How to Get a Meeting with a Busy Person, as Told by a Busy Person

Peter doing his favorite thing

Heads up! This is an interview from our podcast, Salt of the Earth. If you like it you can subscribe to our newsletter. You can listen on iTunes (sometimes you have to subscribe to see the new episode) or Libsyn.

Peter Shankman is a busy guy. He flies about 250,000 miles per year. He wakes up at 3:30AM every day to get a head start. He once booked a ticket to Shanghai and went to the airport only to realize his speaking engagement was actually in Singapore. Despite his schedule he makes himself highly available. So, when a guy like Peter lays down some advice for how to get in touch with other busy people, you listen.

Shankman made his mark founding and selling Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a website that connects journalists with sources. HARO started out as an e-mail list that connected Peter’s friends. Running a story about the growing cupcake trend and want to talk to a baker? Peter knows a guy. Doing a story about extreme sports but don’t know any skydivers? Chances are, Peter does.

Peter connected people for free, eventually deciding that he’d sell ads on the list. When the company was acquired two years later, it was making over $1 million per year. He sold it to his biggest advertiser. “I think they got sick of paying me for ads”, Peter says.

Now Peter manages several businesses and investments in addition to his career as a writer and speaker. He has a lot going on. Two days per week he blocks off time for things like Skype calls, lunches, podcast interviews (like us), and meetings with people who are not his direct clients or partners. He has a few rules for how to get him during these times, which he shared with us:

  • Do Your Homework — Busy people are usually still nice people but they have a limited resource — time — which they have to manage. Doing your homework indicates you’ve invested your time before you ask them to invest in you.
  • Have a Smart Ask — This goes along with doing your homework. Know exactly how this person can help you and make that ask reasonable. As much as possible, make it easy for that person to help you. If you have an ask that is easy for them to provide, you’ve set yourself up well.
Bad Ask: “Hey, I see you have a successful podcast. Could I get some tips?”
Good Ask: “Hey, I listen to your podcast and I like how your sound is consistent even in different environments. Would you be willing to talk with me about the equipment you use?”
  • Be Persistent — We all let emails go unanswered. Don’t take an initial non-response as a no.
  • Don’t Be Too Persistent — It goes without saying that being obnoxious is not a good way to build a relationship with anyone. After a few unanswered calls or emails it’s time to move on.
  • Be Grateful — Send a thank you note, or a small gift if it is called for. Demonstrate that you were helped by that person and you appreciate it. Not only does it make your beneficiary feel special, it’s a great differentiator.

In this episode, Peter talks about founding HARO from his living room and how he grew it to a $1 million a year business in less than two years and then sold it. He also talks about how to get in touch with busy people, and why he had to kick someone out of his office for doing it wrong.

You can listen to this episode on iTunes (sometimes you have to subscribe to see the new episode)or Libsyn.

Thanks to Peter Shankman and our sponsor MailChimp.

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