At some point in your career, you'll need to reach out for help or advice from someone who's been there, knows considerably more than you about the subject, and whose experienced perspective could make all the difference in your career. Blogger Leo Widrich found himself in exactly that situation, and after a few failed attempts at asking for help, he received a simple piece of advice that made a huge difference.
Oh boy, I used to be the absolutely worst at this. When I started out building stuff, I used to ask others for help a lot. And I think it is fantastic to do this.
The way of asking, however, can often be tricky. I used to to pour out my life story to everyone I thought might be able to help me with a little bit of advice. Dozens of sentences involving what I am doing, no clarity at all, and no questions at the end, apart from a vague "What are your thoughts?".
What I didn't realise is that it's incredibly difficult for a busy and successful person to help me out with anything based on these emails. Noah Kagan, Appsumo founder and someone who has helped me plenty of times in the past, once replied this to me:
":) Can you send 1 short specific question?"
This was gold. It was the immediate solution to get help from nearly anyone. I would keep emails to 4 sentences at most from then onwards, when asking for help:
- 2-3 sentences of honest appreciation. There is a reason you are asking someone for help. They have a lot of experience in that field, worked on a startup/idea related to what you are working on or else. If you do this, it shows them you have thought about why picking them out to ask for help.
- 1 sentence that states a single, focused question people can give you an answer to. Here is one that worked very well when I asked Noah:
"What was the single, most valuable user acquisition strategy for Mint after you hit 100K users?"
What do you really want?
Asking one specific question in an email, without hammering others with your life story, has a lot more advantages than I had ever imagined. If you're forced to really think about the one specific question you want answered, you naturally think about your problem in a much more focused way.
In the past, this helped me a great deal. There would be a big obstacle in my head and I would shoot a long-winded, unfocused question to someone asking for advice. By making it a rule to keep my emails short, my mind could focus, break down the problem, and make the next steps a lot more actionable.
Can you find the solution yourself?
The benefits of clearly defining your problem don't stop there. Today, by forcing myself to narrow my request down to one specific question, more often than not, that process triggers an answer.
"A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved." ~ Dorothea Brande
It's this thought that I believe is actually the most valuable part from applying Noah's "one short question" technique. More often then not, purely stating the problem more precisely will help you find the solution yourself, and when it doesn't, you'll greatly improve your chances of getting a useful response from whomever you're asking for help.
I think this will turn clearly into a win-win situation for everyone involved. Be sure to give it a go. If you have any tried-and-true tips for asking others for advice, let's hear them in the comments.
Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer, a new way to Tweet and share FB posts more efficiently. Hit him up on Twitter @LeoWid anytime; he is a super nice guy. This post originally appeared on Leo's personal blog. Republished with permission.