In the business world, it pays to ask for favors

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Several weeks ago I was in my hometown of Green Bay for Easter. I was talking with my sister, a recent college graduate who is in her first year of teaching Spanish in the Milwaukee Public School System. There is a very high poverty rate among the families of students who attend her school, and she described some of the daily struggles of both students and administrators.

I was shocked to hear that in April, with more than two months of school remaining, the principal called all the teachers to her office and told them to grab two reams of paper for each of their classrooms because that was all they had left for the rest of the year. I asked her if she or the school had tried to find any community partners that might be able to help with their situation. She hadn’t even thought of it.

I quickly did a Google search and found that there were several paper companies within a 10-mile radius of the school. I clicked on one and found an email address. I sent a short email that described how my sister was a teacher at a local middle school and that they had run out of paper for the year, so it was difficult to continue with their daily curriculum. I told the company the school was looking for local partners to help donate the much-needed paper. Within hours, I received a response that the company would have two cartons (10,000 sheets) of paper waiting at the front desk for my sister the next day. I sent a text to my sister, who was thrilled to go pick up the donation.

The next day I called to check in to make sure the delivery was successful. Not only was the paper ready at the front desk when she arrived, she also had a great conversation with the lady working the desk as they loaded the reams of paper into the car. My sister discovered that the woman had attended high school in the same district as the middle school the paper was going to. She was thrilled to be able to give back to her old school district.

The woman then told my sister that each week the company threw away several boxes of poster board and assorted other paper because of small defects that probably were not even noticeable to the average consumer — she asked if the school would have any use for those.

Now, every other week my sister drives a couple of blocks and picks up a new (free) supply of paper. She is a hero to her fellow teachers for providing
a much-needed supply, and the paper company worker is happy to give to a good cause and help students in her old school district — all because of one simple email from one stranger to another stranger asking for help.



In the business world, people are usually more than willing to lend a helping hand. Just think, if someone called you today with a reasonable request, you would probably do what you could to accommodate his or her needs. When people ask for your help, you feel like you have something valuable to offer and you feel happy when you are able to help another person. What people struggle with is being on the asking end of a favor. They don’t want to offend anyone or make others feel like they’re being exploited. Use your discretion so you aren’t constantly bombarding the same person with requests, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You will discover that the more ways you find to create win-win situations with contacts or business partners, the stronger your relationships will become.

Here are your Fast Track Action Items for June:

■ Ask someone you have never met to help you with something — this can be personal or professional.
■ Ask someone in your network to partner with you on a project or upcoming event.
■ Find an opportunity for a win-win situation and reach out to a person, business, or community group to offer your assistance.
Email me at and ask me for help. I might not be able to accommodate your request, but
maybe I can.

Jenna Weber is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building opportunities to local business leaders.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.