The Indirect Connection

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A few months ago, a friend of mine bought a used car to replace his worn-out beast from the mid-1980s. I was impressed when he told me he had paid cash for it. I was even more impressed when he told me how he bought this used car.

His method was simple. He didn’t go to a dealership or shop on the internet for his car. Instead, all he did was stick with the same local car repair service for the work done on his used car. When it began to really fail, he simply asked the guy who ran the repair service if he knew of any reliable used cars for a good price. The guy did and he was happy to help a good customer get connected to the person selling that car. A few days later, the replacement car was his at a very nice price.

In other words, rather than asking for a direct discount (which would have cut into the car repairman’s bottom line), he asked for an indirect discount, which didn’t affect the car repairman’s bottom line at all. Because of that, the repairman was much more willing to help a regular customer.

What makes for such an “indirect” discount? Simply ask for help in a field related to but not the same one as the field the expert is in.

I’ll give you an example. One of my winter projects has been to paint a bunch of pieces for a board game that my wife and my friends and I play regularly. The pieces that came with the game were gray and bland and I thought it would be fun to learn how to jazz them up with some color.

I didn’t know anyone who was familiar with how to do this, so I stopped by the hobby shop in my town that seemed to be the closest to this field. It’s a shop that I’ve purchased items in before, so I knew the staff there.

I simply asked them if they knew anyone who was into painting miniatures that might be willing to help out a beginner.

It turns out that one of the people working at the shop did this as a side hobby. He proceeded to go out to his vehicle, get a box of painting stuff, come back inside, and give me a half hour tutorial on the spot for painting figurines. At the end, he gave me a couple bottles of paint and a brush to get me started, as well as a printed page of URLs for the web resources he uses in that hobby.

All I had to do was ask for indirect help.

Whenever we’re stuck with a need of some kind, we tend to first think of the direct sources to fulfill that need. If we need a new car, we think of a car dealership. If we need a new computer, we think of an electronics store.

Quite often, though, we’re better off asking for indirect help through the sources that we’ve already built a relationship with. If you need to replace that used car with a bit newer one, why not start by asking the repairman that you already trust? If you need to replace that computer, why not start by asking the guy who fixes your computer for you?

With indirect help, you might not immediately get the solution you need. After all, you’re asking for help outside of their area of expertise.

However, you might also find an unexpected amount of help from someone who doesn’t have a profit-making interest in your arrangement. They just want to keep you happy and continue to build the relationship they have built with you, and if they happen to have access to great opportunities that they can share with you, it’s something that results in a win for both of you.

Never be afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is “no,” which is pretty much the same result that you have if you never ask at all.

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12 thoughts on “The Indirect Connection

  1. Really good method… and yet another plug for becoming invested in a community (and perhaps for buying local?). If you’re not involved, you don’t have these sorts of connections.

    I live in a fairly transient area, but a slightly less-transient town within that area. I’m working on building my connections… at this point I could do this in some areas, but certainly not all.

  2. This is exactly how we got a good used car for my son; we asked our repair guy.

    We also got a good used car through my husband’s work. He knew a fellow engineer with no family who kept excellent care of his cars and who liked to replace them every 10 years even if they ran well. My husband knew when this guy was ready to sell and we got a very nice used car for a good price and no hassle on our part or the seller’s.

  3. #1 Matt – you don’t really have to be plugged in to the community that well. A few examples: Any vet’s office will know of dogs & cats available for adoption. Most any store that sells games like Trent’s will most likely know of someone who paints the figures, or will have a message board you can post a request on. Craft store owners will know of people who will hand make items for you. I work in a school for handicapped children & we often respond to phone calls from the public looking for child care or babysitters, summer day camps, or parenting classes. My husband is often putting out feelers for items or services he needs for his business with the various people he deals with or that he runs into in related businesses. You might get a better deal on a large purchase like a car if you’re someone the mechanic knows, but it isn’t a requirement.

  4. Great article on an underutilized networking practice! I’ve been increasingly frustrated with this site as of late, but this article was a solid one.

  5. Not everyone is as conscious of the motive of networking and building relationships as Trent is. A lot of times, people are just trying to be kind and helpful for no motive at all other than kindness and helpfulness.

  6. There was a really good article similar to this written in the Tighwad Gazette about “putting the word out”. The author, Amy Dacyczyn, used this as an example of helping her daughter acquire earrings for her newly-pierced ears. It works in many ways. We got our swingset free this way, among a multitude of other things we use on a daily basis. We use it both ways too. We get rid of things this way too that we no longer need….everyone benefits and goodwill is spread.

  7. This is how I got my car, I asked a friend who always drove the kind of car I wanted, and he asked his mechanic, who knew someone who wanted to sell her car fast. I got just what I wanted at a ridiculously good price.

    I tend to be someone who has a hard time remembering that efficiency is not always the best trait, and that lingering and talking with people can both be more fulfilling socially, but also can make connections that can help in concrete ways. I have to admit, I’m pretty shy with strangers, despite appearing confident, so I find talking to strangers hard to do cold. I guess that’s the point of a network.

    My mother often makes me crazy with her meandering ways that make any errand a long drawn-out affairs, but I have to admit that when she needs something, she has an enormous network to put the word out, and she gets some really crazy nice stuff for very cheap. I guess it’s good to step back and be able to value different ways of approaching the world…

  8. @ #4 Brittany: Completely agree. Was ready to unsubscribe, but after reading this I’ll hang on a bit longer…

  9. This is all just common sense, don’t you think? You want to know something- ask people who know about it, or people who regularly interact with people who know about it! If I want to know what pet food to use- I do not need to ask a vet or trainer- I can ask the guy at PETCO, who talks to all those people.

    I have bought my best/cheapest used cars this same way-it’s the most obvious way to go about it, at least to me. What’s the big revelation? Used car lots are for suckers?

    It’s not polite to feign interest in people, or make a social connection, purely as an investment in getting something out of it later. Disingenuous or forced engagement is easily read, and a big fat turn-off. If you are courteous, and do not treat people as invisible functionaries, most are willing to help you! Most people I have met enjoy being helpful. But you have to be open to stepping in and helping other with a phone call or email in a turn-about too!

  10. @11 Kristine Common sense isn’t. People assume too often that everyone has a general level of basic experience and understanding that is similar to their own experiences, attitudes, and upbringing. This why a “city slicker” visiting a rural area for the first time sticks out like a sore thumb (and vice versa). Their frames of reference and connections are not “common”. This is a basis for a lot of comedy but we seem to forget about it when dealing with others.

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