How to get someone to do you a favour in business

I get asked for favours all the time.  I’m a tiny bit well known in my little pond of entrepreneurship, so people come to me as the expert all the time.  Which is fine, if it’s paying clients, but what about all the other people who want a favour?

People who want me to help them with their charity project, tweet about their new thing, be interviewed for their research project etc.

The thing about human beings is, we like to be valued and loved.  Flattered, complimented, respected.   And most of us are crazy busy.  We’re busy with work, with our pet volunteering projects, with watching films or drinking beer on the beach.  Almost no one has any free time any more, because there are so many things we have to do and so many things we’d really like to do.

Add these two together and it’s difficult to get a favour from someone.  It’s particularly difficult to get a favour out of someone you don’t already know.  Why should they do something for you?  They probably think that they will do something for you and that they’ll never hear from you again. And, let’s face it, they’re quite possibly right.

They’d be much better off doing favours for the people who are immediately around them, because they’re more likely to get something back.  It’s the reciprocity principle again.   People don’t necessarily think that they won’t do you a favour because they won’t get anything out of it.  The reciprocity principle is wired deep into our brains so we don’t have to consciously think this, we just act according to this principle.

How to ask for favours

So if you want a favour from someone, particularly someone you don’t know, here’s how to work with, instead of against, the reciprocity principle.  You need to do something for them first, but you have to be subtle about it.

  •  Compliment them. If someone says

“Dear Julia, I know you’re someone with your finger on the pulse of business, so we’d like to interview you for our research study about business information on exporting.” Maybe I’d be up for giving them half an hour of my time.

  • Claim a relationship with someone they know.  If they say:

“Dear Julia, Miranda Birch said that you might be able to help us with getting this tweet out to as many people as possible” then of course I’m going to retweet it, because I think highly of Miranda.  Or maybe it’s that I want Miranda to think highly of me.

  • Tell them why you want the favour.  If I can help out with something meaningful or see how my helping will contribute to something much bigger, then I’m much more likely to do it.  Ill get a buzz out of it, which fulfils the reciprocity principle.
  •  Make it easy for them.  I was prompted to write this post because someone wanted me to go to Oxford for them to do a survey.  I live in Brighton – why would I go to Oxford to do someone a favour, that’s not so easy for me.  Fail. As the young people say.
  • Thank them for the last favour they did you.  One of the things on my to do list at the moment is to buy some nice chocolate for someone who recommended me to a great new client.  I’m his biggest fan this week.  I’ve done an email thank you, but that’s not going far enough.  So maybe he’ll recommend me again, as I reciprocated with the chocolate.  It can’t hurt anyway.

Photo credit – Montezumas chocolate (my favourite brand, in case you need to send me a pressie) by Hotzeplotz, from Flickr on a creative commons licence