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.