Getting Help from Rich and Powerful People

IR arrived at my office for our lunch meeting 20 minutes early. If there is anything worse than arriving 15 minutes late, it’s arriving early and expecting your host to drop what he’s doing and pay attention to you. If you must arrive early because you aren’t sure how long the drive will take and you don’t want to be late, do your host a favor. Stay in your car and read the newspaper until the appointed hour. The second thing that bugged me was more serious.

After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, I asked IR, “So what are you up to now?” This was his cue to make his pitch. But IR simply shrugged and said, “Nothing.” Confused, I asked, “And is that what you want to be doing?” “Oh no,” he insisted. “I need to find some work. I was hoping you could help me.” If you are ever in need of help from a busy man, don’t make the mistake of saying, simply, “I am hoping you can help me.” It says that not only are you lost and undecided but also that you are too lazy to even come up with a plan to save yourself.
IR not only wanted me to help him get back on the wealth wagon but also wanted me to tell him exactly what he should do and how he should do it. “Gee,” I said. “I don’t know what to tell you.” And then I explained my philosophy of finding employment — that you have to work as hard at finding it as you intend to spend working once you find it. “How many hours a week do you devote to your next career?” I asked him. “Just about none,” he admitted.
At that point, I wanted to put down my salad fork and call for the check. I wouldn’t do this kind of potty training for my adult children. Why would I do it for a man whom I barely know? Instead, I made a few tepid suggestions about people he should contact — and, at the same time, I mentally crossed him off my list of people I’d help in the future. IR’s lunch turned out much worse than he had planned.
If you want someone rich and/or powerful and/or connected to help you (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t), you need to do your homework. You need to do a lot of research into the field you want to work in. You need to know the major players, understand the basic business dynamics, and find out which sectors are working and which are not. You need to go to your meeting with a clear idea of what you want to do and be able to present it concisely and with backup. You need to come equipped with ideas about how you are going to get hold of the resources you need to succeed, including money, people, and technology.
Your ideas don’t have to be foolproof. That’s the reason you need this person to help you. But unless you come to him with something that lets him know you are already hard-working and motivated, he’s not going to feel anything but pity for you. You won’t get the help you need by being pitiful. You will get it — and more — by being inspiring. You need to come into the meeting prepared and humble, and your presentation must paint a picture that is exciting. To excite the imagination of someone who is rich and powerful, you’ll need to put the good stuff on the table. Work first. Ask for help second.