Lots of entrepreneurs constantly – and quite understandably – hustle to get their businesses off the ground. They need customers, investors, connections, recommendations, etc., which means all that hustle typically translates into aggressively asking for those things. You know, "Ask and ye shall receive..." and all that.
And occasionally, every now and then, often in moments of weakness or guilt, someone actually says, “Yes.”
But there’s a better approach: The best way to get noticed is not to constantly ask but to constantly give – or, as Tim O’Reilly says,
create more value than you capture.
What I think of as: give and ye shall receive.
Say you’re an early-stage bootstrapped entrepreneur. You need customers. You need investors. So you email key people in your industry. You call colleagues and acquaintances and plead for them to open up their networks and make introductions. You go to conferences and events and try to get some time with the speakers.
How’s that working out for you? If you're like most people, it's probably not working out all that great. But you do it anyways because as an entrepreneur you're supposedto hustle, right?
To forge connections and relationships – the kinds of relationships that reap major, long-term rewards – you need to start by putting value into the system, not by asking, asking, and asking some more with the small hope that every now and then someone will say, "Yes." You can’t make withdrawals before you make meaningful deposits.
Remember, the world doesn’t owe you anything. Never expect people to respond based on your needs. Everyone has needs. Other people may feel your pain but it is in no way their responsibility to help you. Thankfully, there are lots people that will anyways, because the world can be a wonderful place.
So try this: Give when you aren’t asked. Offer a quid without expecting a pro quo. Pay it forward (as opposed to pay it back). Give, give, and give some more. When you’re sincerely generous, the system starts paying you back.
Here are some things you can give:
1. Unexpected compliments.
We all enjoy a gift on our birthday, but surprise gifts? We love those. We also love unexpected praise because, like a gift given "just because," unexpected praise is even more powerful and can make an even bigger impact.
Take a look around. Maybe a coworker has done something awesome. Sure, it’s not your job to praise her… and that’s the perfect reason to do so. (She expects her manager to compliment her, but not you.) Or maybe you just finished a great book; send the author a quick note -- or better yet, leave an Amazon review. Or maybe you love a product or service; take a second and ask to personally thank the person who made or delivered that service.
I promise he or she will be delighted by the interruption – and by the public praise for a job well done.
Every day people around you do great things. Most of those people don't work for or with you; in fact, most of them have no relationship with you, professional or personal. Compliment them for something they would least expect. Just make it genuine and sincere.
Expected feels good. Unexpected makes a huge and lasting impact.
2. Critical feedback on products or services.
Praise is awesome, but sometimes what a person really needs is constructive feedback. (I enjoy when customers compliment HubSpot tools, but I love when they let me know specific ways we can improve those tools.)
Just make sure your feedback is thoughtful and considered. “That was awful!” is descriptive but not particularly helpful. Just pretend you’re giving feedback to a friend: Be clear, be precise, be honest… but also be considerate. And don’t give feedback in hopes of a refund or some other consideration. Give input simply as a way to help others and not yourself.
We all know what we know, but by definition it’s impossible to know what we don’t know. Taking the time and effort to give feedback for the sole purpose of helping another person know what they might not know can be an incredible unexpected gift.
3. Useful referrals.
Many people ask for referrals. (Some ask moments after they first meet you, making you feel like nothing more than a stepping-stone.) Certainly respond to those requests that make sense, but go a step farther and actively think of helpful referrals you can make.
You know a number of people with incredible talents. You know a number of people who don’t have access to the right resources. Simply put them together. They’ll both benefit.
And they’ll likely return the favor for you.
4. Smart introductions.
Just like we can all use more friends, we can all use more connections. Everyone, no matter how high up the entrepreneurial or professional food chain, can use more connections – but not just any old connections (most of us have too many of those); the right connections.
How do you know when an introduction makes sense? You have to know the other person’s needs. Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t need an introduction to a great book agent; but an unknown business thinker with awesome things to say – but no formal publishing outlet to say it – could definitely use that introduction. Jason Calacanis doesn’t need an introduction to a savvy VC; a kid with an awesome idea but limited resources could definitely use that introduction.
Think of it this way: To give a gift that is personal and thoughtful, you first have to know what the other person wants or needs. Introductions work the same way. Determine what the other person needs, and then make a smart introduction. (Tip: Get permission first if you can, and make sure the intro would be welcome).
Many companies hold or sponsor charity and fundraising events. If you believe in the cause, offer to help.
Just make sure you’re sincere; it’s incredibly easy to sniff out a person who wants something more than just the good feelings that result from helping a great cause.
6. The answer to the unasked question.
Some people are hesitant. Some are insecure. Some are shy. Whatever the reason, some people will ask a different question than the one they really want answered.
For example, when someone asks me what I think about venture capitalists -- often what they really want to know is whether their idea is likely to get funded -- and how to go about navigating that process.
Behind many questions is the unasked question. Pay attention. Answer the question that is asked, but think about the question left unsaid, and answer that question, too. Why? That’s the answer the person asking the question doesn’t just want. That’s the answer he or sheneeds.
*****Dharmesh Shah is founder/CTO at HubSpot @dharmesh.
Photo: Sally Anscombe / Getty Images