Entrepreneurs are generally ambitious, independent, and optimistic people.
While this is advantageous most of the time, sometimes these characteristics hold small business owners back when problems arise. They don’t always want to ask for help, even when they need it. Sound familiar?
Asking for help: Weakness or strength?
“There is a tendency to act as if [asking for help] is a deficiency,” self-help author Garret Keizer says. “That is exacerbated if a business environment is highly competitive within as well as without. There is an understandable fear that if you let your guard down, you’ll get hurt, or that this information you don’t know how to do will be used against you.”
Most of us start out inquisitive. Next time you’re around a child between the age of three and 10, take a mental note of all the questions they ask. They’ll ask dozens in the span of just a few minutes. They’re curious little beings and have little ability to suppress their yearnings. If they don’t understand something or need something, they realize that the answer is just a question away.
But at some point in our maturation, most of us started to bottle up our curiosity. It’s not that we don’t have questions about what’s going on around us; rather, we’re too embarrassed to ask.
But while we may think that there’s risk in asking questions or asking for help, there’s usually far more danger in not asking. Therein lies the irony of this uniquely human response.
“We often lose sight of the big picture when we get caught up in our own microscopic views of things,” says psychologist Leslie Sokoi. “When it comes to asking for help, we can get in our own way. Instead of seeing that we are giving others an opportunity to feel good about themselves, we think incorrectly that asking for help means we are a burden.”
The benefits of asking for help
When you actually study the psychology behind asking for help, it’s clear that there are far more benefits than there are risks. In fact, the risks pale in comparison to the enormous amount of value that can be extracted from simply posing a question. Here are a few business-specific benefits:
You’ll experience renewed energy
Knowing that someone else would take the time to help you out can enhance your sense of purpose and give you the drive to keep pushing through. It’s powerful.
There is potential for growth
When you ask your professional network for advice with your business, you’re actually growing your network. You’re either interacting with new people or strengthening existing relationships.
It’s also a two way street; the person you ask to give you advice on a particular issue might eventually ask you to share your expertise on a related topic that they aren’t as experienced with.
You’ll gain new perspectives
“Even beyond your immediate need to solve a particular problem, listening to how others approach their business or even their lives can flick on a switch in your own thinking,” small business expert Karen Peacock says. “That can lead to a breakthrough insight into something you weren’t even considering.” This added perspective could eventually lead to new opportunities for your own ventures.
It gives others confidence
It’s also nice to think about the benefits others receive from asking. You’re able to extend a gift to the giver by instilling confidence in them.
Clearly, there’s tremendous value in asking for help. It benefits you, your business, and the people you interact with. That’s a win-win-win situation.
Practical ways to reach out
As an entrepreneur, business owner, and leader of people, what does it look like—practically speaking—to reach out and ask for help? Here are some tangible tips and suggestions.
1. Find a mentor
Sometimes help comes in the form of an ongoing mentoring relationship where you nurture a professional relationship with a colleague or someone with specialized knowledge and experience in your field.
In most cases, you find mentors naturally. They are people you connect with and build relationships with over time. But if you’re actively seeking out a mentor and don’t already have one in your immediate circle, organizations like SCORE can help connect you with the right people. SCORE, a nonprofit organization that partners with the National Small Business Alliance, offers free services and has more than 300 locations around the country.
2. Ask customers
Your customers are a huge resource for honest feedback about your company. Conduct a study or survey, or meet with clients one-on-one. The feedback you get may be eye-opening, and you’ll be getting insight directly from your customer base. Once you know what they want and expect from you, it becomes far easier to satisfy their needs.
3. Engage your family
Help can (and should) also come from home. Your family members have unique insights that will help you see your business in a new light; you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for their advice.
I’ll give you a personal example: I was once consulting for a small business owner who was burned out and starting to get down on himself. Tax season was hitting him hard and he was having difficulty figuring out what seemed like a major financial issue.
In the course of our discussions, I asked him if he had reached out to anyone outside the company to help him sort through some of these complex issues. It was as if a lightbulb suddenly went off in his head when he realized that his sister-in-law was a CPA. He had been so focused on his own problems that he somehow forgot that someone close to him had the answers he needed all along.
What sort of practical advice are you missing out on when you don’t reach out to your network on a regular basis?
4. Say yes to consulting
There may be a point when you aren’t qualified or skilled enough to handle a particular area of your business. Instead of sulking over the fact that you need help, think about bringing in the pros.
Consultants can of course support your marketing or advertising efforts, but some of the most valuable support they can provide is technical consulting. Take software deployment and management as an example. Companies like RPI specialize in helping businesses implement and maximize software (document imaging and workflow software in this example). Asking a consulting firm for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of being savvy and focused on the future.
When seeking out consulting as an option, the key is to proceed with caution. Companies often waste large sums of money on consultants who ultimately deliver very little return. If you’re going to pursue consulting, this may be a place where you can ask those within your immediate network for recommendations of consultants they’ve personally worked with in the past.
The fear of asking for help
Let’s go back to that previous example of the small business owner who was facing some challenging issues in the middle of tax filing season. He didn’t know it at the time, but if he hadn’t reached out and asked someone outside of the company for help, he would have quickly found himself in hot water with the IRS. The simple act of being willing to seek out help ultimately saved his company.
As human beings, we know that we need help—but we’re often afraid to ask for it. It’s typically rooted in pride, a fear of losing control, or some combination of the two.
Remember, asking for help isn’t a weakness, but rather a strength. As a business owner, the success you experience may be directly tied to your willingness to ask questions and admit when you don’t have all the answers.