Business Networking: “Help Me . . . Help You!”

-Help Me... Help You! FBThere’s a question that the REALLY good connectors and relationship-builders ask of those they meet:

“How can I help you?”

The first time I heard it, I was caught off guard and didn’t quite know how to respond.  I mean, really?  You’re interested in helping ME?  Wow — now that’s a different approach to networking!

I was so used to answering “So, what do you do?” — preparing my 30 second commercial, being ready to talk about my business, how I can help others, etc.  It never crossed my mind to be ready to answer the question of how someone else could help me.

Keep in mind that your network is there to help you — just as you are there to help the other members of your network when you can.  So, to keep things flowing and to keep the give and take cycle moving, here are 3 ways to make it easy for others to help you

1.    Be prepared.
By spending just a few moments thinking about what you need and how members of your network might help you get it or achieve it, you’ll be prepared to answer the offer of help with a specific task or request.  This makes it much easier for someone to be of assistance to you.

Take a moment to look at what your business needs are.  Think about what particular introductions, resources, feedback, advice or knowledge you are in need of.  What would be most helpful to you?  Do you need to hire a new administrative assistant?  Are you looking for a reputable accountant?  Is your current contact database software not working for you anymore?  Whatever the need is, jot it down.  Then take a look at the list prior to attending your next meeting, conference or networking group.

2.    Be specific.
Generic requests give you generic responses.  If you want your network to tailor their efforts to your specific needs, you need to give the people you are talking to a narrow, detailed idea of what you need help with.

For instance, if you are looking for an administrative assistant, don’t just stop at giving the job title.  What skills or education do you want them to have?  What type of personality or qualities (such as being proactive, able to communicate clearly, etc.) do you want them to have?  Create a brief 2-3 sentence description of what you need – specifically – so that members of your network will more readily to associate what you need with the connections and people they may already know.

3.    Be Succinct.
Unless you are sure that your networking contact is training for the Memory Olympics (oh, yes, it’s real – look it up!), then don’t overload them with too much information.  You want to give just enough information for the person to understand your specific need, but not every possible detail of the situation.

You want to be respectful of others’ time, so be sure not to launch into a long-winded story about how your last administrative assistant quit and left you with a mess and how all the online job banks are full of unqualified applicants, yada, yada, yada . . .   Keep it short and sweet and your contact will be able to absorb the pertinent info and move on to the task of helping you get what you need.

There’s a great scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise pleads with Cuba Gooding, Jr. to “help me . . . help you!” (You can check out the movie clip here.

Essentially, Jerry is pleading with his football-player client, Rod, to allow him to do what he needs to do in order to help him get the contract he’s after.

Don’t make your network and those you meet “beg” you for a way to help you.  Let them know — clearly and succinctly by putting some thought into it ahead of time.

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  1. Great article! I often wonder if what I’m doing is really benefiting those I’m trying to help via blogging, etc. 30 second commercials are a great idea and I’m going to consider more about how I can communicate my ability and desire to help others through what I’m doing.

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Laura,

      No need to create a “commercial” per se. Just be ready to talk about your business in a conversational way. Too often I run into folks who simply “recite” their commercials — no passion, no “realness” to them at all. Also, some folks just kind of ramble on and on about what they do without really every explaining it in a nice, succinct way.

      You can EASILY stand out just by being able to intelligently talk about your biz in a way that shows the benefit to others, not just all the fun features and products and features of what you do.

      Good luck and thanks for the comment!

      Cathy

  2. Allison says:

    Cathy, this really highlights for so many of us who think we hate everything about networking so much, that we never put any time into apart from those awkward moments when we’re standing there doing it completely ineffectively… because we didn’t put any time into it before we went. Talk about a downward spiral…

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Hello again, Allison!

      Networking sure has a bad name — and it’s because of bad behavior!

      It’s so easy to make networking actually effective and enjoyable simply by taking the time to be prepared to talk about your business in a way that conveys your passion in it and how it can help others –without sounding like a commercial!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Cathy

  3. Love it! I felt the same way when I started networking. What they wanted to help each other even if they are in the same line of business and had the same target audience. The world is abundant and I am open to receiving. I have so much more fun giving to others and helping them achieve their dreams.

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Debra,

      Thanks!

      We often forget about allowing others to help us and to do that, we need to know how to tell them what we need and want help with. It’s such a different mindset — both asking this question of “How can I help you?” and being open to receiving help. It really enriches rapport building.

      Cathy

  4. Hi Cathy,
    Great post! It’s interesting, witty and full of great networking information. I’ll be sure to keep your tips in mind at my next networking event.

    BTW, I like your writing style, it has a nice flow to it. :-)

    Thanks!
    Steve O

  5. Kim Nishida says:

    My stumbling block is being “succinct” which of course is really related to “Be Prepared.” LOL Yes, I’m actually guilty of making potential clients beg me for details on how I can help them. I better go back and start with Step #1. Thanks!

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Kim,

      You’re not alone there! I struggled with it for years as well until I just looked as some of the core concepts and key words/phrases in my work. Sure, I taught all kinds of networking tips and strategies for face to face conversations and connecting online, but the underlying theme of it all? How to leverage those conversations into business. So, I refined it to a few different phrases and then customize those to the types of audiences I tend to encounter — women entrepreneurs, service professionals, friends/family, those I do biz with as vendors, etc.

      We’re all in the education business, but we need to do it with an entertainment flair, too!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Cathy

  6. Minette Riordan says:

    Great article, Cathy! Too often people are so focused at networking events on just getting their “pitch” out there, they forget to 1. focus on others and 2. focus on what they really need in the moment. Great tips! I have met some amazing people just from asking the simple question, “How can I help you today?”

  7. Cathy Jennings says:

    Thanks so much, Minette!

    I have to admit that when I first learned about networking and people would say “focus on others and helping others instead of selling” I thought they were “airy-fairy” and didn’t get the point of networking. Boy, was I wrong!

    The “help question” is a great conversation catalyst — kudos to you for using it!

    Cathy

  8. Great post Cathy. I also keep in mind when networking “Who do I know that needs what this person has to offer?” It’s a wonderful place from which to come & I know I have been integral in creating some pretty cool connections & that is awesome!! xxx

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Sharon,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, being a resource for others is an essential part of effective networking. That’s why it’s also important for us to allow people to be a resource to us and not take the stance of “oh, I don’t need any help” or “oh, I don’t want to be a bother” when we are offered help.

      Cathy

  9. I have found that it is far better business sense to see what you can do for someone with what you have than ask for favors or expect it up front. Later on when you really need assistance people are more than happy to go out of their way for you.

    Great job on expanding on that idea.

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kurt.

      When you show that you are willing to give and not always out to get, people are much more willing and happy to help you out. It’s a pretty basic concept, but so many of us tend to lose sight of it and focus only on the selling and getting clients aspect of networking.

      Cathy

  10. I love the use of the YouTube clip. Great networking tips.

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      Thanks, Nicky!

      This is one of my favorite scenes of Jerry Maguire — and is so applicable to networking!

      Cathy

  11. I am hopeless at this stuff! I like the idea of preparing something to say in advance. I remember reading about Victorian etiquette somewhere. It was a person’s social responsibility to have things to talk about and interesting things to share. This is where all those collections of curiosities came from. I am going to work harder!

    • Cathy Jennings says:

      No one is hopeless, Jo! :-)

      Trust me. I’m an introvert and I have made some big blunders while networking and lived to tell about it!

      I am convinced that preparation would solve about 80% of our networking fears and issues and mistakes we often make.

      Let me know if there is any way I can support you with your connecting.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Cathy

  12. I used to attend a networking group and our intro pitch had to CLOSE with how the members could be helpful. It was very useful to guide, rather than expect these members to become our clients or customers. The only drawback is it came after the mingling part so it was difficult to act on it. Because of my background as a career counselor, I was always a good connector/brainstormer and I often found myself rushing around to pass a contact or idea to someone as they were leaving.

  13. Of course great to be prepared for explaining who you are and what you do but also is great to be prepared for how others can help you help them. Preparing at least an idea of what you would say will prevent you from going over the top with too much information.

  14. I think practice in this is great for reason number 3 exactly. It’s easy to ramble, especially when you’re caught off guard. By knowing who you are and what you want, it makes conversation more readily flow. Great networking tips!

  15. When I first began learning about sales and networking, I was taught to find out what I could do for the other business owner. Funny how it does throw people off. And it’s a great way to lead into having a one on one conversation to get to know each better.

    • Lisa — We aren’t really taught to ask for anything for ourselves. Heck, we even feel awkward asking for help for someone else like in a fundraising situation. However, that has only done a disservice to us in the business world.

  16. I met with someone this morning and almost the first words out of his mouth were “What can I do to help you?” It was great to just cut to the chase :)

    • Beth — I love it when folks get to the point as well. I love it even more when they start by asking how they can help me instead of launching into their own pitch or list of what they want from me.

  17. Important tips here. It’s so natural for some and, of course, difficult for many.

    Good face-to-face networking is very similar to social networking.
    Listent, first, to the group conversation or one-on-one before offering up anything. The convo always gives us the clues we need.

  18. I have never had anyone ask me that question…although I ask it all the time when connecting with new people on LinkedIn. But now I’m thinking I should reword even that phrase and use your suggestion when I do face-to-face networking, too. Too bad I didn’t see this before I went to the chamber luncheon!

    • Jackie — I know that you are ALWAYS willing to help others out, so I’m sure you do a great job of asking. Hopefully, you’ll set the example for people to then ask YOU as well!

  19. Great post! As a fellow ‘introvert’, I find preparing, practicing, and then practicing some more is key. I get easily overwhelmed in large social settings, so I concentrate on just making good, strong connections with 1 or 2 people. I have a hard time asking for help, but I’m working on it. :)

    • Theresa — Practice and preparation really does help! And, asking for help can feel awkward at first, but the more your prepare for that as well, the easier it will be!

  20. This seems to be a lost art in our self-centered society. We are ready to give, but not to received. Learning to do both well completes the cycle.

    • Carol — A mentor once shared with me that when we aren’t open to receiving, we rob the giver of the opportunity to serve and benefit/feel great about doing so. That really changed my perspective!

  21. At a recent networking meeting we were each prompted to start our introductions with, “A really good referral for me would be ____” It was amazing how much more info we received from each person in the room. I agree, you need to be ready with not only your elevator speech but also your networking speech!

    • Crystal — sometimes a little structure around our networking intros can do wonders to help others know whom to refer our way. Even if it’s not usually what people include, I always recommend using this type of intro so folks know exactly what you do, who you do it for and how to recognize someone who can benefit from your services.

  22. I used to hate networking. Once I learned how to do it effectively, as in the advice you give here, I’ve enjoyed it. It works so well when both parties find out what they want to know and are able to tell what they want.

  23. Great article and great points! If you’re passionate about your business it’s a lot easier to talk about it without memorizing/ reciting anything because you speak from your heart and don’t look like a robot.

  24. Liking this way of thinking very much!

  25. Katarina says:

    All great points, I realise I need to become better at talking about my business in a relaxed way. And I really like this “help me…help you” :-) We need to be able to ask for help more, and of course be prepared to give more too. Give for the sake of giving…Thanks!

  26. Great communication is essential in all situations. The more clear we are, the better. We also have remember to be authentic in our conversations. Great article

  27. Business networking can significantly change your business trade. Furthermore, it has the capacity to affect levels of success and profitability.