For everybody who attempts it, building up a business can be a daunting task in the early stages. As much as you may think you know, there invariably comes a point when there is something you come across which is totally unfamiliar to you. And it is at this point that, as much as you would like to go it alone, you may well need to ask for help.
Now if you’re lucky you might have a friend who knows everything there is to know about the subject you need advice on. More often than not however, you’ll need to approach someone who is a total stranger, often through a “cold-call email”. So how do you get them onside and persuade them to give you the help you need?
The first rule
Never ever, ever, ever (and yes we mean ever) ask for advice straight off the bat. Just imagine the scene. It’s the weekend, the sun is out, your mowing the lawn, an ice cold beer is waiting for you when you finish. All in all you’re having a pretty great day…
Then, it happens. Who is that man walking up my garden path? Why is he waving at me? Why is he wearing an eye patch and only one shoe? Get the children inside now!
“Can you advise me on the best brand of garden furniture to purchase” he says. What? No, firstly, I don’t have a clue about garden furniture and secondly who are you anyway?
You might not say it, but that is exactly what you would be thinking. Your previously great mood has now dissipated and its all down to this dimwit. You don’t want to help him, you want him to disappear. In fact, you wish you had never met him, and you certainly don’t want to see him around again.
This is the same thing that people, who have no idea who are, will think if you email them, pestering them for advice, no matter how politely you do it.
So if that’s not how you do it, then how do you do it?
In life, the most successful relationships are reciprocal. The same applies to asking for advice through cold-call emails. Sure, you want advice, but what can you offer to the person who can give you the advice you need?
You won’t know what you can offer them unless you know what it is that they do. Therefore, you should research into the background of anyone who you intend to ask for advice. Find out what makes them tick and find out how you can help them. Then, when you contact this person, you should be expressing concern for the issues in which they are interested, and suggesting how you can be of help to them.
A bit of flattery can be useful in starting this dialogue, though be careful not to come across as insincere or fake. Once a dialogue is established, and you have convinced this person that you have something to offer, then you can think about asking them about the help you need.
The key here is that the person you want to ask for help must see that you offer value to them. Otherwise, there is little to no incentive for them to take time out of their schedule to offer you free advice.
Of course, it can never be guaranteed 100% that people will want to sacrifice their time to help you, but by adopting this approach you stand a much better chance than without it.