Have you ever walked into a networking event and walked right back out for fear of embarrassing yourself? Or fear that you wouldn’t find anyone to talk to? Networking is scary, but if you’re a small business owner, you’ve gotta do it. Today on the podcast, hosts Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks discuss how to embrace networking even if you’re a wallflower like they are. They also solve a payroll problem for a small business owner who is drowning in paper work.

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Alright welcome to today’s episode of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. Gene how are you doing this morning?

Gene: I am fine Elizabeth how are you?

Gene’s Travel Tip

Elizabeth: I’m great now I know you flew up here

Gene: Yes.

By the way on a plane that’s like I think the Wright brothers flew it last time. You take a flight from Philadelphia Hartford and it’s a it’s a it’s a good forty five minutes. It’s a turbo prop little plane you get in there is that you guys I think Snoopy was flying it, unfixed old plane but it got me here. I’ve been on it a bunch of times.

Elizabeth: Now I’m sure we’re going to dedicate a whole episode to business travel some point but do you have any tips for her for business travel because I know you travel a lot.

I got one good tip for you is when when you go to like make coffee at a Starbucks or if you’re at the lounge and you know those little like there’s little light mighty movable creamer things that you had. Make sure to open them facing away from your clothes because they carbonate those things and if they’re pointing in the wrong direction your face and your suit will get all milk all over it. So that’s my travel tip for the day.

Elizabeth: That’s a good one. I thought that I was going to be something about like checking your laptop but no its about creamer.

Gene: One final tip related to the creamer is our no matter where you’re going particularly if you’re a guy because we guys tend to minimize on the clothes. Buy a shirt just to travel with and keep it in its original wrapping and take it everywhere with you.

Elizabeth: That’s a great idea.

I just I always keep a backup shirt with me because I’m a slob and you never know when someone is going to spill something on you or whatever. I was on a flight just last week the Dallas and I was sitting next to his mom and her eleven month old who was all over the place. That was the mom by the way the eleven month old was even worse. I was like I am definitely going to be using that back up short after this flight I can see it now.

Elizabeth: Traveling with kids is rough.

Gene: Yes yeah she was great.

Questions!

Elizabeth: So. We went out and asked the Small Biz Ahead community to submit some questions for us to answer. We’re always trying to stump Gene so if you would like to submit a question you can do so by tagging us on Twitter at @SmallBizAhead, or use the hashtag #SmallBizAheadPodcast. But today we have two questions one about the dreaded word networking and another about payroll problems because a lot of small business owners are not accountants and they have to pay a bunch people.

Question 1: Motivation to Network for My Small Business

So the first question from Linda in Florida, same name as my mom, well hello Linda.

Linda writes I just launched a business in retirement and I need to drum up some clientele. I have some contacts from my time in the industry but I know I need more to be successful. This leads me to the dreaded word networking. I hate networking and I’m terrible at it. How important is this for my business and can I just do some marketing instead?

Gene: Linda I mean you’re in Florida so it’s sunny and it’s I don’t know where she is in Florida. My mom she goes to Florida area to Sarasota Florida. So Linda maybe even know her. Her name is Eileen. She’s the one with the walker walking around in the middle of the day and all that she hurt her foot. But Linda so look I mean you know that there is a big community around you and of course it depends on what kind of business you do. Some businesses are great for networking other business is not so great for networking. It kind of depends on what business that you’re in. What kind of networking you want to do. For example you know if you’re setting up you know an online store for example and you’re just you know maybe Linda’s doing this. She’s got an eCommerce store and she’s selling something off it. You don’t need to do networking yeah that’s straight marketing. I mean you can spend your money on search engine optimization and getting value. Found a lot a whole other conversation to have but I don’t don’t think there’s any really networking involved there.

Elizabeth: That Linda’s starting up a business sure she’s like an accountant. You know.  Because she said clientele, I’m thinking that she is a professional services

Gene: That’s what it sounds like; that’s what it sounds like. So if t’s professional services which she does have to do, she does have to get out there and introduce herself. Sorry Linda but you’re going to have to leave your nice house.

Elizabeth: Sad face.

Gene: Yes exactly right. Turn off “The View”. These women don’t know what they’re talking about anyway, they’re just yelling at each other. Get outside you’re in Florida for god sake it’s sunny outside and you will have to narrow the question is where do you go on to network. You know how do you meet people how do you develop your clientele. So there’s a few again I get back to the business that you’re in. But what you want to do is you want to look for people that are already involved in the industry. Sort of complementary businesses and find out where they go for their networking. So we talk about clientele Linda is doing something with furniture, design, construction, you know I don’t know. Something related to the home maybe she’s opened up a plumbing business right now, you know whatever. Then there’s a whole community of people that are service the home industry. Everybody from realtors to real estate attorneys to. Where do they go for their interior designer.  Interior designers. Right I mean what kind of local you know networking groups are are related to their. One great place though to get started with networking which I think is great in the local area. I’m a huge fan of MeetUp.

You Don’t Have to Leave Your Home to Network

Elizabeth: It’s so funny MeetUp is like so not cool

Gene: What do you mean it’s not cool?

Elizabeth: I don’t know I feels this is one of those tech company is the kind of hasn’t kept up with the times it’s kind of old fashioned but.

Gene: Meetup is old fashioned? Really? Because I don’t know they’re pretty new aren’t they? And they’ve been around. They’ve been around less than a decade.

Elizabeth:  Yeah but they’re you know when you think about like Facebook or Reddit like they’re always changing and coming up with new strategies. Meetup is just like we are here so you can start a group or find a group that you’re interested in and and that’s it. I’m in a bunch of Meetup groups I’ve never attended any of the meetings but..

It’s such a great idea but I know a lot of people who have like maybe moved to a new city or something or they’ve taken up a new hobby and they’ve they’ve found people through Meetup.

Gene:  You know she you can do your search for certain keywords related to your business or interest. And that local area and trust me Linda there will be dozens if not more of groups that are meeting within an hour two drive of where you are in your business. And that’s the first step to like that now door and attending some of those. Locally of course there is chamber of commerce and city I mean.

Elizabeth: Old school.

Gene: Old school but chambers of commerce are they’re popular still because people like to get up and and and meet face to face and that’s also a good thing. And then of course there is industry groups. So again depending on the industry that you’re in what you’re doing. If you’re in the interior design industry or if you’re in the plumbing industry. All those industries they if you Google them they are you know they’re there associations and organizations related to an industry. A lot of them are national of course and also regional as well. So you can join to go to a regional group and meet the people in the like fields and that’s how people get referrals that way. They hate it you have to go and be nice and put on a face and networking hate it. And right now I feel like I’m outgoing now because this is fun I love talking about this stuff. And you’re awesome anyway and listen.

Elizabeth: Aww thanks.

Gene: It’s just you and me talking you know our podcast and that’s cool and all that but you know I spent a lot of time on my own you know when I travel and I’m like you know binge watching the walking dead or you know I’m a big TV guy. I read a lot. I would I’m more of an introvert believe it or not than an extrovert. I think a lot of people want to run their business if they can turn themselves on and be social and do the thing. But then if they’re not working you know they have the benefit. There are other people that just want to people around them so for those people that I find it very hard to network.

Elizabeth: Yeah.  I find it really hard. You walk into a room and don’t know anybody. It’s a very very difficult thing to do.  One thing to remember though and I want to get back to one of the more specific things and Linda’s question. One thing to remember about walking into a room where you don’t know anyone.  Is that everyone else feels the same way. Everyone is like dying for someone to just strike up a conversation with them so.

Gene: I thought you were going to say just picture them all in their underwear.

Elizabeth: Also old school. Yeah I’m like you know you think about walking into a room you’ve got your stack of a business cards, you got your name tag, you’ve got a glass of wine or tea or whatever you drink. And then you stand there like a wallflower. I mean everyone else feels the same way. People really respond to confidence so maybe just challenge yourself to go to something and strike up like two conversations of people you’ve never met at one of those like awkward networking things.

I’m Terrible at Networking

Gene: You hit it actually right on the head. When I go on to networking events I mean I’m terrible at networking and I hate going but I have learned I’ve improved and have learned a few few tricks there and and one of them for sure as what you just said Elizabeth. Like I set my bar very low. I’m like if I could walk out of here and I’ve met two people at this event all morning, you know, then I’m happy. I don’t want to be like mister lampshade on my head handing out business cards in the life of the party whatever it’s not that’s not me. So just let me you know if I can walk away just let me just focus on two people. And by the way these two people might not have anything to do with my business, they were just, If I can meet two nice people right even if it’s the people cleaning up the coffee cups when like we’re done. That that’s my goal. And then the second is which I’ve I’ve gotten better much better at is no moving on. No enough of it drives me nuts when you go to a networking event and you’re talking to somebody and then they’re like looking around the room and other people or whatever. They’re like distracted and you’re like what am I not, you’re not interested in this, is it that obvious that you know you don’t like you’re looking for something. Enough of the roving eye like when you when you finally do fix on somebody to talk to. Talk to them and hang out with them and that’s it you know and so on. The third thing I’ve learned on networking by the way is I am I really I try to avoid talking about work. You think you’re there in a professional environment but no you’re there at a networking event to make a connection with somebody to try and have and honestly work bores me. I mean no offense but like everybody’s job is boring. Oh really you work at this company and its goal you’re in charge of you know if the your staff account of your claims administrator. I’m more interested in Hannah where have you been on vacation lately.

What You Should Talk About While Networking

Elizabeth: That’s a, I was just going to say that that is a great way to break the ice.

Gene: Someone where we’ve been on vacation lately where is your next vacation going to be. Because then you’re not it’s not too personal people love to talk about it.

Sharing ideas whatever people go on vacation they love to share like try this hotel is doing which what what you know and again you work it in like movies that they’ve seen or TV that they’ve seen. People are talking about their kids if you’ve got kids of a similar age. Sports you know what I mean a lot of people like to talk about. I don’t know it’s just I’d rather I meet a good person we have a good conversation and business never gets brought up.

You know then that’s a good thing I’ve actually met more like a better relationships with people from a professional side when it just starts out more personal first.

Elizabeth: Definitely. How do you feel about because I’ve never done this before but let’s say I go up to you at a networking event. And I say like networking events are terrible. Is that a good way to start? I think that is a good way to start a conversation because you’re you’re you’re being a little vulnerable, you’re connecting with them, because everyone is uncomfortable.

Gene: Everybody is uncomfortable and I think people really repel from people that are not real. You know I mean I think you know I mean not to get it I get this whole thing with the elections this year I mean I think there’s a lot of voters that are out there that just they hate the establishment. People like when when you come up and talk to somebody and say like a I can’t believe I do this really. Do you do this? You go to these things? You know I mean I it just, you know just shows like “Hey I’m an idiot like everybody else for all we know.” None of us know what we’re talking about. So let’s get rid of all that facade and and just chill out together. And that usually works.

Elizabeth: So I want to get back to something that Linda said in the question. It sounds like because she says I have some contacts from my time in the industry but I know I need more to be successful. So okay she worked in this industry for a long time she retired. Now she decided you know retirement isn’t for me I wanted I want to do something. How did she what’s the best way to get back in touch with those people. I mean obviously it’s better to have never lost touch with them but if you’ve worked for that long and you retire you might just be like “Hey I want to take two months off and like first read books every night.”

Somebody you know then they they disappear from the face of the earth for ten years. Nobody’s written whatever and they just they email you or they call you out of the blue or they send you a message on LinkedIn or something like, “Hey you know what I retired I really do want to have to get back into it yeah I mean you feel like catching up you know whatever.” How would you react?

Gene: I don’t think people have a problem with that I think would be pretty jealous like oh my gosh you’re retired for ten years how I can I do that. And you’re choosing to do this. What are you crazy? So no I think re-introducing yourself to people. I also think that as long as it was not a competitive thing I think people generally like to help. You now what I mean?

Elizabeth: People love to help because there’s so little you can do for other people that if you can can connect someone with someone. I just did this this week my dog walker. She wanted to get I think a brochure done or something and I have a friend who’s out of work right now so I I hooked them up because my friend does design on the side.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: And you know it was kind of a pain I had to like get two people’s schedules together and schedule but I was so happy to help them because they were two people that needed each other.

Gene: You know it’s funny it’s not like we have all the money in the world to get rid of we’re not Bill Gates with like charities and start foundations. We have a time and our effort. And by the way in our community the people that we know. So asking people for help we have, given some people aren’t going to help if whatever the reasons are, but some people will. So getting back into it I just briefly mentioned LinkedIn and I mean I think LinkedIn is awesome, right. And for for those of you listening I wrote on entrepreneur dot com on the twelve types of people you hate on LinkedIn so feel free to go to read that article you’ll probably recognize a few. But if you but for Linda to get on LinkedIn and to reach out to make connections with different people. Huge way to see then who they’re connected to in their community ask their permission to reach out to those people as well. I see you know this guy or that person or whatever would it be okay if I reached out to that person or can I ask for an introduction. I think LinkedIn is a wonderful wonderful service to help you do that.

Linkedin Groups

Elizabeth: Yeah it’s great also that’s another place to find those groups. Those industry groups. Which a lot of those industry groups it’s just people like here’s an article I wrote but some of them I’m in a bunch. Some of them. Really are helpful. People will put an idea out and people will come back with their responses to it. I’m also in a bunch of places I used to work for. That have closed.

Gene: Right after you left.

Gene: I started working and investment bank right before the recession it’s still in business but in the early two thousands I worked for a lot of Internet startups so we started a bunch of LinkedIn groups just for networking for saying hello.

Gene: Are they still there those groups?

Elizabeth: They still are there yeah yeah fine people still communicate. So think about getting back into those because it’s amazing some of my former coworkers have gone on to open their own businesses. And the rest of us in the group have been there to kind of spread the word and then all of that. In like we were talking about another podcasts. Referrals. Like that’s really why your networking for a professional services group. You’re looking for referrals right. You don’t necessarily have to be talking to people in your industry can just be networking with other business owners.

Gene: Right another way up on that aspect as well, asking for referrals is a little is a little trite. Like hey do you have any business for me. or anybody and you know even say hey if you know of anybody around by all means I’m available. That’s all fine and nice it’s not there’s nothing wrong with that but it’s just like a duh real really you’re looking for work I mean aren’t we all. You know. So I mean I know I don’t think you will need to have to go out and say that. I hate it when I go to a networking event to talk to somebody you know be like now Gene what can I do for you. How can I help you in your business. And like that puts me on the spot like that the answer is always the same. Give me business.

Give Me Leads

Elizabeth: Yeah new clients.

Gene: Yeah give me leads, that’s what you can do. Why do you have to ask? Every business owner I know is looking for leads. There’s never enough work for businesses they’re looking they’re always looking for leads. So rather than like. Seem to somebody you met like what can I do for you. Do something for them. You know that was a great conversation I have a client or or potential prospect for you they may not even be interested or not but they might be I’ll make the introduction and see maybe it’ll help you maybe it won’t. If you do something for somebody, most people will feel compelled to then come back and do stuff for you.

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

Gene:  There were so many empty promises that people make. So instead of like the empty promise just step up and deliver something for somebody and then say alright dude your turn now. You know what I mean if you want to give something back to me and I. And you’ll see your true friends and partners over time will rise to the top. People reciprocate.

Elizabeth: Absolutely. Okay so Linda good luck with networking get out there and think of us when you’re walking into the room and trying to be a wallflower or something.

Gene: And Linda look even if you strike out is an argument you’re in Florida it’s beautiful outside into the sunshine life is short it’s great. If you see my mom again it’s Elaine she’s in a walker. Okay. Just look for her. Very nice person. She likes coffee. So we’re going to have another question up next after a quick word from our sponsor.

Question 2: Payroll Problems

Elizabeth: Okay we’re back with question number two. This is Anne who owns a candy making business in Wisconsin.

So Anne asks. Anne has five employees, this is what she says, “I got five employees and I’m terrible at managing payroll. I am not an accountant. Do you have any easy tools I can use preferably free or almost free?” So Anne. This is something if I were in your shoes I would definitely have to outsource this to someone else. I would either have to find a whole online solution for this that I could use or I would have to outsource it to someone. I was just talking to a friend who works for a small business. Her boss I guess messed up estimating the taxes or something she ended up having to pay nine hundred dollars. He had to reimburse her for that just because he made a mistake up front. And guess what this business has two employees it’s just him and her.

Gene: First of all Anne you’re insane here doing your payroll yourself, don’t do that. Payroll first of all is its own expertise. The world is specializing yet I don’t know she makes candy. Something where every minute you’re spending futzing with payroll is taking away from coming up with the next. I’m thinking like Mozzarella milky balls. Does that sound delicious right?

Think about all the ideas you could be coming up with how you can be selling and marketing your business if you were on not doing payroll for gods sake like don’t do it. Have we made ourselves clear Elizabeth? Are we telling her stop doing this? And by the way I’m a CPA right and I have a ten person company we use Paychex.

Elizabeth: You don’t even do your taxes Gene.

Using Payroll Systems

Gene: No I don’t even do my own taxes does because God forbid. But I you we outsource that and let you would set with somebody and you get one thing wrong on a payroll tax return you flip a number somewhere or put the wrong date down or something. I trust me you will be buried in notices from the IRS you’ll be in a retirement home fifty years from now in diapers you’ll still be getting notices from the IRS because of some mistake that you made back in two thousand sixteen.

This is an area that is worth it to outsource to a professional one hundred percent.

Elizabeth: Really is so Gene what’s a good amount of I don’t want to pin you down on the amount of money she should be spending on this but what’s what’s a range that she could expect to pay to have a professional do this or plenty of payroll solutions for small business out there.

Gene: There is so let me give you some of the options that you have.

  1. Option number one is you go to the most expensive option is you go to a payroll service firm, a Paychex and an ADP, a shore payroll services, well there’s like a few of the big ones that are out there. So what, five employees? So you know and it’s probably going to cost you a couple hundred bucks a month. I mean somewhere between three to five hundred bucks a month for the payroll service. But I’m telling you it’s I know that you know oh my god it could be you know six thousand year five thousand a year. But you get any notice from the IRS send it over to them they’ll deal with it that’s what they do. I actually we use Paychex Paychex is great but ADP sure payroll lots of clients that use their services they’re fine. I mean they’re very good so that’s most expensive option.
  2. The next best option is that you have somebody do it for you right. So what what does it cost to have like a bookkeeper just do your payroll for you you spend somewhere around twenty five bucks an hour for somebody to do your payroll for you. That’s generally average depends on where you are in the country I mean if you’re in San Francisco it’s probably a hundred eighty seven dollars an hour. And then if you’re in like Oklahoma it’s four dollars an hour. I’m just kidding. I think the average is about twenty five bucks an hour is what you’d like for this it’s a bookkeeping job you don’t need a CPA to do this.

How Do You Find a Bookeeper?

Elizabeth: How do you find a bookkeeper?

Gene: There’s lots of places. First of all you can are you can look on sites like up work for example is great. Upwork is great. Guru is great a great place to find a bookkeeper. Their technical people. Craigslist you could find a bookkeeper who is also a homicidal maniac if that’s what you prefer. Put out you know you feelers on Facebook LinkedIn I mean if you do a search on LinkedIn for book keepers in your area LinkedIn is nothing but a big database of resumes. And then you just reach out there.

You could probably just Google bookkeepers and in Hartford, CT or she’s in Wisconsin. Bookkeepers that like cheese in Wisconsin.

Elizabeth: What about like a large company? I don’t know if this even exists but a company that just has bookkeepers you can hire.

Gene: Believe it or not there are. There is I forget the name of the one that’s there not national so it’s irrelevant but in Philadelphia there’s a service called Bookkeepers Inc. or something like that and it’s just a firm of bookkeepers that’s what they do. You are you going to pay maybe a little bit more twenty five bucks an hour but you know it’s not that much more not that much work. Temp services offer this as well so if you’ve got temporary local temporary services that staffing services they offer up bookkeepers as well that’ll just come in and do your thing and again there at the range of about twenty five bucks an hour or so. And then to do a payroll say you do a weekly payroll and it’s you know for five employees it doesn’t really take a bookkeeper no more than two hours each time.

So you’re looking at about fifty dollars a week. Yeah so they’re about a couple hundred bucks a month you know what I mean type of thing. And then you know that’s really what it should cost you and then you got to spend another few hours at the end of each quarter doing the quarterly returns. You know I mean. So.

Elizabeth: So would an ADP or Paychex do anything for you that bookkeeper wouldn’t?

Gene: ADP and Paychex will try to sell you lots of their services in addition to what they’re providing. Which by the way I don’t fault them for it because a lot of the service are fine. It’s a business it’s America they can make money.

Elizabeth: So what do they do so they’ll like maybe administer your workers comp insurance or something?

Gene:  Yeah if you have that I mean they they will set you up in their system. You you can actually use your actually input a lot into their system your actually inputting hours into their system and then you your assigned a customer service rep that’s you’re in charge, they’re in charge that’s in charge of you. And depending on their turnover you know you get different reps you know whatever, but it’s all part of the system. So it takes care of all the deductions all the they make the direct direct deposit and all they do is they just send you either electronically or on paper your payroll register every week at you then file away they just. They do it all for you. They will then automatically do the quarterly tax returns. They have your electronic signature as well they file it for you so it’s a huge headache they just take away. So you know it’s good. Now a bookkeeper just what you have you have if you hire somebody independently you’ll have more relationship with that person. A person might come on site to your place there might be depending on if you like him or her there might be other stuff. They can be doing for you.

Elizabeth: Help with taxes.

Gene: Bank wrecks you know what I mean. Cleaning up maybe do a little invoicing for you. Get behind it stir up some of the peanut butter and fudge together if he has a spare time so that’s good. Then we talk about technology. There are some really great. Technology of the one I love is called Gusto. Right. They are a payroll, they do beautiful payroll they used to be called Zen payroll and whatever but they changed it into Gusto. Great payroll. Basically they have a service that they provide a similar type of service to an ADP or Paychex but you are doing more than, you’re working on the software, it’s yours. I mean I forget what they charge but they’re less expensive than an ADP or a Paychex. And so very very nice service nice because you mentioned benefits. Such a great business they offer a payroll service for free. Zenefits. And by the way Zenefits as of late has been going through some management issues and employees.

Elizabeth: Are they going to survive that?

Gene: Yeah I mean I think the service is that good. They’re that well-funded and their business model is so good. What they do is they offer a lot of free HR services technologies for.

Elizabeth: Which is great for a small business.

Gene: Yeah it’s not only payroll but it’s also little track your vacation and onboarding and off boarding and new employees terminations all that. But they make their money because they wanna sell you life insurance, healthcare insurance. So they’ll offer stuff for free which is completely cool but then they’re going to offer you like health insurance as well that’s how they make their money.

Elizabeth: Alright so what would you recommend and for the candy maker?

Gene: What I would recommend is outsourcing the entire thing to an ADP or Paychex. Done. I think you just get out of it.

Elizabeth: Yeah two hundred fifty dollars a month, I mean think about that I think that’s what you estimated.

Gene: Yeah two hundred fifty bucks a month. Get rid of your tension headaches like frees up time.

Elizabeth: I can’t imagine I am I was a political philosophy major like I can’t imagine really.

Gene: And you have a job?

Elizabeth: That’s what my Dad says.

Gene: What was your job out of college political philosophy major who hired you? I know Donald Trump didn’t hire you.

Elizabeth:  I worked for a website called six degrees dot com which was like the original Facebook. And then I worked for About dot com which is still in business and then I went into politics so it worked out.

Gene: Very cool okay right.

Elizabeth: Life is too short and you want to be focusing on the candy making so you gotta get rid of that payroll that’s, I mean I think a lot of people think “I’m a small business owner I can’t outsource stuff I have to do everything myself right.” That’s not the case. You really don’t to run a successful business you’ve got to surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing and you got to outsource a few things.

Gene: Agreed.

Bonus Question: Picking Your Brain

Elizabeth: Okay we’re back with our bonus question for Gene. And this is actually you recently wrote an article for us about this so I think you know a lot about it.

This is the question this has been in the news a lot lately. I follow a bunch people on Twitter who hate it hate it when people ask to pick their brain. Because I follow a lot of people who are freelancers they’re sole proprietors in business for themselves they’re either business consultants are they are writers and people are constantly trying to network with them by saying can I pick can I buy you coffee can I pick your brain.

And they hate it they think should I be charging for this like my time is money you know I bill myself out at a hundred dollars an hour and this person just wants to buy me coffee. Buy me coffee. And I thought you know that’s a good argument I don’t know like is that worth your time. I don’t know but you had a pretty distinct opinion on this.

Gene: Okay and picking your brain is also related to this but I’m because you mentioned Elizabeth about having coffee and there is putting out a song people and that’s another conversation if people want to have coffee with you and do you want to do it. Particularly if they’re just gonna pick your brain. You have to leave work and leave your job to have coffee with a stranger so they can pick your brain I mean yeah I guess I can think of no worse use of your time.

Elizabeth: How about just a phone call?

Gene: Yeah a phone call yeah a phone call is a yeah mean you know it kind of all gets to this. I don’t you listen. People you gotta give stuff away for free. If you are a if you’re a writer if you’re an entrepreneur if your service provider or whatever you’re selling yourself people need to have a relationship with you. There is a time that people need to spend with you that will, that could evolve into profitable work but they got to get to know you and like you and work. You have to prove how smart you are. When we go to and we’ll just go to clients that are a mess with a softer product that we sell we we wouldn’t have sold it to them and say I’ll tell you what I’m going to send Carrie out and let her spend a couple days and she’ll fix up but you got to do here is a list of things will do. We’re not going to charge you for it. Let’s just go and do it. So that you can see like we know we’re doing maybe you hate us maybe we hate Carrie maybe you really like us. And then if you’re happy we get your right here.

Elizabeth: Everyone loves Carrie.

Gene: Yeah everybody loves because she’s awesome. That’s the only way to really learn if you’re going to get along in a universe. So if someone wants to pick your brain or I want you know information from you. I don’t think you have to necessarily turn it off but there’s no reason there’s nothing wrong with you being selfish. And saying to yourself well what the heck is in it for me? What is in it for me? And you’re going to have to make this choice and there’s no scientific answer to this. It’s a gut feel if somebody you says I’d like to take you out to coffee and pick your brain. If that person is. You know the Hartford for example you’re probably going to be like yeah I guess I’ll have some coffee with Chris. I mean you know I think there’s something might be something in it for me to do that you know. Or could be somebody else that will provide you some value. Your just selfishly thinking. If it’s somebody you find a little bit about them if it’s you know if it’s just somebody that you’re just like you know. This is going to go nowhere. You know what I mean? This person is just kinda glomming off me or I don’t I just don’t I don’t think that this person is really gonna benefit me in the future. There’s nothing wrong for just saying I’m sorry I really just don’t have the time to do that you know. Or maybe we can speak on the phone for a few minutes. And that’s that’s even that by the way is a nice thing to do.

Elizabeth: And honestly I think a lot of those people are just saying can I buy you coffee because they want to show that they’re willing to pay for something for you. But they would be fine just having a phone call I mean. Doing things for other people I feel like. You have to do it. It’s going to benefit you in the end. You have to do it on your terms.

Gene: Yeah it depends you don’t have to do anything in this life your your time is limited and it’s valuable you’ve got. A perfect example is a woman we’re speaking, I go to Florida to visit my Mom, I was visiting my mom in Florida with my wife and there was a woman there that size she teaches at a community college and she was kind of like making things about like maybe me sort of guest speaking. Like at a few of her classes and I mean I didn’t take the bait at all I just kind of changed the topic. She didn’t come straight out and ask me but it was pretty close. And my wife was like geez Gene what are you some kind of jerk you should help this woman. You know there’s a limited time in the day because so much…

Elizabeth: That’s a huge ask.

It is and people sometimes make huge asks and I’m like okay because of my life. Okay I’ll tell you what then I’ll leave you for a couple days and go down to spend time with her to speak to her class and you can stay alone back and I don’t how do you feel now. It’s like you’re right don’t do that I mean. So it’s it’s a personal decision that you have to make. Some people and and you know what I always answer caused by picking brains that all. Actually however I don’t always but mostly always is a college kid students.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Gene: I love it when kids if if kids reach out and ask can I need some help or can I pick your brain. Even then I have to admit I sometimes like if it’s kid some I had a kid email me a couple weeks ago who was a friend of my kid played soccer with the kids I knew him when he was like twelve. And now the kids a graduated college in need of career advice.

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

That’s just good karma.

Gene: It is good karma. On and then seemingly sometimes like a friend your work colleagues or friends kids want some help of course but then. And sometimes some completely random kid will reach out to me for some help or for some advice or whatever and I have to tell you some some times I am you know kind of a jerk about it. I’m just like I. You know I can’t answer everybody. I don’t I really don’t have any idea who you are and I am you know busy and I’m sorry but I don’t have time to do it. Or email me some questions maybe I’ll e-mail you some back. But there is nothing wrong with saying no. There there’s nothing wrong with being selfish. And saying to yourself what’s in it for me.

Alternatives to Picking Your Brain 

Elizabeth: Also I hate the term pick your brain because I watch Game of Thrones and I just picture li a severed head with like a crow. I think a better way to ask is can I get your perspective on something. Because then I feel like if someone says that to me, because I get these requests all the time too. And says can I get your perspective. I feel like they’ve done their homework they’re coming to the table with something I can react to. Rather than me saying well here’s what you should do to start a career in writing and editing.

Gene: I also just like people that are just sort of straight out hi Gene you barely know me I’m looking for a job in this industry and I know you know you’re in that industry. Do you have ten minutes I can talk to you know get some advice from you or maybe even some contacts. Can you help me?

And if you’re not right person to talk to can you direct me to someone.

Gene: Yeah do you know someone that would? The pick your brain goes there with all these other you know business speak nonsense gibberish that’s just like. Now yeah I know what you don’t want to pick my brain you’re looking for work. You have to just say it you know and and you and you want some help or maybe some connections or whatever and it will.  Ok fine you know then let’s talk about that.

Elizabeth: As a business owner asking for that kind of help I also think if you lead with you know if another business owner said to you and sort of saying I wanna pick your brain. They said I run a business doing this I think I could. We could have a beneficial conversation. I do this I could provide this to your client. You know something like that like coming from it always think about how you’re going to appear to that person you’re asking.

Gene: So that that’s another really really great point you bring up Elizabeth. So if you are I get you know pitches from other business owners you know and they only want to talk. Or they want to have coffee or they want you know whatever. And you, they’re they want talk about some maybe some place where we can mutually benefit each other. How we can partner or whatever? So ok number one I know you’re looking for dude you’re looking you’re looking for work for you. Yeah I mean that’s what you’re calling me is you know you’re going to grow your business or not. Really do you have. Prove to me that you care about my business. You want to prove to me you can care okay if you’re looking to partner and grow our businesses why don’t you actually come to the table with an actual client or customer. Yeah. That you’d like to introduce me to. Right step up and say hi Gene I’ve got this customer here and that they’re looking for CRM system. I’d like to. You make that introduction to me I’m like you anytime you want to have coffee name it. I’m happy to talk to you. But just let’s throw out like ways we can partner with each other whenever it’s like I just. You know.

Elizabeth: Yeah lead with what you how you are benefiting them.

Gene: Yeah why is this worth their time. How are you benefiting them?

Yeah step up and give me something and then if you know and again that’s like not gonna work out sometimes you may give you may offer a lead a customer something somebody they don’t reciprocate it. And what greater ways to know that like well this guy’s. Somebody I want to do business partner with. Individuals who wanted reciprocate my you know customer I offered to them.

Elizabeth So I want to mention a researcher or you might have heard of them Gene. His name is Dr. Robert Cialdini and he writes a lot. I think he’s a social scientist. He writes about reciprocation. So If you go to Gene and say “I have a customer who’s looking for a new CRM system I want to introduce you to them.” And that happens and they make the introduction and then a month later they come to you and they’re like “Hey do you have any idea about X,Y&Z, or do you know anything about blahblahblah” You are so much more likely to take that phone call.

Gene: Different people are different ways if if somebody gives me a lead like introduced me to their customer like a bona fide and by the way even if the person that customer never buys for me. But if you thought of me to at least give me a shot at the plate you know what I mean. I am indebted to that person that person is like number one on my list and I mean that’s what I do. We have about six hundred clients in my business. So if an IT firm gives me a lead not only am I keeping abreast of the like thank you and all of that. I met with this guy yesterday screen or whatever but like I’ve got it in my CRM system to reciprocate that. I gotta send this guy a lead.

Elizabeth: They’re going to be top of mind. And you know that’s the other thing about our picking brings it we didn’t mention. The thank you.

Gene: Yes, yeah.

Elizabeth: Sometimes it doesn’t come and it is very strange. It’s funny it’s easy to do that.

Gene: It is the thank you is good. People a lot of times people say to me are oh you know thanks for the lead what can I do to return the favor or whatever. Number one is first of all the best return favors don’t make me look like a dope. So if I refer you do a good job so client can come back to me and say thanks for the referral this guy was really awesome. It improves my relationship with my client. That’s first and foremost you know. Other than that you don’t have to send me chocolates you don’t have to like bury me with ‘thank yous’ or anything like that. But yeah in the future if somebody’s looking for CRM system hope he’ll think of me first you know and that’s that’s that’s all I’m looking for.

Elizabeth: Alright I think that’s going to wrap this up. Our next episode is going to be about hiring people and managing employees which I think should be very interesting to everyone and will talk to you then. Thanks.

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The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only and solely those of the podcast’s participants, contributors and guests and do not constitute an endorsement by, or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

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