Not asking for help, and lacking expertise in certain areas, is frequently the reason new businesses fail. We believe we can do it all. But the truly successful among us firmly believe that their success is at least partly due to their willingness to ask for help and advice whenever they needed it. Entrepreneurs that eventually come around to this way of thinking years after launching their business - joining meetups and online communities, fostering mentor relationships - all have one regret...that they didn’t do it years sooner!
We are all afraid of looking stupid, but not asking for help when we need it is exceptionally dumb. We are hardwired to help each other. Seeking assistance - when done properly - paradoxically makes you look smarter. You recognize your limitations and knowledge gaps. Not everyone can say that, so make sure you can. It pays off with interest.
But there is some technique to how you ask. A better way to do it. Simply asking “what should I do?” is not ideal, and can come across as a bit lazy. Most of the time, we have at least some idea what we should or should not do, and that needs to be part of the equation.
How and What to Ask
“I don’t know how to do it” or “I have no idea how to move forward” may be true, but you need to put in a little legwork here. State what you do know, what you’ve done or tried so far, and the issue or difficulty as you see it. It is rare that we have absolutely no notion of how to proceed...it may be minor, or misguided, or even downright incorrect, but you do know or understand more than you might initially believe. Include that in the discussion. It gives the person you’re asking for help some context and something to work with. Otherwise, you’re providing nothing and expecting them to do everything for you.
Explain the situation, what you know and what you’ve already done, and then seek input or advice.
Have an Idea
Even if you’re unsure or lack confidence, have an idea when you do ask for help. Present it, and seek feedback and suggestions on making it better, faster and more efficient.
“What should I do?” is weak and shows a total lack of initiative. “I was thinking of…, what do you think?” is infinitely better.
Even when you don’t have a concrete idea how to proceed, ask for specific help. Be clear on what you need help with, ask for concrete guidelines or suggestions.
Build a Community
It’s much easier to ask for help when there are people within your community that you know and trust. Cultivate and foster healthy relationships with mentors, advisors, colleagues, and friends that you can turn to for help when needed. Network, network, network. It is much easier to ask someone you know for help and advice than having to approach a stranger or someone you barely know.
A Few Final Tips
- Be courteous: Good manners at all times in both spoken and written communication.
- Be respectful: Understand that you’re asking someone to take time out of their busy schedule to help you with a problem.
- Be clear on what you need.
- Be reciprocal: Don’t let any relationship become one where you constantly ask for help, but never offer it. And don’t just offer to help as a “reward” for helping you. Offer guidance, advice, suggestions, and assistance whenever you see the opportunity.
- Be thankful: Too few people bother to say “thanks” anymore. A quick note, a brief follow-up, or just a short message to let them know how their advice helped you is always appreciated.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It does not make you stupid. Just the opposite, in fact. Do yourself a favour, though, and ask the right way. Your business and reputation will thank you.
Photo Credit: Help by Alexandra Campo via Flickr
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