the information.
  • Be succinct: I hate talking on the phone. Even worse, I hate, hate, hate granular conversations via phone (my wife can confirm this). Email or LinkedIn are the best ways to reach me. I’m sure it’s the same for other busy business strategists and consultants. However you decide to reach out, know that asking a specific question via a public medium, such as a Twitter feed, is not ideal.
  • Be specific: Provide as much detail as possible in the initial message. (They don’t need to know every detail; they do need enough to formulate an intelligible answer.)
  • Be gone: If the person you’re reaching out to is worth his or her salt, they won’t have much time to spare. Therefore, in the initial message, highlight how you’ll only take up three minutes of their time or have only two questions to ask. Then—and this is critical—make good on that promise.
  • Be better: One of the most frustrating things about helping business owners is they seldom use the advice you provide to them. Too often, the same people reach out with the same questions weeks or months later. Don’t be that person. If you receive what you consider as good advice, use it, unless you find something better.
  • Be generous: Take the time to help someone else who could use your advice, input. People are more willing to invest in you if you do the same for others.

What other tips would you recommend for getting advice from busy experts?