How many times have you talked to a new acquaintance and heard him or her say "Just let me know if there is anything I can do for you!"
What was your response?
For most people, it is a polite smile and "thanks."
Boy, are you missing an opportunity!
The more time I spend in business, the more I realize that people generally are brimming with desire to help others.
My recent experiences on Twitter reinforce this fact:
- When my computer blew up, I lamented about it on Twitter and asked for suggestions for backup services. I not only got great advice from about 20 people, I also had people volunteer to spend time on the phone walking me through the process of setting it up.
- I was pondering a switch from Typepad to Wordpress so that I could integrate my website and blog. I asked my followers their opinion, and once again was blown away with the response. Rick Gregory went above and beyond the call of duty and mocked up a sample Wordpress site for me using content from my website and blog.
- The same thing happened when I was stuck formatting a post on Martha Beck’s blog, which is in Wordpress. Nathan Bowers offered to help, I sent him the errant HTML, he fixed it, and emailed it back to me.
- I read a tweet from Hugh McLeod about his Moleskine notebook and wanted to share a link with him about a beautiful custom engraving company. Since the bookmark was lost in the crash, I couldn’t remember the name of the company. So I tweeted about it, and 2 minutes later had 10 people send me the link. (Engrave Your Book)
Here is the catch: in order for them to help you, you have to be really specific with your requests. And in order to be specific with your requests, you have to reflect on what you really want. This can be things like:
- I really want to connect with __________ (Paul Graham,Malcolm Gladwell, Oprah )
- I really want to learn about __________ (writing code, entrepreneurship, photography)
- I want help with ________ (writing a business plan, closing more sales, choosing between good logo designs)
Once you define what you want, the next time someone asks you what they can do for you, you have an answer.
I have a specific example: I am obsessed with getting my friend Ramit Sethi on Oprah when his new book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, comes out. Ramit writes personal finance advice for college students and recent
college graduates. But unlike many of the older, "professional" finance
experts, he truly understands his audience and can offer unique insight
about the crisis facing our society since young people have no
idea how to manage their money. He can speak to the millions
of mothers watching the show and say "do you realize that you are
setting up your children for misery, stress and pressure because of the
way you teach them about money?"
I can’t explain the obsession — I am not a publicist, and Ramit has never asked me for help. I just think he would be a perfect guest and it would make a really great show.
I actually know a few people who have been on Oprah, so the Six Degrees of Separation is working in my favor. But there is a right and a wrong way to ask for their advice:
- DON’T ask: "Would you introduce my friend Ramit to Oprah’s producers?"
- DO ask: "I would love to get my friend Ramit on Oprah because his book would make a great topic for a show. What is your best advice for connecting with the show’s producers?"
The first approach puts them on the spot. Even though we are friendly, they may not be willing to risk their personal relationship to introduce me. The second approach is much less pressure on them, and I can learn valuable information that will serve me in other situations, like convincing Today Show producers to have Matt Lauer interview me when my book comes out.
The same goes for other requests. Ask about the process, not the people.
- DON’T ask: "Would you review my business plan?"
- DO ask: "I would love to have some expert review on my business plan. How do you suggest I go about getting it?"
- DON’T ask: "Would you blog about my company?"
- DO ask: "I would love to make bloggers in my target market aware of my company. Do you have any suggestions for connecting with them?"
- DON’T ask "Would you take me with you on your photo shoot?"
DO ask" "I want to get much more experience observing professionals on photo shoots. What is the best way to get this experience?"
In each of these cases, the person you are asking may just volunteer himself. "I’d be happy to introduce you to Oprah’s producer!" or "I would love to blog about your company" or "Would you like to come with me on a photo shoot?"
The difference is he volunteers his time or expertise willingly, without any pressure.
I don’t mean to give the impression that you can never ask anyone for specific help. If you have long-standing mutually beneficial relationships with influential people, you can be more direct. But in newer relationships or networking situations, this approach works beautifully.
Bottom line: The more often you ask for what you want, the more likely you are to get it. To ask for help, you have to define what you want. To get the best results, ask about the process, not the people.
What has been your experience asking for help? Do you hold back, and if so, why?