Do Less Work By Asking For What You Want

Ever need help with something and don’t know how to ask? Or worse, you think you have to do every step of it yourself?

The other day I was chatting with a good friend of mine. A freelance graphic designer with a decent set of clients, he found himself too busy and overworked–and he began to tinker with the idea of expanding his business. Namely, he wanted to hire someone–a junior designer, or someone to help with some of the sales and management roles in order to help him do more of the creative, expressive work that brought him to the art world in the first place.

One of of the things holding him back, however, was this perceived idea–this expectation–of how long it would take to find this good person.

“I’m just not sure I want to spend another month or two looking for the right person, and then on-boarding them, training them, and developing a working relationship,” he said, frustrated. “That sounds like more time than I’ve got.” Admittedly, his client roster was getting bigger and his time was in more demand–he’d been spending late nights at the computer, drawing and meeting deadlines for his clients.

It was a classic case of “do-it-yourself-iris,” an affliction I’m quite familiar with and still need to take a dose of my own medicine to fix. In this case, there was an ah-ha! moment about how what he thought was holding him back might not be as hard as he was anticipating.

Chances are, five of your friends might know someone–or know someone who knows someone–that can solve your problem.

So I asked him: “Do you think that you know four or five friends that might have already worked with someone who would be good for this job?”

The light went on.

“Well, yes,” he said, “Actually, I’m sure that a few of my friends would know the perfect person.”

Right, I responded. And in fact, even I might even know a few people that would kill for a job like this.

A simple strategy for getting what you want: ask.

I think a lot of us overlook a simple strategy for getting what we want: specifically asking the most influential people around us for help. By “influential,” I don’t mean the most well-connected or well-known; your famous friend or that friend-of-a-friend might not have the bandwidth to answer your message at the moment. Instead, I mean the person or people who can influence you the most. And ideally, the person who knows the person you need.

In just a few minutes, you can email five people and maybe even get what you want within a couple of hours. The work has already been done by someone else: there’s no need to vet a thousand applicants for a graphic design position if three of your good friends can recommend a handful of wonderful people that are actively looking for work.

Entrepreneurs and solo-preneurs often forget that they don’t have to do everything themselves–it’s ironic that what got you here (ie, working incredible hours, figuring it out on your own, teaching yourself the new skills) isn’t what you need to move forward. 

“What got you here / won’t get you there.”  (tweet this)

As your role, life, job, and clients change, so do your strategies for solving them. In many cases, being thrifty and scrappy–and consistently looking for the short-cut that gets you what you want, the fastest–is a great operating play. It’s not cheating to ask for recommendations, it’s efficient. And smart. Because then you can get back to doing the work you want to be doing, quicker. Or finishing your day earlier, so you can have a beer with your friends.

I’ve used this strategy–asking folks in my network for help–in several ways recently:

  • Borrowing a bike for a weekend trip by asking five road biking friends in San Francisco if they had a spare bike. (People who live in San Francisco are often bike enthusiasts).
  • Borrowing a 2009 Mac laptop for some air travel for 4 months because a friend had just purchased a new one and didn’t yet have a plan for the old one (I’ll give it back to him when he sells it or needs it).
  • Finding the best place to get a haircut in San Francisco after going more than a year without getting my hair cut (whoops). No more Yelp. Just ask 3 good folks in they have a recommendation.
  • Asking for advice about how to say “No,” from five of my favorite voices on the internet, including people I’d never met before, by emailing them with a specific client query I kept receiving and asking them if they had a good script for how to say no (and they actually wrote back!).

In each case, I selected people who I thought might know the answer and I asked a few of them directly for help. I was clear about what I wanted, specific in my request, and included a note at the end that gives them permission to decline if they’re too busy.

Do you have a good example of when asking for what you wanted worked out?

Specific email templates for asking:

I’ve been asked to share some of my email templates for asking: here’s one sample email for you to use, borrow, edit and change (and let me know if it works!)

To create a great ask, make sure you include the following information:

  • A specific request for what it is that you want;
  • How long you think the request will take;
  • A chance to opt-out if the person is swamped;
  • Your gratitude and thanks for the help.

For example, here’s a script:

I also included in the message an estimate of how long the request would take:

Dear —-

I’ve got a quick question for you that I think might take you 10 minutes or so to read and respond–my hunch is that you’ve dealt with this before and I’d love your advice (or even a link to someone who has figured this out as well). I’m happy to pay you for your time if this is a longer-answer:

Here’s the situation: I’m looking for a [be specific  about your request] for [this amount of money, time, or energy] and I’m willing to do [list what you can do to make it happen or what you’ve done already].

Personally, I also offer a chance to opt-out, because I like to make sure I’m not imposing by assuming folks will answer my request (you don’t have to do this, but I like to. Here’s that script:

“If you’re too swamped at the moment with your own priorities, feel free to write back “next time!” and delete this email because I know how busy some of you are–no hard feelings. But if this is an easy request that you know how to fill, I’d be darn grateful for a few moments of your time.”  

Remember:

Be clear about what you want.

Be okay with a “no” answer if someone doesn’t have it.

“No” is what you already have, so asking doesn’t put you in a worse position.

You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Give generously.

Also:

I realize that this is a fortunate vantage point to be in, and isn’t true for everyone around the world, and I want to be clear in recognizing that. For many people, you already know enough people to get what you need. You know far more people than you think. And the world has quite a lot of stuff as it is.

The space between the stuff you want and the people who have it?

Asking for it.

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