Asking for It

You can't always get what you want, but chances are better if you learn how to ask.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the August 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

How does Barbara Walters, a quirky reporter with a charming accent, outdo other interviewers? Simple-she knows how to ask the right questions so the people she interviews will reveal what they normally wouldn't share.

Approach your business intelligence gathering as if you are an ace reporter. Think logically about your challenges and how they affect your business. Then create a list of questions that will help you get from where you are to your ultimate goal. Do not judge or dismiss any ideas; pay attention to the responses you receive, and build your path to success.

To make smart requests so people are inspired to deliver the answers, you need to:

1. Be specific. People are busy. Don't waste their time by explaining your back story. In reality, people want to know right now how they can help you. Define the most immediate challenge that is stopping you from moving ahead. If there is more than one obstacle, start with the biggest one. Then create your list of investigative questions. When you're focused, people find it easy to help you.

2. Realize it's OK to ask for help. Remove the common notion that you must go it alone. Many entrepreneurs feel that if they need help from others, it's a sign of weakness. Getting help is smart-even the perfectionists among us can benefit greatly from exploration. Stop overthinking your situation, and learn to appreciate all the ideas and contacts people have to share. This information will help you achieve success faster than you could ever imagine!

3. Recognize that there are many "right people" to ask. You never know who will have the ability to help you resolve an issue. Start by asking people you trust as well as those whom you find interesting. If someone can't help you, don't become discouraged-approach the subject from a different angle. Instead of asking "Do you know anyone who reps gift lines?" try "If you were looking for reps, who would you ask?" Hone your investigative skills, and get the information you need to succeed.

4. Avoid complaining about something as a covert way of asking for help. We often complain about a situation, hoping that someone will offer us advice to make it better. Negativity rarely results in anyone caring enough to help, though-so stop trying to disguise your requests. Turn your complaints into direct requests for help, and then watch how your support from others increases.

5. Remove the personal aspect of making requests by asking for referrals, not answers. By not making direct personal requests, you open a world of possibilities. Simply state "I am trying to achieve this. Do you know anyone who can help?" Your lifelong career as an investigative entrepreneur will go much more smoothly when you go to your friends, family and colleagues with both realistic requests and the right questions.

Editor's note: Looking for our "Countdown to Startup" series? We've compiled it into one easy-to-use feature. Click here to read it.

Speaker and consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Dream Business.

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