As an entrepreneur, you need a lot... and often for free. Think about all the mentorship and advice, chances and risks, and contacts and business other people have floated your way. As Praxis CEO/Founder Isaac Morehouse and Inc's own Jessica Stillman pointed out recently, your social "currency"--how much you give to others versus how much you take--can be more valuable than your actual bank statements.
It is breathtakingly easy to fall into the social bankruptcy trap, especially as you get a stronger network: The more powerful the connection, the quicker they can sense when someone is only interested in using them. Here are surefire ways to abuse those relationships.
1. Calling only when you need something: As my colleague Sree Sreenivasan once put it, "Never first contact someone with an ask." That is, the first thing out of your mouth shouldn't be a request to get your needs fulfilled. Ideally, you would have already cultivated a relationship with this person or, at the very least, got insight into how you can help them, too. By showing genuine interest in helping them succeed, your "ask" turns into a mutually beneficial relationship.
2. Making it difficult for others to help: A colleague recently had an entrepreneur actively pursue their advice--and suddenly gave them an extensive legal document to sign before they would share any information. My colleague politely refused and questioned helping them at all. Non-disclosure agreements, lawyer-signed letters and other protective measures have their place, but unless you're Elon Musk, there is probably less danger to your idea being shared than you think. If you don't trust someone you're reaching out to, then you probably shouldn't be talking to them in the first place.
3. Contacting others for an ego boost: In modern terms, it's called the humblebrag--mentioning a fact to subtly highlight your own achievement. You probably know that person who only calls you when they have something brag-worthy to share. It's different than having a "mutual admiration society", or people who uplift each other with equal praise and respect. Instead, when I see an established humblebrager reaching out to me, I know they have something to show off about. It makes me not want to be around them and, consequently, not help them much.
4. Showing little value for others' time: Being late or a no show tells others that your time is more valuable than theirs. There are less obvious ways, though, like not responding to long, thoughtful insights, or, worse, demanding more and more help without acknowledgement of the previous assistance. If someone can't hold an appointment or give gratitude for your help, then it is unlikely that they will suddenly change their behavior later.
5. Acting entitled to others people's insights and information: I once met a novice, aggressive entrepreneur and had a long, interesting conversation. I heard from them again about three months later with a ten-word email asking for a highly-valuable contact. I didn't reply. Firing off phone text-length demands and curt requests smells of entitlement, especially if it is a new contact. In my case, their intention of our conversation shifted from mutual understanding and respect to a one-way opportunistic play.
What tough lessons have you learned from overextending your social contacts?