5 ways to support an entrepreneur, and learning how to ask for help when you're SuperJen
Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Recently I’ve seen the same status pop up all over LinkedIn along the lines – if you’ve ever met me and if you’ve lost your job during COVID and I can help in any way, please let me know.
If you’re one of the people that’s posted it and taken the time out of your day to help with a referral or a recommendation, or if you’ve raised the spirits of a friend who’s had enough of the grind of setting up alerts on job boards and playing “guess what keywords the recruiter bot is looking for” then you are the hero we need in these times.
What is so thoughtful about these offers to help is that it takes the onus off the person in a tough spot, because the offer is made willingly. It’s a particularly unhelpful trait of human beings that we aren’t all that great at asking for help.
I’ve just reread that last sentence and called myself out on it, because I’m a coach and that’s what we do. And if you can’t turn your training on yourself then you should hang up your coaching trousers. So, let’s try again: it’s a particularly unhelpful trait of myself that I’m not all that great at asking for help. But, as my inner coach reminds me, it’s something that I have chosen to work at getting better at, which is progress, and life is about progress and not perfection. Unmasking myself as a help-phobe is a good public way of keeping it front of mind. Accountability is also a big a thing in coaching…
My personal thesis is that what is at the root of our strengths is usually the root of our Achilles’ heel. I am fiercely independent and it’s something I’m proud of. But the thing about independence is that it can tip too far: from I can do this myself to, I can only do this myself.
As far as the independence genes are concerned, my disposition was decided way before I was born. My grandmother brought my mum up pretty much single handed while my granddad was away at sea (not a euphemism). She ran her own salon, although god help anyone whose hair she cut, but that’s a different story. My great-aunt owned her own house, and ran a night club. These stories were totally normal to me growing up, it’s only fairly recently that I’ve realized what anomalies they were in mid-20th century Britain, where women just didn’t do those things by themselves. Except, well, they did.
My mum and dad have been married for approximately 758 years, but they have always had their own lives; my mum’s #1 advice given at all family weddings is, never take a man shopping, they’re not interested. That only scratches the surface of what my mother has shown me you can do when you see yourself as a whole person, not an "other half." Her best friend, my kind-of-aunt-but-better brought up her two daughters on her own after she was widowed in her 20s. She would be mortified if I said she has my undying respect and admiration for everything she has achieved against impossible odds, but it’s my blog so I’m going to anyway (sorry, Margy). My point is that every message I was subliminally sent growing up was, you don’t have to rely on anyone else if you don't want to.
I was bullied for many years at primary school, not an experience I’m going to dwell on now, because it’s also a story in itself. I’ve spent a lifetime healing from it, it's in the past and I've learned how to leave it there. That time was not fun, but I believe it made me who I am. If I didn’t know what it is to be on the outside, I don’t believe I would be so intent on making other people feel like they belong, as I wrote about last week, or making other people’s lives better with the job I do now. Being bullied taught me that there are people who you can rely on and people who will turn on you, and to draw on my internal reserves to survive.
I went to an all-girls high school, which was not something I’d want to go through again, being a teenage girl is punishment enough without being surrounded by them, but I am forever grateful it gave me an environment to learn in where it was never in any question that women could be whatever they wanted to be, however they wanted to do it.
I went to university during the mid-90s, the heyday of the godawful, but shamefully fun, ladette era, when women were supposed to behave more like men, or as badly as men, depending on which way you look at it. The Spice Girls were hugging Nelson Mandela and talking about “Girl Power” and although it was never exactly clear what “Girl Power” was, there was something in the air about being an independent woman that just added fuel to the fire of what I’d always believed.
I have travelled around the world on my own. I have moved to four different countries on my own. I have bought my own flat, and I have lived solo for the past 15 years. And before anyone tilts their head and looks pityingly at me, thanks for the concern but please tilt your head elsewhere, because I love my life. The beauty is that I can do pretty much whatever I want whenever I want to do it, and as my theme tune was written by Lynyrd Skynyrd, that suits me just fine. If you want 2.4 kids, a Volvo and a white picket fence then I entirely and 100% support your choices and truly hope you have a wonderful, happy life. But I love waking up in the morning and deciding I’m going to fly to DC to see the cherry blossoms that afternoon, or buying a house in the mountains on the spot without consulting anyone (that’s another different story I will tell you sometime.) You do you, I'll do me, that's the beauty of being human, those things don't have to look even vaguely the same, and isn't it that wonderful?
Remember the strength and the Achilles’ heel? Here’s the downside with my pride in my independence. For a long time I saw asking anyone for help as a sign of weakness, a chink in my armor, a chip on my ceramic exterior. If another person asked me for help, I would gladly give it straight away, I would never judge the person, because what’s to judge? If another person told me that they didn’t want to ask for help, I would tell them that there is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s not a sign of weakness, just humanity, why not just do it? But I find it hard to apply those rules to myself.
What they teach you at coaching school is that a belief becomes a problem when it holds you back from being who you want to be. There are times when leaning on someone is exactly what I need, because, surprise! I’m human not a superhero, and it is then that I have had to learn to fight against my instincts and, well, just ask. It’s easier said than done. Vulnerability may be strength and all that, but there are ways to show it that feel much harder than others. I remember a former boss telling me that I was like Atlas, carrying the world on my shoulders. But Atlas was cursed to do it, and I was choosing to, did I realize it was a choice I didn’t have to make? Huh. As you may have picked up by now, I have worked with some very smart people.
Starting your own business is a time when you have to get very comfortable indeed asking for help, especially when you’re a foreigner dealing with the US legal system with no idea where to start with LLCs and tax deductions and licenses and web domains and…. You get the idea. So recently I have been asking for a lot of help. And some people have bent over backwards to help, and some have given encouraging words, and some have ignored me entirely. You know what? I can work with all those responses, because not one of them has led to the earth to open up and swallow me, so maybe asking for help isn’t so bad after all.
So, I took a rather long detour before I got here, but I thought I would help out all those people who want to offer their help to us self-employed folks during this insane time we live in. All of these suggestions come with the added bonus of extremely low personal effort in return for some pretty spectacular rewards for your self-employed friends, so really how can you say no? If you need any more encouragement to do any of these for your own personal favorite entrepreneur, why not try reframing it (there I go, coaching again) as a future investment in yourself, because favors almost always beget favors: anyone who has been helped in their tough times remembers how it made them feel it in their good times and will look for any way to pay it back.
5 ways you can help an entrepreneur (whether they ask for help or not)
1. Share their content
Let’s face it, anyone these days trying to make a go of things has to become a digital marketer in some way. The “thumbs up” like or the “little heart” love on a post are both great ways to show your support and sometimes geting a post seen on your activity feed for your network to see. You know what’s even better? Sharing the post to your own profile so that all your followers can benefit from it! I’m not going to make up statistics about the amplification of reach, but it is a scientific fact that if six people share a post it will be seen by Kevin Bacon.
2. Be their #1 fan with your network
Especially in my line of work it’s all about referrals, because, honestly, if you’re going to pay a stranger to help you change your life, really don’t you want some confidence that they’re going to help you change it the way you want them to? People are 87%* more likely to believe a peer review than an advertisement, and over half my client leads have been recommendations. So, if you know someone is looking for an [insert profession here] and you know one, please remember to point out at every opportunity how incredible they are and why.
*note: a made up statistic
3. Be their very public publicist
If #2 isn't far-reaching enough for you, try this. One of the most generous things a contact did for me on my first day in business was to write a LinkedIn post about me, tagging my profile and with the link to my site. I owe a huge amount of traffic and countless connections to it. It probably took 5 minutes of her day, but it has made a huge difference to my business, and now I am forever in her debt, in only the best possible way.
4. Share your own insight
Being the captain of your own ship is nothing short of brilliant. But it also means that you get rather involved with your own ideas and can miss the fresh perspectives that you get from working in a team or a bigger business. If you see a trend emerging, especially in a common industry, then your favorite entrepreneur is going to be all ears.
5. Just ask
Yes, I know, the irony of me telling you to ask. Look, it’s the COVID era. We’re all living on Zoom, and home schooling, and learning Polish in the evening, and replacing the worn out dish washer, and shopping for masks that express our personality, and a thousand other things on a list that a person from 2019 would look at and say – WTF are you guys doing? So as we’re all trying to survive and juggle this so-called new normal, both your self-employed friend and I more than understand that thinking of ways to make our lives easier probably doesn’t make the top 10 priorities on your list. But on the off-chance you have a moment of generosity, just ask. Ask them what you can do to help, ask how things are going, ask if they’ve got any business cards (although maybe we’ll have to wait for the ones soaked in anti-bac or impregnated for the vaccine for those to be things again.) Blanket statement for all people, not only entrepreneurs: sometimes it’s just nice to have someone show interest. And they will be just as aware of all of the struggles of the COVID era as I started this point with, and probably just as reticent to ask for favors, and so even more grateful that you asked instead of them having to ask you.
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