Is it a fair generalization to say that people who start a home based business are likely to be a self-reliant, independence-loving breed?

If so, “Ask for Help” could be the most significant or most potentially productive of the five tips in this series of posts on starting (or re-booting) a home based business.

Helping Hands photo rahuljyoung Flickr Creative Commons

In the overview post I wrote to launch my 5 Tips for Starting a Home Based Business series, I summarized this fourth  tip as follows:

Assuming you are good at what you do (or just good at what you are good at), you should assume that your friends and former work colleagues will want to help you get business. They may not have contracts for you themselves (don’t crowd them or embarrass them by begging or cajoling) but if you can make it very clear to them what you are focused on and the sort of people you want to connect with, they will surely want to give you introductions and recommendations. Ask them! The worst they can do is say no.

Self-evident? Maybe so. My guess is that conceptually it is self-evident but emotionally it may be either too difficult or at least an item for procrastination.

The more we are inclined to be self-reliant or have been conditioned to think that way, the more we can expect to find actually asking for help a challenge.

It’s a challenge that needs to be met.

Put yourself in the shoes of a friend or former work colleague

If the roles were reversed and you discovered that your friend or former colleague had been reluctant to ask for your help, how would that make you feel?

If I were in that position I know I would feel disappointed.

Because here’s the thing: we all like to be helpful. Well, all of us except the most dysfunctional. And in fact getting or giving help, provided the request is reasonable, can actually strengthen the relationship.

Of course, it also sets up some obligation or at least inclination to reciprocity.

in the long run, everyone wins.

Have your story ready and get to the point

Thinking of how an “asking for help” conversation with a friend or former work colleague might go, we should ask ourselves which of the following requests is more likely to elicit a useful introduction or valuable tip:

  • a chatty, unfocused ramble about how you are enjoying your new-found freedom and would appreciate some introductions
  • some “catch up” talk followed by a clear statement of the benefits you are ready to bring to clients in your new business and a simple indication of the kind of businesses or individuals you are seeking to connect with, who may value what you have to offer

If, through embarrassment, self-consciousness or just lack of preparation, we fall into the unfocused ramble, we can actually do our new business harm. For example, the person we sought out may, without necessarily meaning us any harm, start telling people about the conversation and how confused we seemed to be about what we were doing.

Contrariwise, if we are clearly focused and share our enthusiasm for how we are going to help others through our new business, there is a good chance that will be passed on, with incalculable potential benefit.

Remember to ask for help!

Our friends or former colleagues have given us time and attention because we asked them to. We said we would value their advice or help. Let’s not disappoint them.

Is is possible we would not ask? Sure. One of the staples of sales training is to impress on the sales person that he or she has to remember to ask for the sale.  Similarly, we have to remember to ask for help.

And not be afraid to ask, clearly, unequivocally: “So, do you see a way you can help me here?”

You may have to tell people it is not network marketing – unless it is

Anyone who has ever been in network marketing or has been pitched by someone in network marketing (does that leave anyone else?) knows that a standard ploy of networking marketing lead generation for years has been to ask friends and family for help with your new business.

I have no objection to that. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and I know it doesn’t make me a bad person. Just decided it was not for me. I have my own thoughts about how network marketers could operate more effectively these days via the social web.

But I digress.

The point I want to make here is to be aware of the potential for pushback or sheer unavailability if you say something like “I’ve just started working from home and have this great business with huge potential. I’m hoping you could help me. Do you have time for a cup of coffee?” You might as well ring your friend and put on a recording of an ambulance siren.

My recommendation is that you be more specific. Tell them what the business is and what kind of help you are hoping they can give you. For example:

“I’ve started this new coaching (consulting, dive training, sales training…) business and am naturally keen to build my client base. I’m asking some good friends and colleagues for help in suggesting ways I can do this. You up for a coffee to talk about that? I’d really appreciate it.”

Does that work? Yes, it sure does. And for me at times it has worked beyond my most imaginative expectations.

Not every time.

But you’ve been game enough to start a home based business. So are you game enough to ask for help?

Happy asking!

Image credit: Helping Hands, by Meg & Rahul, via Flickr: CC licence BY 2.0

The series: 5 Tips for Starting a Home Based Business

Tip 1: Know Your Market Worth : Starting a Home Based Business Series

Tip 2: Build an Order Book: Starting a Home Based Business Series

Tip 3: Build New Networks: 5 Tips for Starting a Home Based Business

Tip 4: Ask for Help: 5 Tips for Starting a Home Based Business

Tip 5: Love the Business You Are In: 5 Tips for Starting a Home Based Business

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