5 Ways to ask for help when the going gets tough

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I work with a lot of smart people. Folks who have done amazing things in their careers, raised great children, changed their communities, created fine pieces of art and solved complex problems.

As they are starting up their business, they often hit a wall if they can’t figure something out. Many get paralyzed, and lose confidence and momentum the longer they don’t have an answer.

Some of this is based on assumptions they make about what people think of those who ask for help.

Common assumptions about asking for help in a competitive environment:

  • If you ask for help, you are weak
  • People are too busy to help
  • Asking for help is a nuisance

Common assumptions about asking for help in the new world of entrepreneurship:

  • If you ask for help, you want to learn
  • People love to share their expertise: it helps them to feel valued and validated
  • Asking for help is the quickest way to grow a business, start a movement and attain your goals

When you are in a stuck place and feel overwhelmed, the one thing that will not make you feel better is spending more time alone thinking. You will go from:

“I cannot figure out how to set up this sales letter!” to

“I will never be able to set up this sales letter!” to

Who was I to ever think that I had any talent?”

It is a very ugly spiral.

To avoid this, you need to get used to asking for help early and often.

The key to getting great help is to make the request clear and brief. I call it the Seth Godin Test. Uber-busy author and entrepreneur Seth Godin is famous for replying to virtually every email that passes his inbox (or at least it appears so). But he does it with utmost brevity.

So channel Seth and write your questions in a form that will allow someone to give a brief and specific answer.

Good Technique : “Hey Pam, do you know anyone who specializes in local business marketing strategies?” (As a matter of fact, I do, and her name is Carmen Sognonvi)

As opposed to:

Bad Technique : “Hey Pam, how should I market my business?”

This kind of broad question makes my head spin, and is really hard to answer with a brief email. I can’t imagine what Seth would say, but it would probably be something deep like:

“Stand out.”

5 Ways to Ask for Help:

  1. Describe the specific thing you need help with in clear language.

    “I have a great software product, but I have no idea which conference to speak at in the New York area to attract ideal customers.”

    “I need to change the header on my Wordpress site, but I don’t know how to do it.”

    “I need to get my own health insurance, but don’t know where to get started.”

  2. Send a Tweet. I consider Twitter much better than Google search, because all answers are vetted by people I already know, like and trust. If you do not have a big Twitter following yet, ask someone who does. I constantly poll my 30k Twitter circle with questions from friends and clients. Make sure your question is clear, brief and includes “thanks.”

    Example: “Does anyone know a great health insurance broker in the Seattle area? Thanks in advance!”

  3. Use LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn is full of smart and helpful people who can answer a whole range of professional questions. If someone answers your question, be sure thank them, extend and invitation to connect, and let them know you are available to answer questions for them as well. http://www.linkedin.com/answers/
  4. Attend free calls and webinars. I have been hosting a free monthly call for the past three years at Escape from Cubicle Nation. I get a huge range of questions, and there are no strings attached to participating. Look for similar offers in your market – companies often host free training on their products, and other coaches or consultants do the same. Sometimes you will be pitched to buy something at the end, but that is a reasonable price to pay for free information. http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/free-calls/
  5. Ask friends and colleagues from your professional organizations or programs. You may have a great connection with someone that attends a monthly networking meeting you go to, or is in an educational program that you participate in. Send a direct message to them, and see if they can help you. Some of these early exchanges can lead to more extended learning partnerships like masterminds. I met Philippa Kennealy, from Entrepreneurial MD in a program run by Andrea Lee, and after some brief exchanges, she and I became mastermind partners for the whole first year we started our blogs (way back in 2005!). She is a big reason why I got early momentum and success on my blog.

Asking for help, and giving help on a consistent basis, is the best thing you can do for your business. Entrepreneurship does not have to be a lonely grind, it can be a rich exchange of ideas, information and resources.

So if you are feeling stuck, go on, ask for help!

What tips would you offer to someone who was afraid to ask for help? I would love your thoughts in the comments.

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17 Responses to “5 Ways to ask for help when the going gets tough”

  1. meri says:

    Thank you for this post. It’s hard to ask for help, especially if we want to ask someone we know is very busy, distracted and getting a lot of requests from other people. As usual, your insights are practical and doable. 🙂

  2. Beth Herman says:

    Pam, a very wise coach once invited me to look for evidence of two phenomena :
    1. How, when someone asks me for help, they give me a gift. And…
    2. How, when I ask someone to help me, I give THEM a gift.
    The second one was much harder to practice at first. It has sunk in and it is working.

  3. Sarah says:

    My goodness Pam – this is such a great and timely post, although I am reading it retrospectively.

    When you are in a stuck place and feel overwhelmed, the one thing that will not make you feel better is spending more time alone thinking. You will go from:

    “I cannot figure out how to set up this sales letter!” to

    “I will never be able to set up this sales letter!” to

    Who was I to ever think that I had any talent?”

    THIS. THIS. Is where I just got to in my head.
    I have a big decision coming up, and this week I decided to rest. This meant not seeing anyone. And my ‘this is an awesome plan’ (which it is) spiralled into “I will never get X or Y and am a fool for even thinking it.” Which is silly. And your post spoke directly to this part of me.

    Going to hop onto my networks and ask the questions.

    Thank you for such insightful pragmatic advice.
    Sarah

  4. Thank you so much for this post Pam. I have been asking for help, but I have to confess that I like more to help others. In other hand is so amazing to know that nowadays, because of the technology, we are so close to everything, and can reach even Seth to learn and get more informed.

  5. Eric Bowden says:

    Pam,

    This is really great advice. A lot of times people, myself included, will go out of their way to prove that they are self-sufficient, even if they’re not sure how to get there. Stopping and asking for help can be key. The act of asking for help can feel awkward sometimes, but you can’t be successful without having some awkward conversations (to paraphrase a quote I once read.) Thanks for sharing!

  6. Brenda says:

    Great Post Pamela! I must be the oddball here because I can’t think of time I haven’t asked for help when I needed it most. Whether it was organizing a local fundraiser or Meetup group, I’ve never been shy about asking for help. Having said that, I always made sure I gave back and helped out others in need too.

  7. I too, like the LinkedIn group help. The groups I participate in from time to time are all anxious to give detailed direction. In my experience, it is better to ask for help when it’s not so tough. Taking the desperation out of it initiates great dialogue.

  8. LinkedIn groups are fantastic for idea/content sharing and also getting feedback on ideas and product/service launches. Even though it’s tempting to go it alone and try to forge your way through a challenge as a business owner, the diverse range of feedback you can get from some of the sources you listed above is really the value. Hearing what has and hasn’t worked for others, and even the fact that they’ve experienced similar challenges can also help tremendously. After all, that’s the point of building a solid professional network – to be able to leverage to those relationships in both directions.

  9. Lynn Ruby says:

    Asking for help within a Facebook group is a goldmine! I did this on Friday and got boatloads of answers to a research question I had. The answers were different than I expected. So not only did I learn the answer to my research question, I also learned my perspective isn’t always correct!

  10. Harry says:

    Hi Pam,
    Men has always been perceived by many as weak if we were to ask for help. But you have changed my perception! Thanks for that! 🙂

  11. Robinsh says:

    Hi Pam, thanks for helping me understand that asking for help would never prove me as weak and I think that was the first and biggest barrier I was never asking for help from anyone who belongs to my nearest community.

  12. Coach Sheila says:

    I agree with your post. Asking for help can be very difficult for so many people in all situations. Advice for those who are afraid or shy of asking for help would be put yourself in the other shoes: if someone came to you and asked for help would you think they are being a nuisance? weak? Probably not, most likely you would be honoured that they asked you to help them and you would be happy to do so. How does this change your perspective of asking for help now?

  13. Frank says:

    I used to be terrible at asking others for help, but I read that asking for help or a favor usually makes that person like/respect you more. I guess the new world of entrepreneurship can teach us old folks a thing or two!

  14. faisal says:

    Asking for help looks like you are in need. Instead put it this way – what do you suggest, gives the other person a pump up that we are soliciting their opinion 😉

  15. Nikole Gipps says:

    I ask in my private Facebook groups! Once you find the right one, it is a goldmine of support and helpful advice. I see a lot of that going on in your Power Teaching group, Pam! (which I am a part of … awesome investment hint hint…) I’m also a part of the Mogul Mom group (http://www.themogulmom.com/marketplace-listing/) which is awesome too. The trick is to find a group that fits your needs and where you feel like you belong, and stick with it! Helping others in the group is a sure way create a solid tribe that will help you when you need it.

  16. James G says:

    I had to ask for help today, and I was desperate. I needed a name for my business. And on first look, it seems trivial. But no name means no website, and no website means no business. But it was a lot more than that – it was a portal out of a very dark time, and a way to move forward with something I wanted badly.

    So I asked a friend for help. I simply said I needed a business name. It turned out that he had gone to a meetup that I had bailed out on, and in that meetup, someone said something that stuck with him. And he put that together with the core idea of my business and blurted out the perfect name.

    If I had gone to the meetup with him, I would have heard the same thing he had, but I guarantee that I wouldn’t have put the two things together the way he had. He had the unique combination that come up with the perfect name for the business.

    The rest of the day was a flurry of activity, hope and possibility. If I hadn’t asked for help when I needed it, I wouldn’t be here moving forward with the most exciting thing I’ve done in years (and I have led a life of unusual interest and excitement, so that’s saying something).

    I sent him an email later explaining what he had really done for me, and I am so grateful to him. He doesn’t even know the half of it. And if I had been so stuck on myself and egotistical that I couldn’t reach out for help (even though it was so obvious I needed it), this wouldn’t be happening.

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