The Indirect Connection

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.