Many entrepreneurs have a “tackle the world” mentality. Many entrepreneurs have an “I will not be defeated” attitude. Both are great. Both are of value to entrepreneurs (perhaps even a necessity). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. In fact, I’d recommend it.
Entrepreneurs are often experts in a particular subject.
“I’m an expert marketer, therefore I’ll start a business in marketing.”
“I’m an expert software programmer, so I’ll start a business developing a software application.”
It’s rare to find an entrepreneur, particularly a first-timer, with enough experience in all facets of running a business to be successful. The programmer builds a great software product but can’t figure out how to sell it. The marketer can rip the pants off a marketing campaign, but doesn’t have the technical know-how to setup a good website.
If you’ve got the money, you can pay for the help you need, but lots of us are bootstrapping our businesses. Sure I’d love to hire a web designer and a marketing expert and a PR person…but where’s that money going to come from?
Instead, you have to find a way to ask for help. (Woohoo! I’m getting to my point, finally.)
Asking for help is fairly easy, once you understand that it must come in the context of a dialogue between people, not just a question + answer format. I wouldn’t recommend emailing someone and saying, “I need help with X, Y and Z. Please get back to me.” It’s unlikely you’ll get a good response (or a response at all). And that’s not because people are unfriendly, but that’s because you haven’t given them a reason to help. You can’t just ask a PR expert to give you all her secrets for free; she’s running a business too…
Instead, you need to present the person with something of value. “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” (Grrr…that feels grand!)
So what might be valuable to the other person?
1. A compliment. Flattery never hurt, but don’t do it without really meaning it. It can be too transparent, and if you come off as a phony, you’ll lose any “first impression respect” you might have otherwise had.
A compliment should come from the fact that you’ve read that person’s blog, used one of that person’s products, or gained something of value from that person, so you can truthfully say, “thanks.”
Few people can ignore a compliment, and it is a good segway into asking for help.
2. Participation in their community. This one goes out mostly to the bloggers. Every blogger wants more people in their community; reading their blog, posting comments, etc. Once you become an active member of a blogger’s community it provides you with a closer relationship (even if you’ve never spoken or emailed directly), such that you can go ahead and ask for help, comfortable in the knowledge that the blogger should “know you” and be more interested in helping a community member out.
3. Advice. This is a tricky one. Some would say, “don’t give advice unless asked for it.” That’s probably a good idea; no reason to come off looking like a pompous know-it-all and then turn around and ask for help. But, if someone you know is looking for advice, be willing and ready to give it. The recipient of that advice should be eager at that point to help you out.
Remember: “Give advice as you would like it to be given to you.”
4. Help. Help is different than advice. In my post Testing Your Blog on Multiple Browsers is Very Important, I noted that I often find broken blog layouts, and I do what I can to email the blog owner and tell them. I think that’s being helpful.
Recently I received an email newsletter with two typos in it. One of them was very strange, it ended up creating a funky URL out of the text which went to a bizarre site; nothing in relation to the email newsletter. I emailed the newsletter owner and told her.
You can’t go wrong with being helpful. Approach it delicately though, you don’t want to insult people, and the context/intention of email is often hard to interpret (I’m assuming you’re giving help via email here.)
5. Information. The other day I pointed someone to a blog I’d been reading for some time. “I thought this might interest you because…”
Notice the word “because”. It’s important to tell people why you think what you’re sending them is of value. If you don’t, it can look rather random.
6. A contact. If you give someone a referral (whether it’s a referral for a potential client, business partner, or general contact) they’ll love you forever. Ok, maybe not, but networking is a powerful beast. And networking works. Whether online, in-person or through smoke signals, networking works. It helps grow your business, and your experience. And everyone appreciates help with expanding their network.
I’m a huge advocate for asking for help — mostly because I need so much of it!
Do it properly, respectfully and provide something of value beforehand (and after you get the help…don’t just drop the person!) and you’ll get more free and useful advice than you know what to do with. More importantly perhaps, you’ll build quality relationships with people that you didn’t have before. So you got help, you helped someone, and you’ve made a friend. Sweet.