I’ve learned over the last few years that if you develop a reputation for being helpful, an ever-growing number of requests will come your way.
For me, requests for coffee to “ pick my brain ,” for introductions to my network, or for me to retell the story of The Muse’s founding (which is online if you Google it!) are the most common these days. I’m by no means a celebrity, of course, but I counted over 35 email requests for my help, advice, or time in the last month alone, unrelated to my day-to-day business operations or mentorship programs I’ve already committed time to.
I love being helpful when I can, but there’s an inherent conflict between saying yes and saying no. Saying yes takes time away from my growing team, who need my time, presence, and support, as well as from my friends and family. In fact, if I had said yes to all of the requests last month (assuming each takes 30 minutes), it would have taken me over 17 hours. That’s almost an hour every workday!
Saying no, however, is both a missed opportunity to help someone and to build a relationship and a risk of coming off as rude, even if your reasons are pure. Oh and not to mention, harder to do . I’ve opted for balancing the two as much as possible, but finding the best way to say no has taken some time.
Whether it’s that publicist who keeps trying to run a pitch by you (after you’ve said no — four times) or that young grad who keeps asking to meet you for coffee, everyone deals with inquiries from people they’d rather not say yes to. So what’s a busy professional to do when an inquiry email you don’t want to take comes through?
Here’s how I’ve handled it.
Let’s start with the easiest one. If you’re being pitched by someone you’re not interested in or able to help (be it a publicist or services provider), do the following:
Hi [name], Thank you for your email. We are not in the market for any [type of service or subject pitched about] at the moment, but I will let you know if that changes. In the meantime, could you please take my email address off of your list? Thanks in advance,
No matter what, do not agree to get on a call to “just learn about what we can offer” unless you’re actually interested. This never makes anyone go away, and it usually leads to more persistent follow-up, since you’ve proven yourself to be a warmer lead.
So you’ve gotten an email from a random person, asking for your time or advice. You’ve used your judgement and, based on your capacity and his or her ask, it doesn’t seem like you’ll have the spare time to help out. In those cases, there are two great options:
Sometimes, there’s some special circumstance involved — for example, that young grad asking for time is the brother of a former colleague. Unfortunately, your mutual contact hasn’t checked with you first ( as he or she should ) before introing or giving out your contact information, so you’re left to decide if you can turn this person down and how to do so without ruining the relationship. Your options:
It may not be easy, but once you’ve gently turned down a request that isn’t a fit, you’re already one step toward spending your time on the things that matter the most to you. And that is something to be celebrated.
Alex Cavoulacos is a Founder of The Muse, where she focuses on the product, engineering, and operations of the fast-growing business.
Originally published at www.themuse.com on December 11, 2014.
Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com