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How you make the ask will go a long way in determining if you get what you want or not. It’s one of those things, though, that rarely gets taught in school, even though it’s fundamental to business, particularly in a tough economy.

Most people have to figure out as they go, largely through trial and error. Many leave a trail of burnt bridges behind.

How people make the ask matters to me a lot because I often must make the ask but with even greater frequency, someone makes an ask of me.

In fact, this past week on one day alone, 9 people reached out for free advice, looking for everything from media contacts, ad buy advice to one request for a full donated PR program disguised as “could you please take a quick boo at this.”

Every week, I donate some time to a good cause or person. Even if I were to work full time at nothing but the requests I get to donate free services, I couldn’t possibly accomplish all that I was asked to do on a regular basis. And there are a lot of other folks in the same boat as I am.

If you want your request to get to the top of the heap, here’s what you need to know and do before you make the ask:

1. Make sure in every way possible, you are respectful of the time and talent they give you.

Last year, someone invited me to breakfast to help him prep for a very big meeting. For a couple of hours, I helped him understand what to expect, prepared him for the harder questions, and rehearsed him through points he really needed to make. The bill came, and he sat on his hands waiting for me to pick it up, and then reluctantly kicked in his share. He had also chosen the day, the time and the restaurant. A sports bar. I’m not making this up.

I wish that were an isolated event, but I’ve seen and experienced enough to know that it’s not. I don’t think people mean to be rude but they consistently get a few things wrong:

  • They get locked in their own head about how important their situation or cause is and forget to think about it from the perspective of the person giving of their time.
  • They forget that strategy, planning and execution take time.
  • They forget to value that when you have a skill and can do something more quickly, better or faster than someone who doesn’t have your skill and experience, that doesn’t and shouldn’t diminish your value to them but it should in fact increase it.

People invest in a cause because we believe in it. But for the sake of their sanity, reputations, and even for the profession itself, they will walk away when we are abused.

It’s critical to treat people who give of their time and experience the same way you would treat someone who handed you a big fat wad of cash.

2. Invest in the other person, preferably before you make the ask.

Try being proactively helpful. If you are friends with people on Facebook, repost what is important to them, particulary anything they’re posting for business. Retweet their tweets, perhaps send along an article now and then you think might be of interest, and add them to your Christmas card list.

Build your relationships wherever you can, long before you need to make an ask. If and when you do need their help, it won’t come out of the blue, it will come within the context of a give and take relationship. You will have shown you too know how to be generous, and your relationship isn’t one sided, you doing all the taking.

It’s very jarring to have people you are friends with on social media but who don’t give you the time of day suddenly pop into your email box assuming you’ll drop everything to donate advice and services worth tens of thousands of dollars.

3. Let them know “why them.”

Don’t just ask anyone to help you. Target your asks and let that person know why you’ve chosen them.  Think about what might make it beneficial to them: can you (legitimately) offer that person paid work down the line? By being part of this, can they work with other like minded movers and shakers? Is what you are doing something that will make the world better or contribute to something they care about? Make sure you’ve thought through “why them” or you risk make them feel like you chose them because you’re the only possible source for free labour they know.

Speak knowledgeably about their track record, what they’ve accomplished and why this is a fit for them. Even if it’s a very small contribution of time you are asking for, make sure you let them know your ask is a considered one.

4. If you’ve asked for advice, and they’ve given you something other than what you asked for, there’s probably a reason.

People reach out to me all the time asking me to put them in touch with particular people in the media or asking me to send on materials, pitches and campaigns that aren’t thought through as they need to be. Or they want me to look at the whole of their business or cause and off the top of my head, create a campaign.

When I introduce a person or a cause to a media outlet, I’m essentially endorsing them and the product or idea. It takes time to create a smart campaign and it takes research. It takes understanding the lay of the land really well in order to create something truly newsworthy. The vast majority of people who want me to do them the quick favour of sending something along don’t usually realize how far off the mark their campaigns or materials are.

And often, they demonstrate through their approach and dealings with me that they do not really know how to manage or nurture any kind of relationship I would want to make for them.

If an expert comes back to you with concrete advice (like your press release doesn’t work: here’s what you need to do to fix it), make the changes they’ve given you before coming back and asking them for any more advice. And remember that what you think is a quick ask probably isn’t, particularly if your campaign isn’t in the shape it needs to be to get solid media attention.

5. Take no graciously.

One of the things I hate most in the universe is having to turn down a good cause or person who I know could really use my help but can’t pay. In any given week, however, I get so many requests, I have to say no way more often than I can possibly say yes.

But as Marc Pitman says, a no really means “not right now.”

I watch charities and causes, and I sometimes jump in quietly behind the scenes when I think I can be helfpul. And I’ll keep causes in mind when I hear of opportunities that might be useful. But an awful lot of people cut off their nose to spite their face.

I’ve swapped stories with lots of people who give what they can time wise to as many causes as they can but who have received terrible push back (being hung up on is a common one) when they just have to say no.

I know what it’s like to feel desperation in a cause. Through my volunteer work, I am very close friends with the parents of children who battle aggressive cancers.  I have worked along side them on campaigns where we all desperately tried to raise the funds for the research we hoped would be in time for their children. Too often, their children lose the fight, like Megan McNeil did last year.

As an advocate for a cause, however, your job is to enlist the people you need to your side. Trying to bully someone into a cause never works. You may not get them now, but we remember how people treat us when down the line we see an opportunity to help.

And yes, it may be too late to help with the urgent thing you have now.

But they may well be helpful to you in the future. And someone or an idea may pop into their head that they’ll reach back to you on. I’ve had that happen to me. Someone says they can’t help, and then they’ll meet someone or remember someone who can.

So best advice? Think big picture and always put yourself in the shoes of the person of whom you are making the ask. If you do that, your make the ask success rate will improve.

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Steven Rosen is a business coach and mentor specializing in sales and performance. He coaches executives and emerging executives into achieving much greater results for themselves and their companies, and has coached whole sales teams to greater profitability.

Steve has provided invaluable coaching to me over the years, and swell guy that he is, he jotted down a few thoughts that both he and I hope will be helpful to you too.  

The Focus Factor: Achieving the Success You So Desire

By Steven Rosen, MBA,

There are two concepts that I would like to share with you that I believe can help you achieve greater success in your life. The first concept is focus and how many of us are suffering from a lack of focus. The second concept is about understanding what success really means.

In today’s highly demanding technology driven world, many people are expressing feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, depressed and unable to focus. Like most busy people you get sucked into the daily minutia. The day to day demands of business, emails, meetings and phone calls get the best of us. This constant flow of “stuff” coming at us often interferes with that “good” feeling of achievement. The reality is that this is all busy work. What percentage of emails and voice messages actually impact our goals?

As a result of continuous information overload and multiple demands we lose focus on what is truly important to us. The people who can stay focused are the ones who are going to achieve greater success and lead more fulfilling lives. Therefore the ability to stay focused is the key factor for success in today is rapidly changing and increasingly demanding world.

We are all interested in being successful, yet many of us don’t really know what success means or how to achieve it.

The question then becomes, what is success? If you define success by the amount of money you earn or the type of car you drive, there is always someone who is making more money than you, some who has a bigger house, a more expensive car or the latest high end gadget. Success when measured by material things is very empty. You can never really feel successful if you compare yourself to others.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines success as “The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.”

In my opinion, success is about achieving the goals you have set for yourself. Based on this definition we can all achieve success.

I have created a simple yet effective formula for success. I call this the Focus Factor.

The Focus Factor is made up of 5 simple steps that can help you live the life you desire and allow you to feel the emotions that come with achieving the success you desire.

Step 1: Define the What

What is success for you? Is it:

  • Living a healthy and long life.
  • Doing what you love and looking forward to the daily experience of doing it.
  • Achieving lifelong dreams and ambitions, working towards something you are passionate about.

Do you know what you need to do to be successful? The challenge for many of us is that we know what we need to do but we don’t follow through. Have you taken time to think about your goals for the next year, either career or personal?  How would you describe your personal grand slam? What would make you the MVP in your organization? Please take a couple minutes, close your eyes and consider the successes you would like to achieve in the next year. Visualize how you would feel achieving these successes. Now, commit to the process and write these successes down on a piece of paper. Decide on two or three outcomes you would like to achieve.

Now that you have decided what success looks like for you, go on to step two.

Step 2: Understand the Why

Why are you motivated to achieve your success goals? What are the reasons, the burning desires that make these success goals important to you? You need to tap into why these goals are so vital.  I am not talking about financial successes and what they can buy, but about your psyche. What internal feelings or needs would be fulfilled by achieving your success goals? Is it recognition, sense of pride, praise, rewards for success, a feeling of self-competence and effort, a desire to be effective or to make a difference?

Step 3: Figure out the How

You know your success goals, why they are important to you and what motivates you to achieve them. The next question is the tough one. How are you going to achieve your goals? These are your tactics:  What two or three things must you focus on to achieve this success? What are the most powerful actions that will lead to your success? When it comes to expending energy and effort which activities will provide you with the greatest return towards achieving your goals?

The most important piece of this focus reflection exercise is to write down all your thoughts and communicate them to someone on your team. The act of writing turns your plan into action.

How do you create the impetus to achieve your goals? The time you take to write down your successes, internal motivation and actions will all contribute to your success and you will have a 50% chance of making it happen.

Step 4 Establish a completion date

We all need deadlines. The key here is to establish the date you would like to complete each of the “how’s”. This will help keep you on target. Executing your plan with a sense of urgency and avoiding the many daily distractions is critical. Procrastination is the nemesis of success.

Step 5: Commit! Commit! Commit!

Commit your goals to paper.

Commit your goals to someone who will keep you accountable to achieving them.

Commitment is key.

To increase the likelihood of achieving your success goals you should commit them to a colleague or supervisor.

If you are really motivated, hire me as your coach and I will hold you accountable to the process of staying focused on achieving success.


Success is a function of achieving goals we set for ourselves. Deciding and achieving the outcomes we truly desire is the definition of success.

Wishing you all the success you deserve and desire.

Steven Rosen, MBA is a sales management expert who helps companies transforms sales managers into great sales coaches. Steven’s works with sales executives to; hire top performing sales reps and managers, develop their team into top sales managers and achieve greater personal and professional success.

He is the CEO of STAR Results, author of many articles in the areas of sales management coaching and sales management training. He is a member of Top Sales Experts. Steven’s mission is to inspire sales leaders, managers and sales people to achieve their full potential. He can be reached at or 905-737-4548.

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