I was recently at an event with several founders whose startups I advise. Naturally, the conversations with these founders tended towards whether or not they had been able to schedule meetings with some of the people to whom I had introduced them.
One of the biggest values that I, or any good advisor, bring to a startup is the network I can use to help the teams get traction sooner, figure out how to overcome a major problem, or raise money.
The Problem of Getting Time with Key Players
When you’re starting a company (or any new project), everything feels like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill for eternity. Tapping into the networks of friends and advisors is a way to drastically reduce your work overhead and increase your chances for success.
Without fail, the conversations tended towards some version of this:
“So, were you able to connect with [so-and-so]?”
“No…we were not able to find a time that works for both of us…”
This is not the first time I’ve dealt with people who, after being introduced to an important and Very Busy Person, drop the ball because they figure that the Very Busy People just don’t have time to chat with them.
What caught me off-guard about these situations is that the people for whom I was doing the introduction are all hyper-competent, high-achieving, ambitious founders. They are not kids trying to get their first job out of McDonald’s and they take what they do very seriously.
So what’s the deal?
Why People Didn’t Schedule Meetings With You
When sending emails to Very Busy People, it’s most important that you keep your emails clear and concise. When they get an email, the question that will run through their mind, just like when you get an email, is “how long will this take to respond to now and do I have the time?” If the answer to the second half of that question is, “no,” then they will say they’ll get back to it later.
They probably won’t get back to it later, since they are Very Busy People.
Scheduling Meetings is no different.
When you are given an introduction to a Very Busy Person — a founder, an investor, an executive, a professor, etc. — you are expected not to waste their time.
When you send an email asking to meet for coffee or get on the phone, they perceive at least a few costs:
- Finding time that works for both parties. Have you ever played phone tag with somebody? How about email tag? It’s easy to spend more time trying to find a time for when the call will happen than for how long the call will actually be. This is a huge time-suck for Very Busy People.
- Moving stuff around to be on the call.
- Actually taking the time to be on the call.
- Doing some kind of follow up from the call.
These may sound like nothing, but to a Very Busy Person whose time is worth more than yours, the cost of sitting down for coffee or hopping on the phone may be considerably more than the mere cost of that half-hour.
People don’t schedule meetings with you because they perceive the cost of doing so as greater than the benefit of whatever else is on their plate at that moment.
Very Busy People always have something urgent and important on their plate and, unless you are the person who can solve those urgent and important items, taking the time to play email volleyball with you is just not worth it to them.
So you have two options:
— Make the cost of ignoring your scheduling request lower than that of their other items.
— Make the cost of responding to your scheduling request so low that it just makes sense to deal with it now.
Unless you have the key to their current problems, you won’t be able to make your request look more important than the other things on their plate.
(This is why people write ridiculously long emails about what they are doing when they request. They want the reader to view what they are doing as important. Even if it is important to them, this is a time-suck for the reader and just increases the chances they won’t reply. If you successfully got an introduction to this person, assume they either know about what you are doing or will ask you during your call/meeting.)
So the solution is to make it ridiculously easy for them to get something on the schedule meetings with you.
How Not to Send a Scheduling Request
Here’s how most emails to schedule meetings or calls look, and why they fail…
(Imagine this comes off of a warm-intro and is not a cold email.)
I’d love to chat a little bit about how you can help me grow my company.
Let me know a time that works for you.
This is actually one of the better “request for a call” emails I’ve seen. I get emails like it all the time when I am introduced to people. Emails like this are particularly dangerous because the sender thinks they are doing a good job with the email but actually could do much better.
Want to allow busy people to choose the best time for them? Use Gist’s free meeting scheduler tool, connect your calendar and send them the link!
There are two things really bad with this email.
One, it is not specific at all. It’s not clear how Chaz can see Zak helping. It is not clear how long Chaz wants to talk on the phone. Or honestly, why, too.
Two, Chaz gives no positive constraints for how or when to schedule the call. Zak can come back and say, “Tomorrow at 3 works for me,” but without Chaz letting him know beforehand, Chaz may just reply, “Tomorrow at 3 doesn’t work, any time next week?” and this process will go back and forth until the call is scheduled. Every time a new email appears in Zak’s inbox, he’ll dread that it is a continuation of the email-tag. This is not a good first impression for Chaz.
Some people fear adding positive constraints to emails with Very Busy People, thinking it presumptuous. These tend to be the people who send their requests with the dreaded, open-ended, “do you have time in the next few days?”
Very Busy People love positive constraints in emails. This reduces the mental overhead for them to think, “well, when do I have time?” Instead, they know, “okay, I don’t have time then, I don’t have time then, but I DO have time then,” and the reply becomes that much easier to make.
How to Send a Scheduling Request
A better way of writing this email would be this…
I’d love to hop on a 30 minute call to discuss how you can help me set up some email captures on my site.
I’m available tomorrow at 3, 4, and Tuesday at 1. Alternatively, if none of those work, I can make a time next Wednesday afternoon work.
This email is much better.
It is specific about what he wants to talk about. That way, everybody can come prepared to the call. (I, personally, like to stack related calls on the same day, too. Knowing what the call is about lets me organize the calls on the right days.
It is specific about the amount of time the call will take. An hour-long call may be 1/8th of the very valuable workday for a Very Busy Person. Without a disclaimer otherwise, most Very Busy People assume calls take no more than 20 (MAYBE 30 minutes).
It takes all the work out of finding a time. All the other person has to do is glance at his calendar and see if any of those blocks work. It gives multiple options on multiple days and is very clear about when those options are.
So, it is:
- Ultra-specific in the WHY. The call is about setting up better email funnels, not “how I can grow my business,” whatever that means.
- Ultra-specific in the WHEN. The call can happen at a number of times and will only take 30 minutes.
- Ultra-specific in the HOW. This is a call, no weird back and forth about where to meet or to chat via Skype.
It is respectful of a busy schedule.
Make note of the sentence that says, “Alternatively, if none of those work, I can make a time next Wednesday afternoon work.” This implies that Chaz will make his schedule work to get on a call with this person. That’s respectful of the other person’s time.
This gives Zak the chance to respond quickly, “Tuesday works,” while walking between gates at the airport and not think of the call again until Chaz sends a calendar invite.
Sending an Invite
Sending the calendar invite works as a confirmation about the call and helps you cover yourself in case something comes up and helps the other party remember. The invite should be quick and clear about where you are meeting or who is calling whom. “Chaz calls Zak at 1.XXX.XXX.XXXX” is how I structure the bodies of my calendar invites.
Remember, reduce the cost of your request so that responding is essentially free to this person. Understand the psychology of Very Busy People and you’ll be able to unlock meetings and calls that others struggle for years to see.
I’m writing A Complete Guide to Connecting With Very Busy People that you can get by joining my email list at www.zakslayback.com. I send out regular teardowns like this and other guides on professional development.