It seems too simple an idea, right? To get what you want, you need to ask for it.
And yet, so frequently, in business and in life, we are stopped in our tracks by questions left unasked.
Instead of asking for the business, you wait for word of a decision from your potential client; you don’t want to seem too pushy. Instead of asking for an important change to an agreement, you let it slide; you don’t want to seem too difficult to work with. Instead of applying for an industry award, you discard the application materials; you didn’t have a chance to win anyway, you tell yourself.
And what likely happens?
The client gives the project to someone else because you didn’t seem very interested – after all, you didn’t even follow-up. A lawsuit emerges from the agreement you signed leaving you on the hook for your client’s hefty legal fees. And your junior colleague ends up winning that industry award because no one with more experience applied.
You didn’t ask for what you wanted or needed.
But there are probably an equal number of success stories.
Angus Leary of Suffolk Construction routinely asked for more leadership responsibilities, more opportunities to prove himself, and is now the youngest president and general manager in the company’s history. Heather DeSantis of Heather DeSantis Public Relations mustered the courage to ask the president of Livestrong to speak at her college graduation; she now runs her own PR firm. Amanda Goldman-Petri asked for her husband’s support before investing in a pricey business coach to grow her company at a time when money was tight; she runs a six-figure venture.
The key was that first question.
Asking is a Process
Building a successful business requires asking a series of questions, and then continuing to ask more questions in order to quicken the pace of your success. Those questions include:
- What is it that you really want your business to be? How large do you want it to grow? What products and services do you envision it selling? What is your competitive advantage? How will you know when you’re successful? Be clear in your mind about what you’re working toward. That will make it easier to identify the steps you’ll need to take to get there, and what you’ll need to ask for along the way.
- What is it you need now to make progress toward that goal? What is the first step you need to take in order to get on that path to success? Is it to apply for admission to an MBA program? Is it to earn certification as a MBE or WBE? Is it to become more comfortable with public speaking by joining Toastmasters? What is that necessary first step?
- Who do you need to ask? What individual or organization can answer your question(s) and get you started? Do you need help tracking down some information? Call your librarian and ask for help. Do you need to determine who in your target client’s business to speak with? Call and ask the receptionist. Do you need permission to use a conference room for an upcoming presentation? Email or call the administrator responsible.
- When is the best time to ask? Probably, right now. Waiting for the “right moment” means you’ll never ask. Start with an easy question.
- How will you ask? The key is to ask clearly and specifically for what it is that you want, with a little background regarding why you’re asking. For example, to introduce yourself to a potential project partner, you might say, “Hi John, this is Tom. I’m working on a bid for the landscaping project downtown and am looking for a potential partner. Janet at Everything Green recommended you, so I wondered if you’d have a few minutes to talk about it.” Be short, to the point, providing enough information so that the other person can determine how to proceed.
- Keep it simple. Even if your goal is to convince an executive at a competing firm to join your firm, don’t lead with background on how fast your company has been growing, what your challenges are, what’s held you back, etc. Don’t get bogged down explaining the “why,” stay focused on your next step and what you need from the other person. So instead, introduce yourself and ask if you can buy her lunch to talk about a business opportunity you think she’d be perfect for.
- Make sure you clearly ask for what you want. Sometimes asking for what you want is uncomfortable. You may feel that you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage by asking for something, but the truth is that you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t ask for what you need. So ask.
Becoming comfortable with asking questions – not grilling people for information, mind you – by posing simple, well-timed requests, can help you build the business you’ve envisioned in less time that you may think you need. The trick is to get better at recognizing what questions need to be asked, of whom, for what, exactly. Master that and you’ll be well on your way.