“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.