Just because many of us are now working remotely doesn’t mean staying connected becomes any less valuable. In fact, we all might need a little bit more human connection these days.
When you’re alone with yourself (as most of us have been recently), it’s easy to see the value of community and why building a professional network is important. No one can think of everything, and a strong professional network can bring new ideas to the table — along with different perspectives, personal and professional advice, and emotional support.
Once entrepreneurs recognize the value of professional networks and learn how to start networking, the next hurdle is often how to ask for a favor professionally. We all know the feeling: a lump grows in your throat, your tongue suddenly ties, and you can just feel the flop sweats coming on.
Before you tuck your tail and abandon the request altogether, remember that overcoming that fear is essential to benefiting from your professional connections. It’s important to build mutually beneficial relationships with your network to help one another fuel your successes.
Finding the right words to ask for a favor isn’t always easy. Even as an experienced entrepreneur, I still get nervous from time to time and feel my confidence shaken. But through the years, I’ve found that asking for favors professionally really boils down to four simple rules.
1. Be direct.
Remember, a lot of people do like to be helpful and appreciate the opportunity to assist others. Instead of assuming your connection won’t want to help you and floundering nervously on small talk to start the conversation, be direct. Just say this: “I was hoping you could help me out.”
Framing it directly and positively from the get-go will lower the risk of seeming like you’re just trying to get something out of your connection. What’s more, getting to the point quickly is much more efficient, and your connection will value your respect for their time.
2. Be complimentary.
Think about why you are going to this person specifically for a favor. Do you like their ideas? Do they tend to have a unique perspective? Whatever the answer, let your connection know why you’re coming to them.
Offering a compliment isn’t just considerate. It’s good etiquette when asking for a favor professionally. Sharing the reasons why this person is essential to whatever it is you’re asking makes it about more than just what they can do for you.
3. Ask ahead of time.
If you’re asking someone to go out of their way to help you, the last thing you want to do is rush them. Waiting until the very last minute is likely to make you appear unprepared and disorganized.
Instead, ask for what you need as soon as you know you need it. Having months to deliver a favor is a lot less stressful than having mere days or hours, and you want to make your request as easy as possible to fulfill.
4. Show your gratitude.
You don’t want to develop a reputation as someone who takes but never gives. Asking for a favor should never feel like you’re trying to pick someone’s pocket. You should always be prepared to reciprocate.
Even if your connection doesn’t ask for a favor directly in return, be on the lookout for ways you can help out. Can you cover them in a meeting when they have a conflict? Can you take anything off their plate when they’re having a busy day? Even simple actions such as bringing them coffee or treating them to lunch can show your gratitude and willingness to help out in the future.
The most successful professional relationships are win-win, and that means both parties benefit from each other. That’s why an essential step in networking is learning how to ask for a favor professionally. Especially for entrepreneurs just starting out, asking your connections for help can pave your path to success. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors from your professional networks — just be sure to demonstrate respect and gratitude when you do.
This article was written by Greg DeLine and originally appeared on Score.