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How to get a meeting with anyone

2009_0804_ss_woman_businessMy colleague Jeff Schreifels wrote a great blog post called "You Need a Friend" on how important it is for development professionals to have mentors. This is great advice. We all need friends and especially peers in our industry we can go to for advice. Mentors inspire us and help us build our expertise. I used to get emails and phone calls from students wanting an interview for a class or advice on moving to a nonprofit career. Most of them were college students and if they had a deadline it was that week. Real agendas were not made clear until I was sitting across from them. After a few years of this I grew wary of these requests until one day I got an email from a graduate student at the Acton MBA program in entrepreneurship.

It was an unforgettable breath of fresh air. She asked for precisely 30 minutes of my time, told me exactly what she wanted to cover, promised she would only ask me questions not answered by my press or blog, and in exchange would donate 10 hours of her time to my favorite charity. Three years later I'm still raving about her!

Susie Hall, Director of Admission at Acton was kind enough to share her technique with me, it's called Naive Networking. It is the most honest and realistic guide to networking I've ever read and a must read for any student or professional wanting to get ahead. Frankly, I wish they taught this in high school! Here are my favorite Naive Networking tips:

1) Do your personal soul searching and industry homework first. 2) Be specific about what you need. Make sure the other person understands how a little effort on their part can make a big difference in your life. 3) Don't pester 4) Show up prepared 5) Send your questions in advance 6) Ask questions. My favorite? "What's your favorite mistake?" 7) Give something unexpected in return. In my case it was 10 hours to my favorite charity. 8) Be nice to the gatekeepers. 9) Follow up. 10) And as my colleague Jeff would resoundingly agree with me: be gracious and be grateful.

Stay classy, Rachel

The secret to asking a favor no one can say no to

Everyone's busy and time is money.  We need each other but we're all swamped.  How do you get your request moved to the top of the stack?  How do you get the door opened?  How do you get your name at the top of the list? Today I got THE BEST ask for a visit that I've ever received.  Not only could I not say no, I couldn't wait to meet this amazing person.  I immediately asked if I could share her flawless prose on my blog and she graciously agreed:

Dear Rachel,

I am inspired and excited by the work you have chosen to do, from Girlstart to Mothers’ Milk, motherhood to consulting.  Your career, which you have described as a “calling”, is a great example of passion breeding profession.

I am writing to ask if you will grant me 30 minutes of your time for an informal interview on the subject of Calling.  I am an aspiring entrepreneur and an incoming MBA candidate at the Acton School of Business. We have been given the daunting but important challenge of spending 30 Minutes with an Entrepreneurial Hero.  I’d like to spend those 30 minutes with you.

There is no hidden agenda, I’m not job-seeking—I’m just hoping you’ll share some of the lessons you’ve learned about leveraging passion into career, balancing career with motherhood, and living a life of meaning.

If you say “yes” I promise to make good use of your time.  I will ask you only the questions that I’ve been unable to answer from reading your press and blog.  I will send you questions in advance and will end on time.  As a thank you, I’d like to donate ten hours of my time to your favorite Austin charity.

I am moving to Austin this Friday, August 6th.  I’d be pleased to meet at your convenience as early as this weekend, and would love for my first memories of Austin, Texas to include a meeting with you.  Please let me know how I can make this happen.


Ariel Julia Nazryan, Acton School of Business Class of 2011

Here's what Ariel does right:

1) She took the time to know her subject and (just as importantly) let them know she knows them.

2) She asks for a very specific and reasonable amount of time.

3) Just as important as telling me what the meeting IS; she tells me what it ISN'T.

4) She commits to using the time wisely by sending me questions ahead of time.

5) Best part?  She generously gives me the gift of HER TIME, ten hours of it, for MY favorite charity!  What a win-win!  I can feel great about someone this brilliant helping out some of the causes I hold dear.

Want to open the door to your next opportunity?  I would bet money if you followed Ariel's method you'll get the meeting.  What are you waiting for?  Go forth and ask!

Stay classy,


What's your elevator statement?

An elevator statement is a short concise and compelling statement about you or your business that can be delivered in the time it takes for an imaginary elevator ride.  It's your one chance to make a first impression, be memorable, open a door and build a relationship.  You have to say what you do in a way that is immediately understood and if you want more business, interests people enough to want to learn more.   It's the one statement that will close or open a door.  Once that door is closed, it's hard to recover from it.  First impressions stick.  That's a lot of pressure for a few words, huh?   Here's the sniff test any elevator statement should be able to pass with flying colors: 1) Does your mom understand it?

2) Does it prompt questions?

3) Is it generating you leads?

4) One sentence, 20 words or less.

5) 15-30 seconds.

Let's visit the third one.  I was recently at a leadership breakfast engaged in some introductions between a small group of professionals.  One man introduced himself as a CFO at a well known accounting firm and as a board member of a community group. The other person introduced themselves as a consultant.  The last person said "Yeah, I say that too but we're all in the same boat just looking for jobs."    For him, and likely for a lot of folks, consulting was a nice way to say 'job search'.  The consultant's elevator statement essentially amounted to using a generic label to describe himself and that label was perceived as a cover up by someone else.   Had he been more specific, i.e. said, "Companies hire me to train their employees how to use software to save them time, be better organized and more productive" he probably would not have gotten that response.  You can pick an elevator statement that cuts right to the chase, i.e. "I am a graphic designer specializing in logos" or you can stand out and use a statement that projects confidence and provokes interest in your product or service, i.e. "I'm hired to help employees be happier, more efficient, productive and get 5 hours of free time each week."

Whatever you choose, be clear, concise and memorable.  Now go forth and mingle!

Keep it classy,