Please Don’t Ask Before You Say Hello and Another 9 Don’ts

Lead with Relationships

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Again this week, I got an email from someone who doesn’t know me, who wanted to engage my network in her cause. This post is about that one email exchange that exemplified too many don’ts in my inbox.

I’m a person, not a network. And my network is made up friends and colleagues I respect. I value them. I treasure them. I trust them. I know I can’t replace them. I don’t give, share, or sell their attention to people I don’t know. So please …

1. Don’t Ask for Things Before We Know Each Other

Any person who takes the shortest while to follow me online knows that I’m a giver and I love to support my friends. Any person who takes a second longer also knows that

I want a relationship not a one-link stand.

What that means is that I want to get to know you before I recommend you or share what you do with my friends.

2. Don’t Ask for My Network

I’m writing because I’ve identified you as someone who is part of a networking empire that is basically unstoppable, and a major online influencer when it comes to what people are thinking and feeling and doing.

Translation: I want to use your network because my own isn’t big enough to reach my goal.

In itself that’s not a bad strategy to ask a friend to reach out to her network. But the relationship — the friendship and the trust — needs to be there first. This someone saw me as a channel of distribution, not a person. She wasn’t really looking at aligning our goals.

3. Don’t Assume Your Mission Is My Mission

The next five paragraphs were about her, her mission, and why her mission is important to her. Aside from describing their philosophy and stating that I lived it, the mission itself wasn’t very clear. Neither was why I should invest in it.

4. Don’t Lie by Omission

I got curious to find out more about the cause or the product that this mission was all about. It’s a retail and lifestyle brand of apparel. Funny how that never got mentioned in the first or the emails that followed.

5. Don’t Act Like I Work for You

Why have I gotten in touch with you today? Because I believe you embody my mission and can help others do the same.

Tweet the following message ….
Post the following message on Facebook …
Share the following message with your readers …

Again, I might do plenty for a friend, but without that relationship, calling me to action so directly was telling me to open my network to someone I’ve never met.

6. Don’t Ask Me to Cross the FTC

Doesn’t telling me what to tweet or post break the FTC rules?

7. Don’t Offer Me Favors

My lack of response might have signaled that I was busy or that I had a lack of interest. But apparently it did not. Soon I got a follow up repeating a shorter version of the same message above the original.

Did you get it? Do you have any questions for me?
I’m working to develop a huge wave of enthusiasm … hope I can count on your support. And since I know favors go both ways, in return for your support I’d like to offer you a limited edition … t-shirt…
or maybe something else? Networking or entrepreneurial support?

8. Don’t Assume I Have Nothing Better to Do

Let’s talk, and find out more about how we can help each other. Please let me know your thoughts ASAP …

Your urgency isn’t my urgency. I have my own work.

9. Don’t Shout Louder After a “No, Thank You.”

I replied as graciously as I might. My exact reply was …

I got your message. You have a lovely message that you want to share. Your energy is admirable. I can see your passion for what you’re doing. I wish you the best of luck with it.

Unfortunately, my family, my clients, and current projects are all I can keep up with. It wouldn’t be fair to them to take on another project.

Thanks for asking,

I might have expected that would be the end, but it wasn’t.

The reply read:

Hi Liz,

I understand and thank you for your reply.

The real reason I’m connecting with you is because YOU (as an individual), appear to fit [our] profile and seem like someone who’d want to be a part of something great, in its infancy stages – by doing something little to help spread the word and enthusiasm.

Even if just via your personal Facebook account or something – is there any way you’d be willing to help me out?

There’s a free [deleted description] T-shirt in it if you are… :o)

Best to you with your business endeavors as well…

Two more emails followed in which I was commended for my “due diligence” in having checked out the emailer and set straight in that she had built her huge network from being positive and sincere with people who showed immediate enthusiasm for her cause.

I didn’t know that I had done that.

It was never mentioned that the “cause” was the philosophy behind a retail apparel brand.

These are only the don’ts from one email exchange with one person.

Do you have other don’ts that belong on this list?

Be Irresistible.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!

These are only the don’ts from one email exchange with one person.

Do you have other don’ts that belong on this list?

Be Irresistible.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!


  1. says

    Excellent post, as usual. Amazing how many times (75%) I considered contacting “Huge” online personalities because it’s the right thing to do or so I’m told bu others to do, but then the other 25% of me (voice in my head) keeps telling me are you serious?

    As much as we think we know you because you share so much there still a line I would never cross. What people don’t understand, is friendships whether online or off take time, and that’s something a lot of people just don’t want to invest in.

  2. says

    Wow – it’s amazing how far from traditional networking etiquette a lot of people have ventured. I get this kind of thing from people as well. They’re like Puffer Fish – they try to act big and important enough to make you think they should be taken seriously when, in fact, you can usually find nothing significant about them or their product/service anywhere.

    And in the process of puffing themselves up, they don’t realize how rude and forward they are coming off.

  3. says

    But now you don’t get the free t-shirt!

    This is one of my favorite posts from you, Liz, one I think so many bloggers can relate to. I don’t know why so many people think we’re happy to pitch products we never heard of or don’t believe in, simply because we’re all online. Even worse, I don’t understand why so many people reach out for us to do them favors without taking time to get to know us or our communities.

    So thank you for saying what so many of are thinking.

  4. says

    Don’t assume I’m willing to bend over backwards and risk the irritation of my audience if you can’t even bother to figure out my name isn’t Ms. Home-Ec. (It’s not hidden.)

    Great post, Liz.

  5. says

    Great Article! I am in the non profit field and am developing social media for a catholic church. We have to be very careful about what we tweet, share etc.

    I do find it challenging that because what is seen as a simple click of the mouse is so much more than that. Thank you for setting a wonderful example.

  6. says

    My favorite one is “Don’t assume your mission is my mission.” It seems like a no brainer, yet hard to grasp for some reason. I also hate that you were courteous enough to respond and you were essentially punished for it by getting repeatedly pitched. That’s really what gives PR peeps a bad name. There’s a difference between tenacity and relentless harassment 😉

  7. says

    If I’m honest, I would have taken the T-shirt.

    In all seriousness though, I imagine it was a template copy-pasted to you and 100 other email addresses they could find.

  8. says

    Haha, I recognise this so much. I get this kind of message about once a month but I also get the “I can’t afford to pay for your services, but can you help me anyway” messages. I have one guy that contacts me about 6 times a year asking me to check a spreadsheet to find an error or to give him a bit of free VAT advice, you know, as a mate, can you call before 8pm?

    I try to be polite, but sometimes I feel like sending a note back asking them to book an appointment to discuss the scope and my fee!

  9. says

    Liz – great post. Thank you for sharing. One of the many things I like about you is that while you did post this, you spared the person that sent you the pitch embarrassment and public shame. And you turned a negative into a positive by letting others know why it’s not okay to ask for things like this and to be so persistent about it.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  10. says

    Liz – standing ovation and rapturous applause in this little home office in Ireland!GREAT points. Loved ’em.

    As well as points you make so well, must have been just a touch insulting that access to you audience was valued at one T shirt!!!!

  11. says

    Great Article!!! Though I have been working on re-opening my studio, I haven’t yet but have received a plethora of emails and messages like this, even phone calls & I haven’t even had the facebook page up a month, let alone my website…
    Love the “I want a relationship not a one-link stand.”, I agree with Chris B on that one, even as a Baseball hat…

  12. says

    Glad to see that I’m not the only one who wants to do business with a person who sees me as more than a channel of distribution. :)

    Thank you all for chiming in.

    And Chris … I think that t-shirt idea could fly!

  13. says

    Hi Liz,

    I’m kind of torn on how to respond to this post.

    On the one hand, I agree with everything you say. I know, “phew” right? :) I have always felt squeamish about asking influential people in the online world to help me out, and when I have been the recipient of that generous help, I often feel like it’s a favor I can’t repay. It’s not like I can retweet your post and give you the same increase in traffic that you could give me. Since I like to be able to repay favors, I don’t ask for ones that I know I won’t be able to return in kind.

    Here’s the problem, though, from my perspective. Folks like you, Brian Clark, Chris Brogan, and others are so generous with your time and efforts for so many people that it seems like you would be open to a “me too” kind of person. This post seems to indicate that if a person worded it better and was more thoughtful, you’d be on board.

    I think there’s a real challenge for the world of Social Media when it comes to this issue. People who were using Social Media first and who have done a fabulous job building a network are now in the cumbersome position of being asked by loads of new people to help out. I’m not sure what the best answer is. I’d assume you wouldn’t want to just plain stop helping everyone, because that wouldn’t be fair. But sometimes it also feels like folks are okay with helping some kinds of people and not others, and I’m not sure the “others” really understand all of the time why they aren’t chosen as causes.

    For me, it’s a bummer to see that some people jump over me in leaps and bounds because they beg for favors and get them while I try to earn things based on my own efforts – I think that’s an increasingly common frustration for newer folks in this online world.

    Though provoking post – I hope my thoughts make some sense :)

  14. says

    Liz, great post. How annoying that they continued to follow up after you clearly said ‘no.’ Folks like this don’t get ‘social,’ probably online and off. Relationships aren’t how they operate. This being human stuff is complex, no matter what the platform…

  15. says

    I’m happy to help people when they make an effort to build a relationship with me first. Have they commented on my blog? Have they responded to a tweet or retweeted something I’ve written? If they’ve made a sincere effort to build a relationship, I’m good to go. Rarely is this the case, unfortunately.

    I do have several boilerplate e-mail responses ready to go for those who don’t know me and don’t try to get to know me before asking for things. These cut-and-paste messages save me lots of time in coming up with creative ways to say “no.”

  16. says

    Oh yay, a tshirt! Just what I need for that bit of motivation to share my network with you. If you’re going to ask someone to share something with their network, you’d better be really certain that you have a good match.

  17. says

    So true! I’m no celebrity, but I’m a great networker, and I get this a lot. I’m young, social, and likeable, so when I go to networking events, many people are just trying to piggyback off of me to get access to my (relatively) large, and rapidly growing network.

    I’ve also built my network around relationships and the value that I provide to my friends and family, and I would never compromise that by selling out my connections to a cause I didn’t believe in.

    Great post :)

  18. says

    As unbelievably obtuse as this person is, I deal with it pretty regularly at my organization, too. Except, since people can register with my group, they often avoid me altogether and post their message to our members directly. Our members happen to be surgical patients under a non-profit that prohibits such messages. What fun! We have to say goodbye very quickly – never to meet again!

    I feel your pain. Your pain however is at a much greater magnitude as we’re fairly hidden in our work – which has its good points and bad.

    LOVE the t-shirt thing. You weren’t compelled by that? Oh Liz, come on now! LOL

    I’ll be sharing this around. Good stuff.

  19. says

    Thank you Liz and time for me to vent. It’s amazing how many people want me to do things for them that don’t know me or don’t offer anything in the way of a relationship. If you want to talk to me about my book strategy, maybe it would be nice if you could have READ my book first and shown it some love…people have a lot of nerve. Thanks for you and all you do.

  20. says

    Liz, this is a truly wonderful post.

    You have described the encounter and each of the 9 transgression so well.

    I think there must be an underground guide book that a lot of these people follow to try and “ambush” successful people like you who have big networks.

    It seems as if many of the approach phrases and tactics keep coming up. Perhaps it’s a spin off from unsuccessful network marketing tactics?

    Thanks again for so clearly identifying each of the mistakes.

  21. says

    Great posts. Some very good points. Nothing more I hate is someone posting an opportunity on my page or a chat message, with out any description, just a link. Were is there training about building relationships first.

  22. says

    Liz, I echo what others have said. I got a similar post once about my “great network” and my being an up and coming profressional etc. I could not tell if it was spam or not so I decided to be safe and elected not to respond. There were no follow-ups. That begs the question, how do we distinguish between people asking for help and cleverly crafted spam? One way would be by checking how much research the sender did but generic phrases do not help there.

  23. says

    Jack (#2) says these examples show how far from ‘traditional networking etiquette’ we have departed…

    I don’t know. It completely reminds me of my days in Hollywood, where you’d be talking to someone and they’d be looking over your shoulder the entire time to see whoever just entered the room. Could be someone more important than you, someone who’d give them a leg up better and faster than you. And everyone’s in a rush to get to the top. Sad stuff.

    Today I get all kinds of hardball pitches and demands that I follow people on Twitter (or “remove me from your list”, as one person argued that I’m unfairly profiting from her tweets by including them in a list on her subject matter), or like their Facebook page just because they liked mine, or introduce them to someone big-whiggy (and then they don’t feel the need to continue developing a relationship with me — this after I attended the guy’s conference and joined his community and participated in his affiliate program, once the big intro was done he hasn’t responded to me again). It reeks.

    Thanks for the list, Liz. I am sharing it around.

  24. says

    Good post. Whatever happened to manners? The nine points you have listed are nine reasons why I’d ignore ‘strangers’. In my part of town we say, ‘G’day’ and then have a conversation which may lead to a beneficial relationship.

  25. Arlene Wszalek says

    If the person approaching you thought you’d sell out your integrity and your network for a T-SHIRT, it’s obvious they didn’t do their homework. On that basis alone the correct answer was No. It’s telling that you took more time and trouble to research her than she did you. Fantastic post, by the way!

  26. says

    Oh wow, I think I strained my cringe muscles reading that email!

    Your translation in point #2 said it all. I can relate to the desire to get ahead quickly but the approach was terrible, and even if it had worked–what an empty feeling to have people only promoting your work because you’ve harassed them into it.

    Nicely handled BTW

  27. Chris or @ctrogg says

    It’s nice to see someone holding true to their values on the Internet. An email may not take as long as the post to be received but it seems that many people are taking less time to convey a message. As a child I would take a long while to write a letter, and even have several drafts, before placing it in the box. Maybe if she had taken more time to prepare her message she could have developed some foresight into your response. As I am new to this social media-thing, I could see that your network, from the few articles that I have read, has taken time and genuine effort to grow. She should have seen that what she asking for would be detrimental and overall devaluing of your accomplishment,as she views it. I would imagine you would be lacking such respectable followers if you were to fulfill all requests that came your way and therefore be in the same situation that she is most likely in. Much like a celebrity that endorses poor products. Though I may yet still be naive to my point.

  28. says

    Hi Liz,
    I was watching a netstream about WordPress when You talked on stage
    about the kids in the neighbourhood and about envolving Your community to come outside to connect.

    That made me remember the truth on how we used to communicate in my childhood and I wrote You about the pirate radio transmitter we build and how we went to the Dutch forest to cut a tree at 4.00 am for the antenna, we where 12 -13 years.

    I sent You a long email as to my long lost pal.

    You responded very polite but today I understand that I was on a certain level of acquaintanceship by the video and You knew 0 about me :-)

    I learned a lot and
    still even more today by connecting to people.

    Thank You !
    Themelis Cuiper

  29. says

    I suppose I take a different view from most of the other commenters.

    I’m reminded of what Gavin de Becker wrote about unwelcome overtures from strangers: If someone you don’t know and don’t care to deal with insists on calling every day and leaving voice mail…and if you finally capitulate after 40 messages and return the call politely…that person has NOT learned that you aren’t available and aren’t interested.

    Rather, that person has learned that the price of communicating with you is 40 voice mail messages.

    There’s an all-too-thin line between some kinds of extreme marketing and stalking — and you’re not required to be polite to a stalker.

  30. says

    Mine: Don’t ask me why I said no, especially after I already told you why I said no. I don’t have to justify not doing you a favour, and I certainly don’t have to defend it!

  31. says

    You have a huge, thriving seriously engaged network, that this person was presumptuous enough to think that you’d regurgitate her pap in exchange for a tee shirt is insulting beyond measure.You exercised a lot more professional restraint than I would have!

    Btw, good pickup on the FTC rules

  32. says


    I forgot, you asked us to share one of our own “don’t’s ” here’s mine

    when I politely turn down your offer to work for free to promote your PR campaign, please don’t send me back indignant replies stating that I don’t care about my readers & that I’m depriving them of something special by refusing to post, tweet or Facebook about you.

  33. Carol says

    I can’t believe you gave her so much room (or rope)…I would have deleted the first email because it was so off-point, impersonal, and there was no prior relationship. But you turned the experience into an instructive post. Bravo! The good (and smart)ones win!

  34. says

    So glad that Ann Tran shared this post this morning. What a great read Liz, nice to hear your thoughts on the subject and how you handled the situation.

    The only thing I would add to this list is what I call the “Comment Vomit” that happens on Facebook Pages / Linkedin Groups where people post links to sell their widget.

  35. says

    I gotta tell you, within the Mommyblogger circles this is not only par for the course, but the “usual” way of doing business. :-/ Conferences like BlogHer really need people like to help out.

    Because it;s all about how the brand can pimp their stuff to bloggers and how the bloggers can get free stuff.

    (and then the mommy bloggers get jaded they’re not making much money)

  36. says

    Liz, I admire the way you handled this. Oftentimes, with the amount of spammy sales emails that come through our inboxes, we just go on a “delete spree” and move on. At least you had the decency to respond, and quite kindly given the circumstances I might add. If only she had the decency to respect you as a fellow human being. It’s just so sad that some, being so driven by their own selfish desires, seem to have completely lost their ability to build genuine relationships. I don’t understand the disconnect, but perhaps they are completely unaware. Let’s hope posts like yours help shed some “growth opportunity light” their way. Thank you for sharing!

  37. says

    You’d think the offer could have been upped to, say, 2 T-shirts? :)

    Excellent post Liz. The only pity is it probably won’t be read by the people who need most to read it. But for the rest of us it is an elegant exposition of an appropriate frame of response.

    Just a tad more polite and patient than some of us might feel like being in a similar situation.:)

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