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How To Request Something From a Busy Person (And Get a Reply)

This is one of the most important pieces of business + life advice I’ll ever post on this blog.  

I hope you’ll read and remember accordingly.  

As photographers, we can’t always go it alone.  There’s too much to do, too much to know.  Sometimes we have to ask for help, and that’s totally okay!

Unfortunately, most of the people best qualified to help us are spectacularly busy.  Other photographers, prominent bloggers, and established businesspeople all have packed schedules and get hundreds of emails a day.  How can you make your request stand out?

The answers lie in using some of the most fundamental skills in working with other people.  I’ve used these fundamentals in contacting business owners, famous scientists, professors, scholarship boards, bloggers, writers, designers, and a number of other busy professionals.  Use these wisely, and not only are people more likely to reply, you’ll probably create more friendships along the way.

Here we go:

Fundamental #1:  Do you have a relationship with this person?  If not, create one before you ask for anything.

Would you ever walk up to a well-dressed stranger on the street and say “Hey, you look great!  Can I have $20?”

You’d be shocked how often the online equivalent of that very thing happens.

People like doing things for their friends.  It’s easier to bend over backwards for a friend when you know they’d do the same thing for you if you needed it.  This applies in business as well.

It’s not hard to create a friendly relationship with someone.  Shop in their store.  Leave thoughtful comments on their blog.  Like their page on Facebook and actually interact with them on it.  Send thank-you notes.  Send thank-you gifts.  Highlight any non-business stuff you have in common.  Share their posts, shout out to your friends about their sales and news.  Write reviews.  Be generous.  You can probably make someone feel happy and appreciated in 1 minute or less, though speed is not the goal.  Take several steps to show your gratitude and goodwill, and they’ll feel more inclined to reciprocate later.

But remember:  humans excel at sniffing out false intentions.  Don’t pop out of the blue and declare your undying fanship right before asking for a favor.  If you admire someone, create a positive relationship with them long before you even think you might need something.

Fundamental #2:  Recognize that you’re usually asking a lot more than you think.

You know how clients say they have “a quick question” or a “small editing request” that often ends up representing an hour of extra work?  We’ve all done that to someone at some point in our lives, we just don’t always know it.

Even when you ask someone a seemingly simple question, you’re really asking them to hand over their most valuable commodity – time.

Answering an email, responding to a phone call, offering advice – it all takes up their time.  Time away from their family, time away from their kids, time away from their friends, their pets, their hobbies, time away from working on their own business.  That’s a hefty request, folks.  Recognize it, internalize it, and let any correspondence you send their way reflect your consideration of and appreciation for their time.

Fundamental #3:  What’s in it for THEM?

Because you’re really asking for their most valuable currency – time – you have to think of your email a little bit like a sales pitch.  When you sell something to a client, you don’t just ask for money.  You show them what they’ll get out of it, and make them excited about the exchange!

Is your request a one-way street that would only benefit you?  Don’t be surprised if your email gets buried or deleted.  Most successful businesspeople and bloggers already spend many uncompensated hours giving free help, advice, and insight to others.  But there are only so many hours in the day, no matter how much they’d love to help you.

You’re much more likely to get a reply if you lay out a win-win situation.  And no, “If you respond to my email, I’ll be sure to give your business a positive review on Yelp” is not a win-win situation.  That’s as bad as a cheap client asking you to do something for free “for the great exposure.”  Gag.  You’d get a lot better results if you just gave them the positive review before you ever emailed them.

People are more attracted to doing things that benefit them in some way – whether it boosts their bottom line or just makes them feel good.  Make your request benefit them in some way, and you’re more likely to get a reply.

Fundamental #4:  Whenever possible, show up in person.

Because busy people value time, they’re more likely to acknowledge your investment if you show up in person.  Dashing off an email is easy, getting in the car involves an actual cost to you.  Of course, don’t interrupt them unannounced – be courteous.  But if you can get an appointment or see them face to face in some way, you’re more likely to be met with success.

Fundamental #5:  Never, never ask something you could easily Google or figure out yourself.  

Other business people should never be used as shortcuts for your own research.  Do your homework.  ’Nuff said.

Fundamental #6:  Never, never, NEVER ask for something that you should honestly hire them for.

If your favorite photographer in the whole world offers workshops, don’t email asking questions that the workshop covers.  Just sign up for the workshop.  Everyone wins.

Fundamental #7: Remember to KIGS.

You’ve heard of KISS, right?  Keep It Simple, Silly?  ;-)  When emailing a busy person, KIGS – Keep It Grateful, Silly.

Every contact with them should be a big THANK YOU sandwich.  Thank them profusely for all they’ve already done, make a humble request, and finish up thanking them in advance for their time, saying you understand they may not be able to get around to replying.  Gratitude gets you far, especially in the online world.

 Good luck!!

celine - Great article. I’m guilty of reading without interacting… one of those silent followers because I don’t know what to say. I’ll make more of an effort from now on.
Celine (from Norway!!)

Allison - Why do I (again) feel like this was posted just for me? Haha! Thanks again for your sweet email last night. I was obviously feeling down and you boosted my spirits! Have a great week!
Allison recently posted..Q&A – Tilt ShiftMy Profile

Christian - Great post, good to keep these points in mind.

Jenika - Aww, you’ve done a great job! I loved the photo you sent me, thanks so much. :-)

Jenika - Thanks! :-)

Jenika - Lol, thanks Allison! I hope you have a great week too!

Kristen Fickes - Right on the money, as always! I really, really appreciate all the insight you’ve given to the photography world. If only everyone knew psychology like you do! Thanks for all the work (and thinking!) you do and especially thanks for sharing it! :)

Jenika - Thanks for your comments, as always, Kristen!

Melinda - Great article! Your spin on the photography world is so refreshing. The information you give is actually doable and not written as a vague idea. Thank you for that and I always look forward to your posts!!
Melinda recently posted..How Do I {Fill in the Space Pt 1}My Profile

Jasmine E. - This is great advice. I have been guilty of this at times. Luckily, everyone I’ve ever asked for help has genuinely been helpful and I am entirely grateful! I love reading new post here! Keep them coming!! :)

Carey Anne - Fab reminders of things I need to work on!

Steve Brack - So glad to have found your blog page. Love the insight and I truly appreciate the energy that you put into helping all of us become better at all things. I look forward to following you and hope you have a fantastic year ahead,

Steve

Jenika - Hey Steve! Thanks for your kind comments, I’m so glad to have you with us! :-) Thanks for the well-wishes, I hope you thrive in 2012!!!

Lori - Just found your blog. Great article. I think we are all guilty of this at some point so a reminder is always wonderful. Thank you for reminding me.

Melanie (@photobymelanie) - Jenika! You did it again, every time I come back to your blog I read fabulous mind blowing content. Seriously I don’t know how you do it but I just wanted to thank you for doing so.

+ I will totally be able to apply this to my business self!
Melanie (@photobymelanie) recently posted..Canvas Galleries.My Profile

Jenika - Aww Melanie, you brighten my day every time. Thanks for the love, and always for stopping by! :-)

Jenika - Oh yeah, I’ve been offender #1 for a lot of this. Some of these posts are written as much as affirmations to myself as anything. Ha! :-) Have a great day Lori.

tgsf - A good post, and sage advice, but also reminded me of something a little broader, and more general, that my dad taught me: read Dale Carnegie! “HT Win Friends & Influence People” seemed so trite when I first read it, but wow does it cover ALL of this territory and more…. (-not intended to detract from your post, of course!) ;)

Marie - Thanks for this. Like the previous poster, the article rang enough bells in my head to make it seem like it was written while you were examining my business practices. And I am not a even a professional photographer!! Terrific insight with universal applicability. I am so grateful that someone recommended your blog on Clickin’ Moms, today. :)

Jenika - How To Win Friends and Influence People is indeed a massively useful, relevant resource, and every photographer should own it. I keep meaning to write a post about it, it’s pretty much the only ‘popular psychology’ type book that I heartily endorse.

Jenika - Thanks Marie! :-) I’m glad to hear it has been useful to you.
And thank you to whomever shared on Clickin’ Moms – I appreciate it very much! :-)

Shaun McGuire - Hi,

Just a little note to let you know I came across your work through DPS and also Elizabeth Halfords praise for your efforts.

I’ve now read a few of your blog posts and have to say I’m a fan.

You make very good sense and have already helped me out.

Many thanks and keep up the good work.

Page bookmarked :)

Jenika - Thanks for the kind note Shaun! Happy to hear from you, and glad that they’ve helped. Have a great weekend!

Beryl - Thank you so much for this post! I wholeheartedly agree with each and every word. And A) I am realizing how I am getting better at the relationship building and I’ve been surprised lately at some of the people I’ve started to grow close too that I always thought were out of reach to me and B) I am guilty as charged on some of these and love your gentle reminders ok what’s ‘ok’ to ask for and when it’s just gone overboard. Thank you! xo.

Maryanne Gobble Photography - Great article. Can I say one thing I really appreciate about some busy people? The ones who know they are busy and can’t answer every question so they let that be known by a kindly written automated email, or fair warning on their contact information, or some disclaimer of the like.

Nothing irks me more than a silence to a direct question without the above as I try never to ask questions that can be easily be found. It comes off as arrogance and I think really devalues their image.
Maryanne Gobble Photography recently posted..Sell Out ArtistMy Profile

Peter Lippert - Helpfull thoughts! Thank you.
It is like you say it

Gereinigt, Peter

Peter Lippert - The Word “Gereinigt” should mean “Greetings”!
The Auto-Rename-Function of my iPad sometimes do things like this, Sorry

Jenika - Haha, was wondering if “cleaned” was some new German slang I was unaware of ;-)

Chris Scott - Why are you so smart? I want to share this post with the world and start sending it AS my reply to the people who break these rules.
Chris Scott recently posted..Five Tips for Telling your Family Story in PhotosMy Profile

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