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How to ask for work

A lot of people have been asking me how to ask for work lately. Here are seven tactics I tell them to use.

1. Turn the question around

Start by asking your target how they go about building support, positioning their role in their organisation or asking for work. If they’re even close to being a normal, empathetic person (and I’m not saying all clients are), they’ll tell you how they do it and then ask you the same thing. This gives you the chance to say that you get most of your business from word of mouth and how important referrals are to growth. “But I’m not very good asking for work directly,” you’ll add. (Hint, hint.)

2. Share your plans

Sharing your business strategy can be a great way into asking for work, especially if the target is a friend or a contact you know reasonably well. Let them in to where you’d like your business to be a few years from now, what you’re doing to get there this year and how you intend to grow. Then ask for their input. They’ll probably be flattered and want to help out. But just a caveat… For this tactic to work, you actually do have to have a business strategy, not just a random wish list of things you’d like to do.

3. Let them know what you do

W Clement Stone, author of The Success System that Never Fails, puts it this way: “tell everyone what you do and someone will want to help you.”  So be prepared to describe how you help clients. Better still, tell your target what work you really enjoy doing - more the better if they happen to have a tonne of that kind of work. Enthusiasm really is infectious. People are naturally attracted to passionate people.

4. Ask them about their business

Ask your target about their business: what they’re up to, what wins they are most proud of, and what their goals are for the next 12 – 24 months. There will probably be a natural, “We can help with that” space somewhere in the conversation. While you’re at it, ask them how they tend to use external advisers to fulfil their needs. You could well find an ‘in’ there too, if not for yourself then for one of your connections - a great way to reward referral sources.

5. Ask to be part of their portfolio or panel

It’s a big deal to ask someone to turf the incumbent and start using you. You’re asking them to question their choice in service providers. But it’s not really a big deal at all to ask to be part of a panel of providers. After all, there will probably be times when there’s overflow work and they need an extra pair of hands. There may also be some gaps in the incumbent’s areas of expertise where you can step in and fill the void. You just need to position yourself properly. 

6. Ask for guidance

Again, it’s always flattering being asked for advice. And it’s often a less confronting than being asked directly for work. Tell them the kinds of business you want to work for and ask them whether there’s anyone they could introduce you to who fits the bill. Of course, you’ll first need to know what your market and ideal clients look like. This one tends to work especially well if you want work out of a friend but can’t bring yourself to ask for it.

7. Be direct

Finally, there is always the option of just saying: “I’m keen to work with you, how do we make it happen?” Yes, this takes some gumption and may even be a bit risky (no one likes to be pestered) but as Confucius reminded us, great reward involves great risk. You can read my tips for being direct here

While we’re on the subject of being direct, a lot of people will leave a meeting not really knowing whether they’ve achieved what they set out to do. They’ll be left thinking: ‘I’m pretty sure they said they were going to pass me work but it’s been a while and nothing's happened and I don’t really feel comfortable prompting them’. So I always tell people to keep in mind the advice of Mark Maraia, author of Rainmaking Made Simple. He says there are always two questions you should ask when finishing every meeting: “what do you think the next step should be?” and “where do we go from here?” By having your target commit to these two things, you'll always leave with something concrete.

Want more?

I covered these seven tactics and more at the recent Practice Reboot workshop I hosted with Joel Barolsky. The day was such a success that we’ll be teaming up to do it all again early September. Email me for advance details.