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Networking Tips: Is This a Request for Support, or a Shakedown?

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


"This project is so important, not only to me, but to our community. With your talent and connections, I would love to have you be a part of it. Just one problem: We don't have any money to pay you. Knowing how important this is, would you be willing to donate your services? Or can we work out a barter or revenue sharing arrangement?"

*Sigh.* Before the "just one problem" statement, I might have been inclined to take this person or organization on as a client (emphasis on "client"). But as a freebie or questionable payout? No way!

Here's what's happening in this pitch. First, my "friend" has tried to make me feel as "important" as her important project. Can we call that for what it is? It's called flattery. Second, she's trying to sucker me into sharing her enthusiasm for the project . . . and the financial burden. What if I say no? You can almost bet that she'll feel I'm slamming her project, and she could take offense to my resistance.

This is a classic networking no-no. Yes, projects and opportunities can and should be pitched to one's network. But once guilt, flattery, manipulation, demands, and begging enter the equation, the pitch has turned into a shakedown that takes advantage of networking connections.

Pretend You're a Car Dealer

If you're unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of one of these pitches, it can be difficult to say no since you may be concerned about how it could affect your reputation. This scenario pops up frequently when it comes to services. Highly uninformed people believe that services cost nothing to provide. So why not ask for a handout?

But what if what was being asked for was a car? Would you waltz into a car dealership and say to the salesperson, "I really love this car! It's just perfect for my work and family. I'd like to drive it home today, and I probably won't bring it back. Are you cool with that?" The dealer would escort you out of the showroom, probably with security or police at your side.

So when you're approached by a networking friend asking for a handout, pretend you're a car dealer and don't let anyone drive your revenues out the door.

Analyzing Pitches for Support When Networking

Here are seven tips for discerning whether a request for support is really just a shakedown:

  1. Watch for flattery, guilt, demands, manipulation, sob stories, and begging. If you feel that any of these tactics are being enlisted to get you to participate or cooperate, it's time to evaluate what's really going on and whether your best interest is being served by you being involved.
  2. Determine whose skin (and how much skin) is in the game. What is your networking chum putting up for the project in terms of time, talent, and treasure? Does it equal what's being asked of you? An accounting of who's providing what should help make that clear. Also watch for those who over-inflate their contribution.
  3. Important to whom? This project is obviously important to the person requesting your participation. But is it important to you and your business?
  4. Relational or transactional? Aside from this interaction, how is the relationship? Solid and friendly? Or is this someone who wouldn't normally contact you? If the relationship is weak or simply transactional, where do you see it after you have participated? Is it a relationship you want to develop, regardless of the current endeavor?
  5. Find supportive alternatives. Sometimes merely throwing out the possibility of another way to participate, other than what was requested, can help your friend rethink what's being asked of you. Caution! Don't strain yourself to come up with an alternative solution to your friend's dilemma! It's this person's project, not yours. Don't expend time and effort on their problem. If you do, you've already contributed.
  6. Saying no to a pitch does not mean saying no to the relationship. Hearing "no" may be a huge blow to your friend, especially if your relationship is close. Emphasize that your no does not mean no to the relationship. Be prepared for your friend's disappointment, but avoid simply giving in if it's not in your best interest. This helps prevent the resentment you'll feel while slaving away at this project.
  7. Clarify and confirm expectations. As with all business agreements—even between friends—get it in writing! This is especially true if this arrangement includes any bartering or revenue sharing. As well, some of these deals may have tax ramifications; consult your CPA or tax professional for guidance. Also consult an attorney for help in creating these agreements so that they are fair for everyone. Being clear upfront will go a long way toward avoiding hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 12, 2016:

Hi Karina! Thanks for stopping by and reading... and for checking out the podcast. Blessings!

Karina on November 10, 2016:

Hi Heidi, this was very helpful and clearly stated. Thank you! PS Looking forward to listening to your podcast!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2016:

Hi Lawrence! Glad to see you're able to ward off unwanted requests of this type. Good for you! Thanks for chiming in and have a great week!

Lawrence Hebb on October 17, 2016:

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Thanks for the 'heads up' with this, I'll be honest, I'm pretty brutal in this area, mainly because I just don't have time even for my own projects!

I'm still polite and if I'm interested I'd ask for more information on the project but make it plain if it's got a deadline "you've got the wrong person!"

It was good to cover this.


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 16, 2016:

Suhail, at some point you certainly may be asked to "donate" your time or talent. At least you'll be more aware when those requests come along. Thank you for the kind comments and for chiming in! Have a great weekend!

Suhail and my dog on September 16, 2016:

Hi Heidi,

This was a very informative hub!

Thanks God, I have neither been on the receiving nor on the giving side of networking.

However, if there is a conservation organization and wants my volunteering time, I will gladly give it.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 13, 2016:

Thanks for stopping by and reading, Larry!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 13, 2016:

Thanks, MsDora, for the kind comments! I thought the car dealer scenario perfectly described the situation. Appreciate you stopping by! Have a great day!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 12, 2016:

That car dealer scenario offers great insight into the downside of networking. Thanks for you common sense advice on the matter.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 12, 2016:

Great read!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 12, 2016:

Hi again, purl3agony! When done properly (as it appears you are doing!), pro bono agreements can be beneficial to all parties. But when it's a bad fit, it can be stressful for everyone. Sadly, I'm seeing for-profits asking for concessions, too. Thanks for adding the nonprofit perspective to the conversation! Enjoy your week ahead!

Donna Herron from USA on September 12, 2016:

Hi Heidi - I work for a non-profit and we often ask outside professionals to volunteer their services for free or for a discounted fee to help our clients and mission. But we are always upfront that it is a volunteer situation and we expect the professionals to set a limit on how many or how long they will provide their services. These volunteer opportunities allow for a wider population to get involved with our organization and the outside professionals often use this as a chance to advertise their pro bono work in the community and build their portfolio. It can be a win-win for everyone!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 12, 2016:

Flourish, sadly it happens a lot here, too. :( I'm glad you brought up the point about 501(c)(3). That adds a whole new wrinkle to the request conversation. Definitely need to discuss with a CPA when donating to a charity since there are rules that need to be followed.

As for a for-profit, I have to say that I've been approached about equally by for-profit and non-profit. Interesting, eh? The for-profit rhetoric is usually a "we're financially strapped" conversation. If you say no, you'll appear cold. But when someone wants my cold hard cash (which time or talent is), I'll get icy if they're not offering something that'll heat up my business.

Always appreciate your thoughtful insight! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 12, 2016:

Billybuc, sorry for the overload. I'm just getting around to posting a pile of drafts. It was a crazy August with some family health issues. So glad to be getting back to business!

Tell me about it! Except for maybe HP, I really try to stay off email and social media on the weekends for the same reason. I need to unplug from the never-ending stream of stuff. But I do use social and email for marketing. I just try to keep myself in check so I don't bombard my folks.

Have a wonderful week ahead!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 11, 2016:

Amen to this. It's about boundaries. I'd stop and consider a few things. What they are asking for is a donation of time and talent. What is the value of the request? Is it a 503(c)(3)? If not, am I comfortable donating to a for-profit organization? It happens a lot and I am so glad you wrote about it.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 11, 2016:

I was just about to sign off for the day and up you popped a second time. Sheez, Heidi, you're keeping me hopping this morning.

I'm quite turned off by social media of late, using it for marketing. I know that's not logical and I know that kind of attitude can hurt sales, but I'm tired of the constant flood of notifications about new books and new musical gigs and new local theater acting gigs and new crafts for sale and blah, blah and more blah.

I think the key is to use smart marketing and not flood marketing....but again, what the hell do I really know?

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