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Summary:

I’ve been talking with a lot of entrepreneurs lately, and one thing I can say for certain is that, as a group, they’re very eager to help each other. They get just as excited talking about the pursuits of others as they do talking about their […]

rowingI’ve been talking with a lot of entrepreneurs lately, and one thing I can say for certain is that, as a group, they’re very eager to help each other. They get just as excited talking about the pursuits of others as they do talking about their own, and they’re more than willing to go the extra mile for those around them.

But how do you tap into this invaluable resource? It can be intimidating to go to others for help and can be perceived as pushy and self-serving if approached the wrong way. Here are a few tips to help others help you.

1. Embrace the idea of “paying it forward.”

People really do want to help you, which usually stems from them wanting to help everyone in their network. They ask what you do and immediately think, “Oh, you should meet [fill in the blank]!” Likewise, when you mention that you have a particular need, they mention several people you might consider and offer to connect you with them.

The most important thing to remember is that networking is all about adding value. The more you find ways to help those around you, the more opportunities will inevitably come your way.

2. Make it easy.

In an article on Techcrunch, Michael Arrington said “Those of us in a position to help entrepreneurs need to do more of it…But this is a two way street. Budding entrepreneurs trying to break down the walls need to grow up. Most of the time people don’t have the time to help you, and you shouldn’t aim hate at them for it. Instead, try a different angle or a different person.” This quote made me think of two things. Firstly, it’s important to remember that people are busy, so you need to make it so easy for them to help you that they can do it quickly and without too many steps.

For example, Betsy Talbot of Married with Luggage emailed people in her network recently asking for promotional help. She made it insanely easy by including links, as well as short and specific instructions for what to do with each of the links. She even included copy so that we didn’t have to come up with it ourselves.

3. Don’t be self-serving.

The second thing about Arrington’s quote that struck me was about trying a different angle. It’s easy to come at things from the wrong angle, and when promoting a business, that’s usually followed by rejection. If you always think of it as, “How can I get people talking about me or my business?,” then that means (a) you have to introduce yourself to someone without sounding like you’re selling something and (b) you have to somehow get them to feel compelled to mention you to others. If you think of it this way, it can seem purely self-serving.

Instead, find a way to help them, and of course, you have to always be sincere with your help. Maybe ask to interview the person for your blog or podcast, or if the person has written a book recently, offer to review it. By reaching out in this way, the person will actually look forward to learning more about you and your business, and if they enjoy talking with you, they may take the time to mention you to people in their own network.

The main thing to remember is that people are more than willing to help you. Most entrepreneurs are acutely aware of the value of networking, and successful ones understand that networking is all about helping others. Just remember, as Arrington said, it’s a two-way street.

What have been your biggest lessons in networking and helping others help you with your business? How do you make sure that you’re not perceived as self-serving?

Image from Flickr by crschmidt

  1. My biggest lesson in networking is to simply help others out sincerely. You don’t want to help for the sake of helping because you’ll end up being too calculative.

    Also, try to help only if you think you can really help a person out. Perception that others have on you will go from good to bad if you have to break your flowery promise later on.

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  2. The initial contact is tough. Even when you are sincere it is difficult to not look like you are trying to blag a free link, lunch, whatever.

    If I’m trying to connect with other bloggers in my niche then I tend to start by leaving a few comments on their blog, see if they respond, and take it from there.

    If I’m emailing someone to make contact then I always make sure that I make the effort in the email – rattling off a one-liner with your link isn’t going to earn much respect.

    I love paying-it-forward. I’ve helped many people set up sites free of charge – as long as I’ve the time to spare then seeing someone get up and running with their idea is payment enough.

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  3. [...] on a daily basis, I come across opportunities to refer business to someone. Sometimes I’m asked for a resource, like if I know someone who can design business cards. [...]

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