Every entrepreneur runs into questions, challenges, obstacles, and snags in their plans–and starts looking for quality business support.
It’s a universal law of entrepreneurship and business ownership — it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, you’ll run into a new problem eventually and need help.
And therefore, by the transitive property, you can then know that everyone — every entrepreneur or executive, from the coffee shop owner down the street to Warren Buffet, Sara Blakely, and Howard Schultz — is going to need business support, a few new ideas, and some feedback from time to time. We’re doing new things, creating fresh solutions, and building new organizations. Needing help is a feature, not a bug.
But after spending the last decade watching small business owners ask for help, feedback, and support — or worse, not ask — I’ve realized that something as simple as asking for a bit of help can be fraught with difficulty. Since I’ve made it my business to provide support to small business owners and help them seek out feedback and help themselves, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about getting the best help you can and what to do with it once you’ve got it.
Below, you’ll find 8 dos and don’ts of asking for business support as an entrepreneur. Plus, I’ve provided a number of scripts you can use to get better business feedback. They’re based on 10 years of getting help on my own business journey, working as a business coach, and creating and observing a platform built for small business owners to ask questions, get feedback, and learn from each other.
These scripts can be used in online communities, in mastermind sessions, with a business coach, in coffee chats, in workshops, and really anywhere online or offline you’re seeking help with your small business questions and challenges.
But before we get to those, we need to remember what I’ll call The Golden Rule of Small Business Support:
Find your own answer.
The business support, ideas, and feedback that any 1 person can provide are limited. You will inevitably need to adapt their perspective or suggestion into something that is tailor-made for the way you do business.
Even when you have access to a pool of other business owners or experts, their perspective is limited by what they see and what they’ve experienced. That doesn’t mean that their input isn’t valuable — it’s extremely valuable. It just means that there is more work to do than simply asking for and receiving help.
You need to analyze the help you receive, you need to weigh your options (there’s always more than one), and you need to choose what you want to test or experiment with. At the end of the day, the feedback you receive won’t point you in the right direction — you have to point yourself and your business in the right direction.
And that leads me to the first element of getting more effective support for your small business:
1. Don’t ask for advice.
Most people love giving advice. We all think we could do better in any given situation and, at even the hint of an opening, we’ll offer up our 2 cents.
Social media might as well be “advice media.” Everyone has an opinion and any question you ask or topic you suggest for discussion will be viewed as an opportunity to give advice.
When you’re looking for an answer to your business question or support on a challenge you’re experiencing, don’t ask for advice.
In fact, if you’re asking for business support in a relationship or context where advice-giving is rampant, explicitly state that you’re not looking for advice.
Instead, you can ask for different kinds of feedback depending on what would be helpful to you.
Try asking people to share their experience:
“I’m currently experiencing [your challenge] and I was thinking I might try [your solution] to solve it. What’s been your personal experience with this challenge or that solution?”
Or, try asking people to share examples:
“I’m considering solving [your challenge] by [your solution] because [your reasoning]. Have you seen a business take a similar approach? Please share the specifics with me!
“I’m going to [your course of action]. What worked for you when you did that?”
Or, ask people what didn’t work for them:
“I’m dealing with [your challenge]. What didn’t work for you when trying to solve a similar challenge? Why?”
I’m not going to pretend that you might not receive some “advice” mixed in with your responses if you use one of these scripts. However, the majority of your responses will be more concrete, fact-based, and verifiable.
While the business support you receive in response to these kinds of requests might not immediately produce your “aha!” moment, you will have the raw ingredients you need to create your own solution — and with less time wasted digging for ideas. That’s a great outcome!
2. Do start with 1 question.
Realistically, every challenge or question you face in your business is actually a set of at least 37 different questions or challenges all rolled up into one.
That can make knowing what to ask for help with nearly impossible.
At CoCommercial, the business support network my company runs, I’ve watched members put off asking for help over and over again because they haven’t found the exact right question to ask yet.
The truth is that there is no exact right question to ask. There is only your first question, second question, third question, and so on!
So don’t wait to ask for business support until you know exactly what you need.
On the other hand, don’t try to get answers or feedback on all of your 37 different questions related to your main challenge all at once. Pick some place — any place — to start.
Think about your challenge or big question as a knot you have to untangle. Maybe that knot has 37 different strands to separate. You start picking at one strand, seeing how it’s connected to the rest, working it out of the mess a few places. Then you start working on a different strand. Eventually, you start to see how the knot is formed and you can strategically pick apart each strand until the knot is completely undone.
The same thing happens with your business challenges. By starting with one tiny strand of the problem, you can start to work your way into the mess and eventually unravel it. One set of feedback leads to new clarity. The next set of feedback frees up a section of the knot. But you have to start with 1 single question.
Try something like this:
“I seem to be challenged when it comes to [the area you’re experiencing a problem in]. I’m not entirely sure what the real cause is yet but finding out more about [your starting point] would help. How have you [solved this problem, handled this challenge, answered this question] yourself?”
3. Do provide context.
Context is key when it comes to getting great support or feedback for your business. It can take a little longer, of course, to share more context than just asking a question flat out but you’ll save time in the long-run by weeding out inappropriate responses from the start.
Plus, providing more context makes giving feedback or support more efficient too. Even though it might take longer to read your post or listen to your question, the people you’re asking for help from will appreciate that their response will be more helpful to you. After all, we all want to be of the highest service!
When you’re giving context, consider including some of these things:
- What you’ve already tried
- Research you’ve already done
- How your business differs from what people might expect
- Core values that impact the way you work or solve problems
- How long you’ve been in business
- Special resources you have at your disposal
- Solutions you’d like to avoid
- Any mindset blocks you’re aware of
- Your short-term and/or long-term goals
Once you’ve given a solid context for your challenge, it will be extremely tempting to ask for advice (i.e. “Given all this, what should I do?”). Resist the urge.
Instead, lean on asking for relevant examples of what’s worked or hasn’t worked for the people you’re talking to based on the context you’ve provided.
4. Do make your request specific.
Similarly to providing context, making specific requests can make it a lot easier for people to give you help and for you to receive high-quality feedback.
A question like, “How can I get more leads for my business?” might be what you’re wondering but, unless you’re looking for a laundry list of ways that could be done, you’re going to be disappointed in the feedback you receive.
Instead, you could ask, “How have you used Facebook ads to get more leads for your service-based business?” Or, “How have you optimized your website to get more inquiries about your products?”
And that leads me to the next point…
5. Do get curious.
Maybe you don’t know for sure that you want to use Facebook ads to get more leads or that you want to spend time optimizing your website for more inquiries. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask about it!
Curious business owners tend to discover more creative solutions to their problems.
If you find yourself wondering “could this solve my problem?” that’s a good indicator that it’s worth asking about. Don’t just Google for answers (what a time suck!). Ask real people how they’ve made it work, what they would do differently, or how it all came together.
You might very well end up not going that direction but you’ll have a much better understanding of your options for the future. And, your curiosity might just inspire an even better creative solution!
6. Do define the kind of feedback or support you’re looking for.
Sometimes you ask for help when all the options are open. Sometimes you ask for support in the middle of a project when resources have been committed and choices have been made. Sometimes you ask for feedback at the end of a project when you really only want to make minor changes or soak up the applause.
By defining the kind of feedback or support you’re looking for, you can avoid painful, unhelpful, or unrealistic responses.
You can let people know:
“I’m just getting started on this idea and I’m open to all the options. Would you help me brainstorm this?”
Or, you can put it this way:
“This project is going great and I’m happy with where we’re at — but now I’m at a crossroads between one option and another option. What would make you choose one over the other?”
Or, you might try this:
“I’m just about done with this [your project] and, specifically, I’m wondering if [your concern]. Could you review it and give me your feedback on whether [your concern] is true?”
And if what you really want is applause — and there’s nothing wrong with that — try this:
“Yes! I just finished [your project] and I’m so proud of [specific thing you’re loving]. I couldn’t wait to share it with you!”
One final tip here: if you are really looking for a specific type of feedback, it might pay to examine why that kind of feedback is important to you and whether you’re avoiding a bigger problem by steering feedback away from another area. This is an extremely uncomfortable thing to do but it can uncover catastrophic problems before they wreak havoc on your final project.
7. Do consider the source.
Different kinds of people offer different kinds of feedback and business support. While I won’t pretend everyone’s feedback might be valuable, most people’s support can be useful when you carefully consider the source.
Anytime you ask for help, the help you receive is going to be colored by the experience, expertise, and personal perspective of the person giving you the help. Both experienced and inexperienced, expert and novice people can give you really useful feedback if you’re willing to examine it.
Highly experienced or expert sources have deep knowledge to draw on when they give feedback. They’re likely to spot common mistakes. They often know when “intuitive” solutions lose out to unexpected counterintuitive solutions. But, their perspective can also be clouded by experience or expertise or they might approach your challenge with assumptions in mind.
Inexperienced or novice sources often think creatively because they don’t have years of experience or expertise to fall back on. They are more likely to be able to turn constraints into opportunities. They also can draw on experience in other areas — for instance, when it comes to business problems, they can use their experience as a consumer to help guide their feedback. But, of course, their perspective can suffer from their lack of knowledge and they can make mistakes that an expert might catch.
Again, being specific with your questions can help you consider the source.
If you’re talking to an expert or a group of experienced business owners, you might ask:
“I’m dealing with [your challenge] and I’d value your perspective and experience here. What have you seen work for overcoming this challenge? What mistakes have you seen others make?”
If you’re talking to a friend, colleague, or a group of less experienced business owners, you might ask:
“I’m dealing with [your challenge] and it’s affecting our customers by [how it’s affecting them]. In your experience as a consumer, how would you want the business to handle this issue?”
8. Don’t limit yourself to familiar territory.
This has to be the most common and limiting problem with the way entrepreneurs pursue business support and feedback for their challenges.
All too often, I see people gravitate to receiving help and inspiration from people with business’s like theirs or like the one they want to have — instead of seeking out diverse perspectives.
My greatest business breakthroughs have come from talking to people who have experienced similar challenges or achieved similar goals but have done so through vastly different approaches, in different industries, or with different methods. The more I’ve sought out help from business owners and experts who feel unfamiliar and even intimidating, the more creative and effective my own solutions have become.
The closer the source of feedback is to your style, your business model, your marketing strategy, your industry…
…the more likely you are to copy instead of innovate.
Sure, sometimes we want fast answers to questions that have already been solved. And yes, getting help from someone in-the-know in your field is a great way to do that.
But I believe that 90% or more of the support you get on your business should come from different and diverse sources. When you do, you might just find answers to questions you didn’t even know you had and solutions to problems that hadn’t revealed themselves yet.
Remember: the real benefit of feedback isn’t that it gives you an answer to your question or points you in the right direction.
The real benefit is that you have more information than you did before to consider as you make the right choice for you and your business.
In order to make the feedback, business support, and ideas you receive from helpful people really effective, you have to do something with it. You have to create the space to think about it, weigh your options, and test your hypotheses.
Good feedback or support isn’t the endgame, making a good business decision is. And that’s something only you can do.