Making the Ask: Strategies for Reaching Out to Your Network
Published on July 5, 2017 by Francis Zablocki
You’ve probably been told that networking is an important part of professional life, and you may have spent time building a robust social and in-person set of contacts. Now that you have created this network of resources, you may have to engage in a difficult task: asking someone in your network for help.
Your Network Has a Purpose
Your network isn’t like a stack of baseball cards you simply collect. Each member of your network can serve a purpose in your professional or personal life. You may find yourself calling on individuals in your network because:
- They work at a company at which you are seeking a job
- You need to use them as a professional or personal reference
- They are connected with a client that you are trying to land
- You want to have them come speak at a conference, gala, or event
- They have attended an event that you would like to know more about before registering
- You are raising funds for a non-profit organization whose mission you both support
- You need their help in reviewing a proposal, campaign, your resume, etc.
- They have obtained a degree for a program in which you are considering enrolling
- You need them to connect you to another individual for any of the purposes listed above
The bottom line is that you never know when you will need to call upon a member of your network for what reason. Therefore, you need to tend to your personal and professional relationships on an ongoing basis.
Engaging with Your Network
Thankfully, in the age of social media, this task is easier than ever. You have a group of closer connections that you follow on social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram. These are the people that you probably wouldn’t hesitate to contact if you needed something.
However, your social media network probably includes some contacts that lie on the fringes of your inner circles. You can strengthen these relationships by sending them personal messages or inviting them to a party or other social event. Even easier, you can simply mention them when you post a meme or article they might enjoy. Make yourself a valuable connection rather than just a number in their likely too-large social media following.
LinkedIn and Twitter are great ways to connect with individuals that lie even farther from your innermost circle. The rules for continually engaging with these individuals is much the same. Interact with their posts and tweets. When you read them and laugh only to yourself or you click through to an article without alerting them, you’ve failed to make a connection. Miss enough connections and you end up with a stagnated relationship—one that makes it difficult to ask for a favor.
Establishing Personal Connections
However, contact through social media alone likely isn’t enough to form the type of bonds necessary for some of the larger asks. You need to make personal connections. Dedicating a few hours a week to cultivating relationships is time well spent.
- Invite her to lunch
- Ensure that he is invited to non-profit events
- Attend a talk or convention she will attend or speak at
The closer you are to the individuals in your own network, the more opportunities you will have to link up with individuals in their networks. Growing your network is important, not only for exposing yourself to new professional and personal experiences, but also for ensuring that your name is associated with your professional industry.
Spending time cultivating relationships will make it much less stressful when the time does come for an ask. If you have gone months without interacting with a contact, it will seem much more self-centered when the reason you are reaching out now is to ask for a favor.
If you know that you’re likely to need something from a contact or group of contacts in the future, start enhancing those relationships now—plenty of time before you call on them for a favor. For example, if you are planning on beginning a job search next year, start building your relationships with individuals who may have industry connections or whom you want to call on as references.
Making the Ask
As you prepare yourself to make a request, first determine whether it is appropriate to get in touch electronically or whether it would be better to ask via a personal phone call or meeting. Factors that will play into this decision may include:
- the size of the favor
- how busy the individual is
- whether the response you need can be delegated
Once you have decided the method of contact, consider your last interaction with the individual. Review what is going on in his personal and professional life through social media or through mutual friends. There is nothing worse than initiating a connection asking for a favor but failing to acknowledge the individual’s recent promotion, engagement, marriage, death of a spouse or loved one, or other major life event. As you make contact, make sure you discuss these events.
When it comes to the email, message, phone call, or meeting, don’t be shy about coming out and asking. There is nothing so awkward reaching out, being too insecure to ask for help, and needing to reach out again. Instead, be direct. Clearly articulate what you need from your contact and why you need it. Offer your appreciation when you make the ask, and be sure to follow up with a thank-you message or call as well as an update on any developments. In addition, make it clear that your contacts should feel welcome to ask you for professional favors too.
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