A desperate self-employed professional contacted me recently. “I need to get clients immediately,” she said. “I’ve been trying for months with no success, and I’m almost out of money.” When I asked her how she had been marketing herself all this time, she gave me the following list of what she had been doing:
- Attending networking events where she met people, introduced herself, and exchanged business cards
- Launched a brochure-style website describing her services
- Started a Facebook page and began posting promos for her business and links to content she found interesting
- Printed some flyers and posted them on bulletin boards around town
Now here’s some of what she hadn’t been doing:
- Never asked any of the people she met at networking events to have coffee, get better acquainted, and see if she could be of service to them
- Never looked around her community to see who might be good referral sources and ask them to consider referring business to her
- Never told her friends and former co-workers about her new business, her website, or her Facebook page, asking them to let others know
- Never asked others in her profession where they found their clients
In other words, she had never asked anyone for help, even though she was drowning.
I’ve heard sad stories like this many times over the 25+ years that I’ve been helping professionals find clients. It seems there is a persistent myth that the “right” way to get clients is to do it all on your own. Yes, many entrepreneurs do tend to be Lone Rangers and enjoy their independence, but this determined avoidance of asking for help goes beyond ordinary self-reliance. It’s almost as if these professionals had been told getting help was illegal.
Because of this pervasive do-it-all-yourself attitude, I hear from many small business owners that they are embarrassed or ashamed to ask for any assistance. One professional told me, “I was really struggling, but I couldn’t ask anyone to help me, because then they would think I was a failure.” Tragically, by refusing to ask for help, he was actually causing himself to fail.
Let’s bust this myth wide open, here and now. Successful people ask for help all the time. It’s how they become successful. This is how the business world works. Entrepreneurs do not build successful businesses all on their own. They build them with the help of their family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, networking contacts, clients, and fans.
Here are five approaches to get started with asking for help to build your business right now.
1. Ask and ye shall receive.
If you’ve been feeling held back by believing that asking for help is somehow weak, presumptuous, or taking unfair advantage, let those feelings go. Give yourself permission to ask for help, recognizing that all around you, people more successful than you are doing exactly that in order to succeed.
The people already in your life — family, friends, colleagues, past clients — truly want to give you their support. They just need to be asked, and shown how. If you have not yet told every single person you know about your business, now is the time. Tell them what services you offer, the type of clients you are seeking, and ask them to please spread the word about how you can be of service to their contacts.
2. Make your requests specific.
First, make sure you are actually asking, and not just hinting. Direct requests are much more likely to produce results. Say, “Would you introduce me to your friend?” instead of, “It would be good to meet your friend sometime, but I know you’re awfully busy.”
Second, be specific about what you’re asking. Saying, “Please refer me some clients,” is nowhere near as effective a request as, “The best clients for me are people who care about their health and are suffering from back, neck, or joint pain. Do you know anyone like that?”
3. Offer something in return.
People are more likely to respond to your requests — and you’ll feel better about making them — when you offer something in return. When speaking with other business owners, ask who would be a good client for them, and how you can best refer likely prospects. When speaking with non-business owners, ask them: “What can I do for you?” Simply showing your willingness to make the relationship reciprocal is often enough for both of you to feel comfortable about your request.
4. Make your request appropriate to the relationship.
You’d be amazed how often I get emails like the following: “I’m brand new in business, and I do exactly what you do. I imagine you get more inquiries from prospective clients than you can handle. Would you refer some of those to me?” I applaud these folks for taking the initiative to ask, but a request like this isn’t appropriate to make of a complete stranger.
Spend some time getting acquainted before asking for a referral. Business owners who share your target market, but don’t do the same work, are ideal candidates to become referral partners. When you encounter successful people who are essentially your competitors, ask them to share their wisdom about where to find good clients. You’ll find that most other entrepreneurs will be happy to help you when you approach them with reciprocity and respect.
5. Don’t wait until you’ve made it.
If you wait until your business takes off to let friends and colleagues know about it, you will lose out on the most likely source of referrals most new businesses have. If you wait for clients to send you referrals instead of reaching out to likely referral partners, you may never have enough clients to make those referrals. If you wait for people you meet while networking to contact you instead of you contacting them, you may be waiting a very long time.
Asking for help is not cheating. It’s how anything important ever gets done. Stop struggling all alone! Start asking for help, and you’ll also start building your business.