Asking for advice can feel awkward for a lot of people. I get it. You are fearful of coming across as annoying or needy, or feeling like you should always be promoting yourself as the expert (and experts don’t ask for advice), right?
Well, no. Not exactly.
Seeking advice is normal, natural, and inevitable. There is always going to be someone a few steps ahead of you, and you are always going to wonder something about how they operate, or what they think, or what special steps they implemented to get there. The thing is – it’s fine to ask. The best of the best ask. The president has advisors, he totally asks. CEO’s have advisors, they ask. Your parents have friends and their parents, and they totally ask.
You can be an expert in something, but still have questions about how to make it a profitable business, or how to interact with clients, or any number of things that don’t make you less of an expert in your specific niche. I could be the best, most expert, most amazing cat sweater knitter – but that doesn’t mean I need to know how to sell them on Etsy, and how to make an e-book about knitting, and how to do quarterly taxes. There are people who have no idea how to knit a cat sweater, but they know how to run a business, or how to improve SEO, or how to do something that you don’t, and you want to ask them. So ask them. If you’re still scared, here are some tips to help.
(Side note: for the purpose of not having a ton of confusing pronouns, I’m going to refer to the person you are asking advice as Mentor from here on out!)
I want you to think about going to a restaurant. When you sit down, the waiter doesn’t ask: “Hey! Welcome. Do you want a drink? What about an appetizer? Also we have salads, so you should tell me what salad you want. Then tell me your dinner choice; you want dinner right? Also, hey! We have desserts.” Like, clearly, that would be overwhelming, daunting, and just a huge turn-off. Well, when you are talking to your Mentor, you shouldn’t approach talking with them by asking 100 questions, either.
The thing is, we have 100 questions! Totally! Put me in a room with someone like Regina and I’d have a hard time containing myself and not word vomiting every question, ever, including, like, “What do you eat for breakfast?!” But that’s not professional, and it’s not easy for your Mentor to answer. Make it easy on them, so they feel more inclined to answer you. Ask one solid question. Maybe their answer will lead into a second question, or there will be an opportunity in a conversation to ask a second question, but approach initially with one question.
That question should be super specific, though. A vague, open-ended question, like, “How are you so successful?” will probably warrant a vague, open-ended response. Instead, think of a result you want, and ask how they managed to get there. For me, wanting to create a successful course on cohesive branding in the near future, I’d ask a Mentor, “What elements of a course do you find to be the most valued – video content, slides/workbook, tutorials via screen-sharing, etc.?” or I’d ask, “Being established for so long, what do you first notice about a newcomer to the group as far as their brand, in either a positive or negative light?”
Answers to either of those questions are concrete, easy for your Mentor to answer without overwhelming them, and yield specific results that I can turn around and implement or use in whatever my goal is.
It might come across as “be fake,” but don’t be fake. Just be nice. If nice isn’t something you do well, then seeking out advice from others might not be for you, either. By saying, “be kind,” I am not saying: be gushy, mushy, doe-eyed, and obsessive. No! Be professional and an adult, but acknowledge that you respect the person and value their opinion, and are so excited to have a chance to ask your question.
A trick (though this isn’t really trick, you probably already do this a lot of the time…) is to reference to something else they’ve said, created, or sold. So, if I were to get the opportunity to ask some amazing Internet entrepreneur a question, I’d first say something like, “Your latest webinar on _________ was really inspiring, I never knew __________. It made me wonder though, what do you do in ________________________ circumstance?”
This does a few things – it flatters your Mentor, it establishes that you do research and try to learn on your own (and don’t expect everyone to just answer all your questions, all the time), and that you are a fan. People like having fans. Do you know the first time someone said “I can’t believe YOU commented on my blog post,” I cried? I literally cried tears of happiness because someone out there thought I was someone valuable to their business and life. Like, hello, your potential Mentor is a human being, not a robot! It feels wonderful to know people care and are invested in what you are saying – so let them know that you are! If they had 300 emails to answer in a day, but you stand out as someone that follows them, is invested in them, and values them – I bet your email would make it to the front of the stack.
Okay – there are a few really important points in this one. First and foremost, proofread your email/question. Double, triple, quadruple check for spelling errors, grammar mistakes, the spelling of a person’s name (BIG ONE!) and any factual information about them (name of their business, book, etc.).
We are human, we make mistakes, but this is your first impression with someone you have on a pedestal – you want to make it as perfect as you can. Of course, there are a ton of circumstances outside of your control, but as for these things – you can control them, so make sure you make it perfect.
Other areas to be smart about: Do not ask your Mentor a question like, “What is the #1 rule you have for hosting your own webinar?” when two weeks ago they posted a blog titled, “The #1 rule for hosting webinars”. Be smart! Do your research. It’s okay to ask a question that maybe they’ve discussed before in an interview or on a Periscope, but don’t ask them to repeat something they just put out into the world to help others. If you do, chances are they will respond with “Awesome question, check out this blog post about it: _____” and that will be the end of your communication.
Then, this is just general email etiquette, but try to refrain from sending your email at 2am when you are wide awake analyzing your business and get the guts to send your Mentor a question. Waking up to a ping of an email on their phone at 2am might not put you in the ‘good first impression’ category. Or even if they don’t wake up to the ping, it still comes across more professional to send the email during normal business hours. I send most of my emails around 8:30-9:00am so that people see my emails in their morning email check, and if it’s urgent, get it done before they start their day officially. Though, if I know someone is a different time zone (I’m Eastern) I try to wait a little while longer. Nine in the morning for me is like six am for my West coast friends, and I don’t want to wake them up earlier than necessary!
Major, major, major must. You are seeking out a Mentor, who might be 10-10,000 steps ahead of you. But in that same regard, someone who is 10-10,000 steps behind you, might see you as a Mentor. If you are hustlin’ and trying to get help from others, you better be putting that good juju back into the universe and helping those behind you.
I’m not a believer in ‘paying your dues’ in the world of Internet biz, honestly. By that I mean, I don’t discount someone’s ability to help me or sell a quality product or service to me if they haven’t had an operational Internet business for x amount of years. I know that most of us have had successful careers and are transitioning into the Internet world because we want more freedom. I say all of that, to say, when it comes to giving back – YOU BETTER PAY YOUR DUES. If I find someone who I think is amazing and helpful, but I only ever see them being amazing and helpful to the “top tier of internet elite” (i.e. sucking up) I judge them. Hard. I can see right through them and, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say everyone else can, too.
So, do not take, take, take from those ahead of you and then never give back to those behind you. If you learned something amazing and awesome – share it! Share the wealth. I am not the first to say this and I won’t be the last to say this, but sharing your knowledge is the easiest and best way to become part of a community and make biz besties that support you and help you grow. There’s more than enough success to go around.
So, I get it. Asking for help is scary. But it doesn’t have to be. The people you have on pedestals, that you are too scared to reach out to, they might be busy. They might take a week to respond. They might take two weeks to respond. But they value you and they value you took the time to seek them out. There will be a day when you are someone that a person seeks out for advice, and I hope that you remember how terrifying it is and answer kindly!
P.S. If you ever want to ask me a question, I’d be honored to answer!