Throughout your startup’s evolution you’ll find that you do a lot of networking with others that can potentially help you. This includes potential business partners, employees, advisors, angel investors and VC’s. Regardless of who you’re meeting with, it’s not uncommon for them to finish the meeting by offering help. They’ll ask a simple question like “Is there anything I can do to help you?” When this happens, you must have a ready response. In fact, you should have 2-3 things to request without apology.
There are two reasons for this. First, they are probably genuine in their offer and might actually follow through on your request(s). Second, if you don’t ask for something they’ll either assume you’re too shy or aren’t prepared enough to ask for anything. Not good in either case because they know every startup needs help on something and you don’t want to leave them with a negative impression.
Since there’s a decent chance this question is going to come up, prepare ahead of every meeting. What sort of things can you ask for? Here are some examples:
- Introduction – This is an easy one. Who have you been dying to meet but can’t seem to get their attention? “By chance do you know Gordon Daugherty from Shockwave Innovations? It would be great if he would write a blog about what we’re doing. If you know him, would you mind making an introduction?” Or maybe your request is more general, like “Could you introduce us to a couple of other investors that might be interested in an opportunity like ours?”
- Feedback – Perhaps you’d like immediate feedback on the idea you just pitched without success: “Would you mind giving us feedback on what would make our investment opportunity a slam dunk for you or other investors?” Or maybe the person you met with identified some issues or inhibitors: “When we come up with a plan to address the concern you had can we send you an update to get your feedback and make sure we’re taking the right approach?”
- Endorsement – If the meeting went well, ask for a referral: “If I send you a request via AngelList would you be willing to write something to vouch for us?” Or maybe you could ask them to post a short comment about you to one of their social media channels.
- Hiring – Most startups are hiring at least one position. Ask if they know anyone or have suggestions for how to go about finding good candidates.
- Research – Almost all VC’s subscribe to research reports from one or more analyst firms. Maybe they have something of relevance to your business. Ask.
- Competition – Which of your competitors, big or small, would you like more inside scoop on? “By chance have you heard anything about ____ that might be helpful for us to know?” A more subtle approach is “What do you think about _____?”
You get the idea. Be prepared with at least 2-3 request that would be helpful if acted upon. In fact, I’ll go one step further. Even if they don’t offer help following a positive meeting, you should be the one to initiate the dialog: “Before I leave do you mind if I ask for your help on a couple of things?” As long as you’re polite and diplomatic in how you approach it, you’ll come across as bold and driven – both attributes of successful entrepreneurs.