If you don’t know ask.
If there is one piece of advice I can offer you, in business as well as in life, it is this: ask for help. Indeed run your own “ask three people” system and then make an educated decision regarding how best to proceed – or buck or beat, or indeed reinvent a system.
It sounds so simple, and you might think this advice is not worth following, but really it is. I really did build Pacific Direct into the successful business it became off the back of this credo. In fact, my very first success in business came because I had asked to borrow some smart clothes for a meeting at the Dorchester. They became my first – and for a long while my biggest – client, and I probably wouldn’t have done so well in that meeting if I’d just turned up in jeans and a jumper.
There is a massive advantage to be had in just asking people for help. I don’t just mean borrowing clothes here. We are surrounded by people with bags more knowledge and experience than we have. Most people in my experience love sharing their knowledge, they may be just bursting to offer you help and advice. Far too often we do not make the most of respecting the value of experience. These days, you don’t even need to be physically near people; you can email or Skype with people to benefit from their wisdom, and they could be anywhere in the world at the time.
The thing about starting a business is that you really need to have a lot of confidence in order to get anywhere – but you also need to be humble, and to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be that stubborn person trying to get from A to B, getting completely lost and refusing to ask for directions. Don’t be scared of making yourself look stupid just because you don’t know what a P&L should look like or you’ve never written a Terms of Business document. Of course you don’t know that if you’re only just starting out; of course you need to ask someone. And yes, you can go to Google and find your answer, but you’re likely to find fifty different answers, with no clue as to which is the right one, or the one best suited to you. Internet search engines are great, but they really can’t take the place of a good old fashioned conversation with a recommended expert who can understand you and your business, and offer their own knowledge and experience.
Over the years I have found that the more I ask, the better things get. I am not afraid to say that I don’t know how this works, or I don’t understand that part. You might think that as a successful business woman I should have some sort of an ego or a front to uphold, to look perfect at all times. Anyone who has met me will tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth. Well, yes I have an ego; I’m incredibly proud of the things I have achieved in my life. But I will never be too proud to hold my hands up and say “nope, no idea how to do that; can you help me.” I have just returned from the USA where I attended an Association conference to meet race directors to understand the triathlon industry and how it works and what others do to make best sales today. This was truly priceless learning, through asking lots of questions and writing loads of notes to action and learn from.
In business knowing when, how and whom to ask for help is absolutely priceless and can help to move you along much faster than just fumbling about in the dark on your own. Very often you do find that those around you know exactly the right answer, I always feel I am winning when I expand my knowledge and then I find I sort of “feel” the point at which I have worked hard enough to get the answers. From there I make my own choices. Some still turn out to be wrong but I am progressing even when I am testing. The embarrassment factor of not knowing the answers, being too worried to ask will choke your business. Put on your big vision pants and ask.
Things move so quickly these days; trends move along and the latest gadgets become more high-tech by the day. As a business owner you simply cannot afford to spend time kicking your heels, trying to figure something out. There is great value in knowing exactly where your expertise lies, and where it does not. Asking for help when you need it will help you to speed over those bumps in the road that might otherwise have you grinding to a halt while your competition happily speed past you. Time is money, and time spent trying to follow a Googled set of instructions for something – anything – we don’t understand is wasted. If I need information, help or advice I will always look for the fastest way to get there, and invariably the fastest way is to ask someone else.
As well as helping you to move your business along, asking for help has another great advantage: you can learn as you go. By asking someone to help you or show you, you can learn how to do it so that next time you’re able to help yourself. By now I’m sure you know that as a business owner, and generally in life, we need to keep learning all the time in order to grow. You should constantly be learning as much as you can about all areas of your business. By learning every day, you will put yourself at an advantage over your competitors who are resting on their laurels, thinking they’ve got it made because they’ve hit a target.
The more knowledgeable you are about the services, logistics and mechanisms that affect your business, the better able you will be to negotiate better systems and processes. These may give you greater negotiating tools to utilize to win deals. This is time valuably spent. Intricately knowing all the parts of how your costs are impacted allows you to run the best business with the lowest cost base, always being in competition.
Asking for help might mean calling a family friend perhaps (albeit I actually avoided this at all costs) or making a new business contact – calling a complete stranger to ask for help. You might balk at the idea, and of course you’ll feel apprehensive – but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. What’s the worst thing that can happen any way – you ask for help and they say no. And if that happens, you find another person and another phone number, and you make the next call. Doing small things that scare you make them less scary the next time, and stretching your comfort zone on a regular basis is the best way to achieve and maintain success. Do what the other person won’t do, at every opportunity!
By asking for help you can grow your business in ways you could never have imagined. And by showing a little vulnerability you will attract people who will want to help and be loyal – something that is worth so much more than money or pride.
There are many things to be afraid of in business: will someone come along with a better product; will I work hard enough to know industry change before it affects me; will I have the right sales balance and deliver goods on time to pay the bills? As business owners we worry about these and numerous other things. One thing we really should not worry about though, is showing vulnerability in asking for help. When I die my tombstone will read, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”