When Bell Labs – inventors of the transistor, the laser, and the calculator – investigated what linked its employees who held the most patents, the result was unexpected. Each of the company’s top innovators had regular lunches with a guy named Harry Nyquist, an engineer who had a gift for probing other people’s ideas with the right questions. The essential trait shared by Bell Labs’ best people was a willingness to ask for help.
Entrepreneurs can be reluctant to seek assistance. It seems like the opposite of what a self-starter should do. Investors, partners, and employees often buy into the founder more than a company’s product or service. So, entrepreneurs feel the need to project complete confidence and competence.
But you can’t be good at everything. If you want to move fast, avoid simple mistakes and fill the gaps in your knowledge base and skills, you need to put your ego aside and get support. Here are six tips for asking for help effectively.
1. Don’t think of help as a debt
People often worry that asking for help places them in another person’s debt, but business is built on people doing each other favors, so you should embrace the obligation.
Entrepreneurs often complain that breaking into new markets is hard because of the existing “old boy network.” Asking for help is your way into the circle or how you start your very own network.
2. Play ignorant
Before I started my company, I didn’t know much about the beverage industry. When people told me we’d never get the kind of shelf-life retailers needed without using preservatives, I questioned this standard wisdom because I didn’t know any better. My ignorance opened the door to a solution we still use today!
Don’t feel the need to be seen as knowledgeable. People generally don’t want to help know-it-alls, and you never know what can happen when you ask a “stupid” question.
3. Know what you need help with
In the past, I’ve met someone at a conference or event and only realized later that they were the right person to help with an issue. Now, I always make sure I have a mental list of specific things I need help with, that way I’m not scrambling for ideas when I meet a potential problem-solver.
Knowing exactly what you need help with also allows you to ask more precise questions. This also makes it easier for your helper to provide useful advice quickly.
4. Show that they’re the right person to help
Every day my inbox fills up with requests for help and advice from hopeful entrepreneurs. I try to respond to as many as I can, but if your question isn’t relevant to me and my areas of expertise, then I may just ignore it altogether.
Do your research beforehand and tell me why you think I’m the right person to help you. I’m definitely more likely to help someone who makes a compelling case for it.
5. Do the legwork
I love connecting people who I think could do business together or help each other out. If I’m asked for an introduction, and I think it’s the right fit, I’ll do it as long as it’s not a time-consuming task.
When you’re asking for help, make it easy for your helper. If you want an introduction, add a description of your business to your email. When I can simply forward all that information, I’m much more likely to make an intro.
6. Be grateful
This should go without saying. When someone helps you, thank them. If one of their suggestions went down well in a meeting, tell them. It makes your helper feel good, and they will be more likely to assist you in the future.
I also like to send people who’ve helped me a case of hint water. Not only does it show my gratitude, but it’s also an opportunity to promote my brand and product.
“You can’t be good at everything. You need help from people you respect and trust.” – Alli Webb – Founder, Drybar
Of all the benefits of asking for assistance, and my favorite reason to reach out is that it forms a bond between you and your helper. Every time you get help, you create a new advocate for your brand.