How to Help

Why unsolicited assistance rules

I know this much is true. You will never survive as a consultant without a bit of unsolicited help. By that, I mean, this is not just a multidimensional transactional marketplace where all your credits and debits equal out. You need people to be thinking of you and looking to help you without anything in return.

A former colleague of mine took the plunge and realized his body of evidence (resume, LinkedIn profile, bio) needed a fresh eye and some serious pruning. He reached out, and I confirmed I could help. He then asked for budget.

To be honest, if the time, data and place was different, I may have charged him. He’s had decades of a lucrative career and surely could afford the price I would quote (which would not be much).

But I didn’t. No charge, I said. I got to work and returned fresh copies to him within 48 hours. He insisted on paying, but I said - no need. Just keep me in mind if anyone is looking for someone with my skillsets.

If this story ended there, I’d still be a happy man. I helped out someone and I was able to do it quickly, so I could return to my paying work. But it didn’t end there.

Lo and behold, that person did encounter someone looking for someone with my unique set of skills. And he did make a persuasive argument that that person should talk to me. And now I have a Fortune 50 account I had been trying to crack through other means.

Yes, this is a story of reciprocated help. But it wasn’t preordained. I said yes to the work and no to the money because it felt right. I did not expect anything in return. In the back of my head, sure, I may have anticipated it. But I am also quite sure this former colleague would have made that introduction even if I didn’t help him with his needs and/or if I didn’t ask. Because once you spend enough time in this world, you know the power of help.

Hopefully this inspires you to provide some help as well. Where to start?

  • Reach out to someone who is struggling with finding a job or work since being laid off. Note, do not “copy pasta” something you see from someone else about “if I can be of help, reach out.” You reach out to them and offer your help.

  • Be attentive all of the time. If you hear someone talking about how much they need a graphic designer, don’t think, “I don’t do graphic design.” Think: I am sure I know five people who do graphic design.” This one does double; you’re helping two people.

  • Offer to buy lunch. If you know someone is struggling especially hard and you want to get them out of the house - and frankly - having a nice meal, offer to buy them lunch.

  • Provide your expertise. I, for example, can help with bios and resumes without extending much effort. Maybe you are a designer and can help with a logo. Tweak their website. Give them five ways they can save money while they look for their first client or next big thing. Share what you know.

  • Pay for what you can. If someone truly has expertise that can help you and you have the means, offer to pay to pick their brain. I know this may seem like it contravenes my previous perspective, but remember, I decided not to charge. Money was on the table.

  • Give a recommendation. If you worked with someone, you can provide a nice comment they can use on LinkedIn or their websites. Work directly with the person to identify the key points they are reinforcing so your words carry more weight. Don’t lie, but don’t be afraid to be more effusive than with which you’re comfortable.

Ultimately, providing help is intoxicating. It is spirit-renewing. And, depending on your philosophy, it can bank karma and lead to something you later call kismet. Or it just feels nice. Ask the recipient to pay it forward someday. Who knows, maybe they will to you. But that’s not why you did it, right?