Pattern Recognition

Attempting to learn from success …and failure

3 Rules to Successfully Ask for Help


I had originally tried out a bunch of slightly more clever headlines, but this is a fundamental, serious topic that many people just don’t *get*.  So I’ve decided my best course of action was to be direct.

If you need help with your career or a business opportunity you should be doing everything you can to ask your network for help.  And if someone asks you for help, I hope you will do everything you can to help them.  This is an important way for individuals to create new opportunities and help grow the economy.  It’s just good business.

Over the years at IBM, in my consulting practice and at the Stamford Innovation Center, I’ve met with hundreds of entrepreneurs, friends and friends of friends to help them with a business opportunity, problem or career move.  To my disappointment, I’ve learned that way too many people are not willing to be strategic and focused in their “asking” process.

So here are three simple rules to consider as you pursue your next whatever.

1) Be prepared. Who are you meeting with?  What is their background?  What is the best use of their network?  Who is the one person they know with the greatest potential to help to you?

2) 2 ears, 1 mouth.  Practice what you want to say.  Keep it brief.  Ask short questions.  Listen.  And don’t jump into a sales pitch after the first interesting nugget you hear.  Take notes, and then at the right time describe briefly some options you might have to help them or for them to help you.

3) Make it easy.  Assuming you’ve been able to win an introduction, offer to write a short email that explains why you want to speak to their contact.  Put in a link to a web resource if necessary.  Write the note in such a way that they can just forward it to a colleague with a line like, “just met Sue. She’s got a great idea and per the note below, I know you’ll have a lot to discuss.”  Ideally they will copy you on the note so you can follow up directly.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help — just do it thoughtfully.  And please, take the call or the meeting when someone is trying to tap into your expertise or your network.

One last thing — write a separate thank you note.  Good luck!


Peter Propp is VP of Marketing and Strategy at the Stamford Innovation Center.   LinkedIn: Twitter: @ppropp

Peter Propp

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