When is it right to ask a networking contact for help?

Thu, 02/02/2012 - 16:47 -- nick

We all have a network of people who stand ready to help us, We may not be in touch with most of them. We may not even realise how many folks are out there ready to lend a hand. But they are there.
As a contentious network builder you will have made contacts that have been willing to promote your interests, write testimonials and possibly even recommend you.
At the very least they will be contacts who have been able to offer some advice and guidance when required.
But what happens when you need some real help from your contacts? How do you ask and what do you do?

Preparation and planning
The key is not to leave everything to chance.
Asking for help unexpectedly is a measure of desperation, but it is also a measure of not being prepared for eventualities and possible outcomes.
The sure way forward is to build your network in such a way that it is more ready to help when you need it.
This effectively means testing and tending your network of contacts over the course of time.
For example, if you are experiencing difficulties within your job or any other situation, give your contacts some forewarning that trouble may be on the horizon.
In such a way you are giving your contacts a chance to think and possibly help you before the final crunch when you need it the most.
Most of us have some idea of possible trouble ahead. Cutbacks at work, a tough employment market, a large client loss for your company. Whatever it is, make your contacts aware in good time.
Your ability to look ahead - and prime your contacts - therefore gives you a measure of control instead of acting haphazardly.

Tending to your network
These are some of the vital things to so if you want your network to be there for you when you need them:

  • Communicate regularly, not just when you need them
  • Ask how they're doing and if there's any way you can help them
  • Introduce people in your network to each other
  • Keep your network up to date on what you are doing

Make use of all the forms of social media and don't forget good old fashioned word of mouth or meeting in person.
You can track your network using online tools and build up a schedule of your contacting - using online and offline tools if necessary to make it easier.

How to go about asking
Once you have already been making the effort to stay in touch, then your request for help when you really need it does not found unfamiliar.
What you are aiming to do is ask in a way that makes it easy for your contacts to respond. Prepare your request carefully and do not spend time with a long ‘back-story' to why you are asking.
Only specify exactly what help you need. Is it a job, an introduction, a piece of information or help with your existing job?
Decide specifically how your network might help. Provide the research and information, and fill in the gaps for them so they can act faster.
In other words, do all the things that are your responsibility so they do not have to spend any more time than is necessary to help you. Like all things in life, the more accurate and specific you are, the more successful you will be.
Get the tone of your requests right. You need to be positive and to the point but never pushy and demanding. If your help is for a longer term goal, put your request in context - but briefly - so they can see how their help fits in.

Your next steps
If your contact responds, don't forget to ask how you can return their help some time. Whether or not a contact is able to help, don't forget to thank them.
If this is in writing, so much the better, it will mean more and last longer than a word over the phone.
Equally importantly, keep your contacts up to date on how their help has helped you. If they have taken the trouble to help you, they'll want to know if you have been successful - your contacts need encouragement too. In such a way you'll make the whole relationship seem more worthwhile - and stronger too.
And don't forget, your request for help may be returned one day - as you are their contact too. Then you'll have a chance to respond and show what you can do.