Great Freelancers Ask for Help!

Jan 31, 2014

You’re independent. You’re a business owner. You’re smart, self-motivated, and self-made.

But does that mean you have to go it alone?

As a person who prides herself on being independent, I find it very difficult to ask for and receive help. Somehow, I’ve come to believe that asking for help makes me appear needy and weak. So this week, I went on a mission to learn why I don’t ask for help and how to go about asking for help. I’m no expert, but I hope what I’ve found resonates with you, too.

Why we need help

Everyone needs support from others. But freelancers live and die by the power of their networks.

Your network doesn’t just bring you gigs. Your network can help you complete gigs successfully, learn new skills, and bring you through rough spots in your career.

What builds a strong network? Giving and receiving help.

This can mean sharing resources. Or explaining to someone how to use TurboTax. Or trading services. Or getting advice about a business idea. Of course, some “help” requests or gives should involve money changing hands. But watch what happens if you begin helping other freelancers in limited ways without charging them: your network will be so strong that when you come across a question or problem, your network will be begging to help you. Our founder Sara Horowitz calls this growing your “Love Bank.” You’ll be creating a valuable, durable, loyal network.

Giving and receiving help is also naturally fulfilling. Experiencing human connection makes our lives meaningful. Most people get this about their personal lives. But imagine if our work lives were as full of rich, supportive relationships!

Even freelancers need other people to have fulfilling careers. But even I recognize this, what about me so stubbornly repeats and repeats the fake freelance mantra, “I don’t need anybody”?

Why is it so difficult to receive help?

We believe either consciously or semi-consciously that:

I’m a professional. Uncertainty is unprofessional. We’re so used to being knowledgeable for clients, we forget to be human. If a client asks you, “What’s X? I don’t get it,” how comfortable are you saying, “I’m not sure either”? Clients hire us to do things they can’t do themselves. This means we should always appear smart and on our game, or have ALL THE KNOWLEDGEZ...right?

I don’t want to owe anybody anything. Help = handout. If I ask for help and someone helps me, what’s the catch? Does this mean I have to help them later? What will they ask for? It’ll be annoying later.

It’s awkward. Sometimes the person I know could help me isn’t someone I know very well. Would it be awkward or will they think I’m weird/dumb/needy/clingy/a taker if I ask them?

At the core, this is about...

Being vulnerable. Yeah, it scares the $(!# out of me, too!

If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that saying, “OK, I accept myself and be vulnerable and am going to move forward, huzzah!” didn’t work. Instead, I fought myself tooth and nail whenever I felt like running away from embarrassment, rejection, etc. I forced myself to ask a stupid question of my coworker. When somebody asked for my help on something, I said, “I should know how to do that, but I have no idea.”

I hope I don’t sound too much like a self-help class. What I’m really saying is, learning to be good at giving and receiving help is a lot deeper than the mechanics of asking and offering. It requires that we believe fundamentally that we have something valuable to offer, and that we’ll survive if we let other people see our weaknesses or “dumbness.”

For a while, this can mean fighting your shyness and awkwardness and pushing yourself into asking for help!

The resources that helped me

One of the 10 most popular TED talks of all time is from a woman named Brené Brown, about the power of vulnerability. I recommend it. She’s teaching an online course here.

Adam Grant’s Give and Take is more evidence (if you need it) that giving and receiving is the bedrock of a successful career.

On how to build a supportive community of entrepreneurs, includes how business owners should help one another: Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by Brad Feld

Freelancers, do you find it hard to accept help?