What can you do to “help” my business? Buy something. Vague promises aren’t going to cut it.

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If there’s one thing that drives me nuts in my business life is when some aspiring entrepreneur corners me and says:  “Gene, how can I help you in your business?”

Wow, how sincere! This guy really wants to help little ‘ol me and my business? That’s so sweet! He must really care!

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Oh, please. Anyone who’s been in business long enough has heard this silly line. The most typical place I hear it is at a networking event or on LinkedIn. People want to “get to know me” and “have coffee” or “chat for a few minutes.” They want to “better understand my business” and determine “mutual interests” so that they can “help.” It’s annoying.

Why? Because I never, ever hear this from typical business owners, especially those who are successful. Nine out of 10 times it’s from someone who’s either unemployed, starting up or struggling in their own business. Successful and long-time business people could care less about “helping” me and my business. They’ve got their own problems. The fact is that when someone says “Gene, how can I help you in your business” it almost always means “Gene, how can you help ME in MY business.” 

If you’re the person making this dopey, empty offer then my advice is to stop. This is not a genuine statement and it only makes experienced business people like me wary. The best way you can “help” me, my…uh…”friend”…is to open up your checkbook and buy my products or services. Oh, that’s not the kind of “help” you can provide? Bye-bye.

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But wait. Maybe you want to specifically sell me something. OK, I’m listening and I’m expecting that the “help” (i.e. your product or service) will cut my costs. Or increase my sales. Or boost productivity. Yes? Then you don’t have to offer to help. Just do it.

You sell industrial parts that makes a piece of farm equipment run longer. You own a trucking company that ships products quicker than others. You provide raw textiles for clothing manufacturers at an affordable cost. You sell cleaning services that will make my office a better place to work. You are a great accountant who can cut my tax bill. You’re a safety expert who can help me avoid problems with OSHA. You’ve got something I really want that will help me make more money in my business. Now, that’s helping!

But if you’re not going to do any of those things then you’re really not “helping” me. You’re just wasting my time and fishing for your own opportunities. Vague promises to introduce me to potential prospects or future opportunities aren’t going to cut it. Showing an interest in my business or my problems doesn’t interest me either — unless you’re going to specifically solve them with the products or services you provide.

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Maybe you’re sincere. Maybe you truly want to “help” me and my business. It’s very nice of you to offer. But if you have to ask how you can “help” me then you’re missing the point. You should already know that just by what you do. When someone says “Gene, how can I help you?” my answer is always “buy my products.” Anything other than that and my interest rapidly declines.

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