Let’s use the word “sale” to mean “a request that you do something that benefits me as well as you.” For example, if I were in the religion business (which I am not, directly), my ask might be that you come to my church or that you practice religion in the way my faith practiced. If I’m a nonprofit, my “sale” might be to get your donation or your support or your extension of my information to your networks. “Sale” can be very flexible, so use it the way you want to use it.
In my case, I’m talking about the sales that have dollar signs.
Oh, and I also don’t mean “sale” as in “a discount.”
If You Don’t Ask
A few years ago, I was getting taken out to a lot of “free lunches” so that others could “pick my brain.” One day, it dawned on me: this lunch isn’t free. It’s costing me time. My information isn’t free. It’s taken me years to get it, and the people using this information are making material gain from the advice I give.
I started asking about how consultants dealt with the request for free lunch. Everyone said pretty much the same thing, “I reply back, ‘I’d love to go to lunch. Are you hiring me to consult with you for an hour?'”
Well wait, I’d say. Doesn’t that come off as scammy?
“Who’s scamming who?” My friends would ask me. You’re being asked to give away your advice and wisdom to a company or sole proprietor who’ll then use it to make money, right?
Lunch suddenly stopped being free to any but my friends.
Not a Call For You To Be Mercenary
There are thousands of reasons to offer things for free. I wrote a free ebook called Using the Social Web to Find Work, because so many people are out of work, and I thought I could help. I work with charities every month, because I think giving to causes in both time and advice is a responsibility, not just a nice thing.
Sometimes, you say yes because it’s someone who you just want to help move forward a little. I cherish a dinner I had with Dharmesh Shah, wherein which he gave me much more than I could’ve given him (some time soon for a repeat, D?). So, don’t think I’m advising you to do nothing without making a dime off it.
The road to ruin is littered heavily with people who weren’t giving plenty.
But Make the Ask
People get squeamish when asking for money, or when promoting something of value to their community. If you feel it’s a genuine value to the community, why feel squeamish? You’re providing many services for free. To ask for compensation for certain parts of the value you give away is natural and expected.
Two days ago, I published 50 Power Twitter Tips, a list of 50 pieces of advice for how to get more out of Twitter. In that posts were links to the Thesis WordPress theme (affiliate link). Why? Because I put a lot of work into that post, and it was a way to make a simple ask back: “If you’re in the market for a quality, premium theme, consider buying one from me.”
I’m working on a business blogging ebook, something to help people achieve escape velocity. I will charge for the book, because I believe people will be able to get a great deal of monetary value out of the book. Why charge? Because the effort that went into it is worth it for recovering some money for my time. And the money I make from this ebook will actually roll into building some online community platforms that I intend to launch to help educate people even further in achieving escape velocity, so one will seed the other.
Always Be Clear In Your Ask
If you’re pushing something for sale, be clear that you’re looking to sell something. I’ve recently promoted the Question the Rules project (affiliate link), as well as the Tourism Currents project. In both cases, I state that I’m an affiliate for the project (meaning I stand to gain something if you buy), but I also state what I like about the projects and what I think the benefit would be to my community.
On the other side, sometimes people ask for something, but their ask is so muddled, I can’t understand what they want. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve sent back to people after a request that say roughly this, “I have no idea what you want me to do next.”
Think about it: they’ve attracted my attention. I’ve opened the email. I’ve skimmed through their 1000 word missive. I get to the end (or abandon it midway), and find that I have no idea what they want. Pay very close attention to my points I just made in this paragraph: I’m busy, I have limited attention, I skim, you put your ask at the bottom.
5 Ways to Get Your Ask Across
- Make your ask clear in the subject line or at least the first paragraph. (Go back and read the 1st paragraph of this post.)
- Make your ask simple to execute. “ConsumerQueen’s house was lost to a flood. Can you donate?” Simple.
- Make your ask solid, not wishy-washy. “Um, if it’s not too much trouble” or related self-deprecating language gets you nowhere.
- Make your ask brief. You’re not looking for marriage, here. Ask for something simple, something in and out.
- Make your ask worth it for your community.
The last one, obviously, is everything.
To me, the big way that things go wrong is when we look at our community as only a marketplace to sell into. That’s where things go horribly wrong. Remember, your community is made up of many people who aren’t your buyer.
Heck, my community is mostly made up of people who offer similar services to me. You’d call them competitors. I call them friends.
So, treat your community like your most prized possession, or you’ll find yourself without one.
And never be afraid to make the ask.
Photo credit cosmic kitty