Lots of entrepreneurs don’t like to ask for help. We live in a culture that prizes fierce independence, and some believe that seeking assistance — or even asking questions when they don’t know all the answers — is a sign of weakness.
But it’s not! A business is a collaboration. To put a new spin on an old phrase, no entrepreneur is an island. By actively seeking help at the right times, you’ll build important connections and gain critical insights to take your business to the next level.
3 reasons it’s okay to ask for help
Established entrepreneurs often attribute their own successes to others’ kindness and expertise, and will jump at the chance to pay it forward. You might be surprised to find out how generous people can be — so don’t be afraid to ask!
1. Grow your network
To build your business, you need to know more people, which means networking is key. Leaning on your closest friends and family members for all the support you need will eventually wear on everyone involved.
Asking someone for help — an entrepreneur who’s been in your shoes before, for instance — could help you deepen your relationship with that person. You also gain a valuable opportunity to get your brand on their radar — it’s a more personal, and therefore more memorable, approach than any marketing strategy!
2. Learn from industry leaders
Listening to the way industry leaders have approached their own businesses can be inspirational.
Even if their advice doesn’t directly apply to your situation, their experience could spark the inspiration you need to make a breakthrough of your own.
3. Address common problems
Early-stage startups tend to face similar growing pains — for example, what to do if funding is running low, or how to handle a downsizing situation.
Chances are, there’s someone out there who has successfully overcome the very obstacle you’re currently facing. Let the more experienced folks guide the way with their hard-won insights!
Who should you ask for help?
Finding the right person to consult really depends on what you need. So do your homework! Don’t just email someone because you think they’re cool. Figure out what you want to ask first — and why they’d be the right person to ask.
It’s the fine line between “I’ll just email Bill Gates something because he’s awesome” and “I’d love to know more about sustainable business models in the tech industry. I bet Bill Gates could help.”
To get started, consider approaching one of these people:
- Your mentors: Nobody knows your aspirations and your challenges better than your mentors. Don’t have a mentor yet? Check out this Forbes article on how to find one.
- Your heroes: Admire someone in your industry? They could probably teach you something really valuable — all you have to do is ask.
- Your dream collaborators: If there’s a person or company you want to partner with eventually, approaching them cold might not be effective. Asking them for help shows that you respect their insights, and opens the door to a deeper relationship down the line.
- Your friends: Sometimes you just need to consult someone who’s not afraid to tell you the truth, and who has a valuable third-party perspective on what you’re going through.
- An online network: Don’t know anyone who’s willing or able to help? You can find tons of like-minded folks in online communities! Intuit’s network of small business owners is a great place to start.
5 tips for effectively asking for help
Everyone you reach out to probably already has a ton on their plates, so follow these five guidelines to make sure your request is considerate of their time.
1. Be direct
Don’t waste the other person’s time by coming in unprepared, asking thoughtless questions, or making assumptions about what they can do. Know exactly what you hope to gain, and ask for it directly!
Be careful about the bait-and-switch. What does that mean? For example, telling them you want to establish a partnership when you’re really hoping they will buy your product. (This one is, unfortunately, really common!)
Being upfront about your intentions can be intimidating, but setting expectations is essential to effective communication.
2. Personalize your request
Learn the basics about the person you’re approaching and the work they do, and use that knowledge to personalize your request. You’re asking someone to do you a favor — it’s only appropriate that you do your homework first.
3. Offer value
While most folks are happy to help when they can, you’ll definitely stand out if you can also add value for them. Make it a win-win situation: What benefit will they enjoy?
It doesn’t have to be elaborate — for example, maybe you’ve shared some of their content on your social media channels — but even a small gesture of goodwill can show that you’re not just scrounging for freebies.
4. Make it easy for them to help
Lighten the load rather than making other people do the heavy lifting. For example, if you want an introduction, facilitate it by sending them a paragraph they can copy and paste. If you want to meet in person, be considerate of their schedule and pick a place that’s easily accessible from their home or office.
5. Keep it simple
Nobody wants to read a long, rambly email — most busy professionals will skim through their inboxes. Be concise in your communication.