Why I’m not going to help you grow your business

spare referralsThis past week I got three requests for help. Asking for help is never impolite if it’s for the right reason. I’m quick to help people when I can. But when the request comes from someone who either I’ve never met or who I’ve met once, and they want my help growing their business for free, it’s impolite.

Let me explain. The requests all came from people I had never met or had met only once. One person wanted me to forward an email to my contacts about a workshop he was hosting, another wanted me to let my contacts know about her business and the third was from someone who contacted me about coaching, declined that and then a couple days later asked for help with one of the coaching areas we talked about for free.

Shock subsided, requests ignored, here are guidelines for asking for a referral, introduction, business help, etc.

Don’t ask strangers for referrals

As entrepreneurs we are all trying to grow our businesses. We would all love having people out there referring clients or workshop attendees to us. But here’s the thing, I’m only going to refer business to people I know, like and trust. I am not going to ask my contacts to consider your services or product if I don’t know if you can deliver or how you are to work with as a business owner. What if I refer my dear contacts to you and you end up doing a terrible job for them? I then lose credibility with my contacts.

In case it’s not clear what getting to know someone means, it means we have met at least a few times. I’m very clear on what you offer. And, I have seen you in action or I have met people who have happily worked with you. In other words, I have had a chance to build a relationship with you and I like and respect you.

Give before asking

People are much more likely to help you when you help them first. I have a colleague I respect who has referred two great clients to me and you can bet I’m actively looking for potential clients I can send her way.

Find a way to be helpful, not just so you can ask for a favor one minute after you’ve offered your help. Do it for good karma; to be someone others think of fondly. You’re much more memorable, in a positive way, when you give a hand up rather than having your hand out.

When you do ask for a favor it should be several months after you helped that person.

Don’t ask for free advice

People make their living by dispensing their wisdom, experience and education, whether a small business owner, doctor, lawyer, accountant, you name it. If we gave it away for free, well, our businesses would be no more. Now that’s not to say I don’t offer free etiquette and marketing advice occasionally, but when what you want would take hours over minutes you need to pay for it.

If in doubt, don’t

If you have to start the email by saying “This may be inappropriate…” it is!! Don’t send it. Two of the people who emailed me began their emails by writing something along those lines and then launched into the request. If you have to qualify the request because you’re not sure of how it’s going to be received or have even a teensy sense it may be presumptuous, rude, out of line, etc. that should be your clue to step away from the send button.

We all want to succeed, but be sure you succeed by giving more than asking.


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. BethBuelow on April 15, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Arden, thank you so much for this post!! I have experienced variations of each of these things, esp. the free advice piece. And it’s challenging: I want to be helpful, but my business is built on exactly those types of conversations. I’ve also had people who I’ve never worked with ask me for a LinkedIn recommendation. It just boggles my mind why someone would think that was okay! 

    Your point about knowing, liking, and trusting someone is exactly how I base my willingness to both ask for and give referrals. On some level, even though I have nothing to do with the outcome, I feel responsible for the experience a person has with someone I’ve referred. It makes it all the more important that the referral is based on a relationship, not on two ships passing in the night.

  2. ArdenClise on April 17, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you for your comment Beth. I agree, hard to believe a person would ask someone they’ve never worked with to recommend them on LinkedIn. All of this is a bit like going on a first date with someone and asking your date if you can meet his/her parents. What? Are you crazy, I just met you!

    Knowing and liking someone is so important to making effective and comfortable referrals and parent introductions.

  3. Deynne on April 25, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Imagine doing something big and grand for somebody who just exerted their effort to meet you plainly because they wanted something from you. It’s offensive! You worked hard for your knowledge in the business industry for YEARS, and then you will be taken advantage by people who love freebies? Have difficulty dealing with these types of people, to be honest. Hopefully in the future, though, I can handle it completely.

  4. Arden on April 28, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    It is offensive Deyenne. I feel your pain.

    Thanks for visiting.

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