Recently, after speaking at an event, a woman came up to me and said: “I loved your presentation. Can I ask you a question?”

Me: “That’s awesome! Sure, how can I help?”

Note: she goes on for about 10-15 minutes explaining all of her challenges with getting her business started, the products she wants to sell, and the different markets she’s considering going after. And, she never asks a question.

Here’s the thing.

We all are seeking an opportunity to share our challenges and frustrations with others about growing a business, but what will make the difference is not simply dumping them on someone else — rather, it’s about getting the help you need.

I’ve been there before. Almost 10 years ago I was in the same situation. Dealing with the highs and lows of running a business. At the time, I was in a high-level mastermind and surrounded by a great group of colleagues for support and help.

However, there’s one thing that made the biggest difference in my growth — the ability to ask good questions.

If you don’t have the luxury of participating in a mastermind or a supportive community of other entrepreneurs, and you’re looking to get “free” advice from someone, there are a few tips that will not only help you right now, but will prevent you from hurting your brand perception.

  1. First, ask permission from the person you’re seeking advice from to confirm they’re open to giving you advice — or if they’re open to responding to your question. You’ll be surprised that most people don’t do this.
  2. Second, start your question with “My question is…”. Then fill in the rest. Here’s a pro tip: usually an expert doesn’t need all the background context to answer your question, particularly when you only have a limited amount of time. Most people start off with a long narrative of their story.
  3. Third, ask powerfully. Don’t start with “I don’t know how to…” or “I’m sure of…” (the entire reason you’re asking a question is because you’re looking for help). Be confident in your question. Instead, try starting your inquiry with “I am looking to get more clarity around…”
  4. Fourth, be specific. For example, a poor question would be “How do I build my brand?” (this is a common question I get when someone comes up to me at an event). I get it. Some people don’t know what they don’t know. But, the problem with that line of questioning is that it’s way too broad. There are MANY ways to build a brand. But, there are a handful of ways to help build YOUR brand.
  5. Fifth, and lastly, be respectful of people’s time. Unless you’re hiring someone for a paid consultation, in which you can ask them a series of questions, be mindful that you’re asking for someone’s time and insights. He or she may be willing to offer more of his or her time. If that’s the case, go for it. But, be mindful if you’re hijacking someone’s time — particularly if you’re at an event, the person may have a long line of other people wanting to ask their questions. Or, simply, the person may need to use the restroom or attend a meeting or call. Either way, something to be mindful of when you’re looking to get help.

Please comment if you have some other tips for asking questions.