April 9, 2018

How Black Entrepreneurs Are Getting The Help They Need

Culture can be defined as customs, social forms, beliefs, and practices exhibited by a group of people. When it comes to the African American, we had to develop our own unique culture starting from slavery almost 400+ years ago. It was nothing short of miraculous after everything was taken away from us, we recreated our own identity from scratch.

While our culture has many positive features that heavily influences mainstream trends, it also carries negative aspects that may prevent us from moving forward. One such aspect is our reluctance to ask for help. In this article, we will examine those negative aspects that may hold us back in the business world and how to overcome it. Starting with this recent conversation I had with a Black Entrepreneur in Untapped Founders that wanted people to do a simple task of voting for his app, but would not ask for help from his network:

This is not the first Entrepreneur of color that I talked with who feels they cannot ask for help. Another separate example I have is with a black female founder. In her industry, her uncle was well connected and could make the introductions that would help her business move forward. She felt that she would instead not ask her uncle and prove she could make it on her own. In both cases, I highlighted the word feel because the reasons why each Entrepreneur would not ask for help were not rooted in fact.

I have already written about how hard entrepreneurship is and why it is harder for black entrepreneurs. But are we standing in our way? And what reasons exist that could be contributing to this behavior?

Why Is It Hard To Ask For Help

Asking for help can be tough. For a second I want you to imagine the worst possible outcome that could happen if you asked for help with your business. Think about where you might end up….

Torture Scene From The Movie Saw

I doubt that you are going to end up in such a predicament as the person above. The worst outcome that can happen when asking for help is someone says ‘no’, or they ignore you. Personally, when I am rejected, most people ignore me, and I keep it moving. There is no blood involved.

However, I believe that the issue of reluctance to ask for help is larger than just a black people problem. There can be several underlying causes which people of many races may experience such as :

Rejection: Understandably, many of us do not like rejection. It sucks, it hurts, it can be demoralizing. But rejection is part of Entrepreneurship and is very crucial to learning.

Regarding asking for help, there will be people who will reject you and choose not to help. But you may also find critical individuals that will assist you and become part of building out a powerful network that will push you forward.

Pride: There is nothing like doing it all on your own, or as Rick Ross would call it, “Made Men.” If we look at our culture from the perspective of music, we talk more about our haters than we do our supporters, with having to “start from the bottom and now we here.” I’m sure we have all heard the saying “I can do bad by myself.” One could say these mantras are a side-effect of adverse environmental factors ranging from oppression, lack of support systems, to single-parent homes. Thinking about cause and effect, whatever the reason may be, the result is a culture that emphasizes being strong as individuals but not as a collective.

While having a chip on your shoulder can be an asset at times, it is equally valuable knowing when to take it off. Otherwise, we adopt attributes that are not only prideful but create other character flaws such as arrogance, ignorance and other self-defeating hubristic qualities which make asking for help feel like a blow to our ego.

Feeling indebted: There is nothing worse than having to owe someone…. or is that what we tell ourselves because we fear what they might ask in return? There are a few issues approaching the problem from this perspective:

Not everyone wants something in return. I have learned to ask this straightforward question when someone helps me “is there anything I can do for you?”. 4 out five times, the answer is nothing.

Pay it forward. People who are in high positions usually get there because a network of people helped them succeed. If someone has helped you and you are not in the position to give back to them, pay it forward by helping someone else and expect nothing in return. Watch out, it’s contagious.
You should be happy to help someone that has helped you, especially if their efforts helped you to become more successful. We cannot be all take and no give.

Whether it is rejection, pride, feeling indebted or another reason, the feelings why individuals cannot ask for help differs for every one person. But the positive outcome of what can be gained when we ask for help is the same for everyone.

How Do We Correctly Ask For Help?

If we can first establish in our minds that asking for help is not a bad thing, then we should next explore how we can tap into our networks for assistance. Asking for help when a person is not accustomed to the behavior can be stressful and anxiety provoking. But, have we been taught how to ask for help? Did we see it growing up, learn about from mentors or taught about it in school? If you are unsure or uneasy about asking, here are some pointers that can guide you:

1) Make Your Request Sounds Inviting and Inclusive: You are building something exciting that people or businesses want. Asking people to join you is akin to allowing them to contribute to something great. Make your request sound like that. People will respond to your excitement and enthusiasm and want to help.

Example: “Hey John Doe! I started company XYZ and I am so excited about this venture because it will change the way people will do activity ABC. I’ve done all this work with putting together a website, I have a great social media following and a bunch of pre-orders! We are eager to get started but we are just looking for [enter your request] that will give us what we need. Anything that that you can do to help will be so greatly appreciated!”

2) Be Persistent But Do Not Beg Or Sound Desperate: Looking at point 1, do not beg or sound desperate, it will turn people off. You can have $1 left in your bank account, do not make your request sound like you do. Do not confuse begging with persistence. When people seem to ignore you, sometimes it is by accident because they are busy or the timing isn’t right. I occasionally forget to help people if my schedule is full, but a simple email a week later just saying “Hey Devin, following-up, would you have time to connect about problem XYZ?” will remind them to engage.

3) Be Coachable and Receptive: When someone responds to your request for help, be open and receptive to what they have to say. It might not be exactly what you want but consider their offering. If what they have to offer is not of value to you, remember to thank them for their time. No one is obligated to help you, so at the very least acknowledge their time and effort because the relationship might be valuable in the future and you want them to be receptive.

4) Connect With Them On A Personal Level: Emails, social media, forums and other digital mediums are a great way to start the conversation. But you can get greater buy-in if you connect with people on a personal level, and that either means on the phone or meet them in-person, ie coffee. The more a person empathizes with you, the more likely they are to help.

5) Ask Can How You Help Them: Finally ask how you can help them. Even if you find that you cannot help them with anything, just asking may put you in a better light in their eyes to develop a future relationship. Building relationships is important for long-term success.

Google, Uber, Airbnb, Square in One Week

My advice on asking for help sounds good on paper, but there might be some skepticism about whether it works or not. I will use myself as an example to show you what a culture looks like when people actively help each other. To fund Untapped Founders and the upcoming expansion of the organization, the capital was needed. There are many companies that support diversity initiatives, and I wanted to get in touch with them.

The hard route would be researching their websites on who to contact, trying to find them on LinkedIn, researching and guessing what are their organization’s values, finding an email or phone number, and eventually a cold reach out in hopes I got everything right. That is a lot of time and work; luckily there is an easier path.

Being part of /dev/color, a lot of the members work for marquee name companies such as Uber, Google, Airbnb, Lyft, Twitter etc. So I asked those members who worked at these organizations to introduce me to the persons who handled diversity or non-profit partnerships. The result, first I got feedback on my pitches and improvements I could make. Then I received introductions to the right people, all within a week’s time. Instead of trying to climb a mountain, I hopped a fence.

The Goal With Untapped

One of the missions with Untapped Founders is to make my above experience of easily connecting with the top companies something other Entrepreneurs can have and benefit from as well. As we build our nationwide network connecting Black and Latinx founders, the most crucial piece that is required for everyone’s success is….you.

When I say you, I mean every single member contributes to a culture both asking and giving that helps everyone progress. When a person chooses not to ask for help, they may miss a solution to their problem, and they also do not develop relationships with other people. When someone decides to help, that is a relationship being built with someone else.

I end this article with this thought. If you want to see more positivity, be the change you want to see in your world, build the community you want to be a part of and do it without needing permission or giving an apology to those that might disagree with your train of thought.

This article was originally published on Medium

Devin Dixon

Devin Dixon is a technologist and a serial entrepreneur. In 8th grade, he taught himself how to program in C++, started his first business while in college, and majored with a computer science and business degree. Today Devin is the CEO and Founder of Sprout Connections, a lead generation platform centered around professional events. While pioneering his own business, he likes to help many other entrepreneurs with their technical needs and give back to the community that has supported him. Outside of business, Devin is an avid runner. After running D1 Track in College, he loves to compete in Spartan Races and Tough Mudders. He also likes to watch Anime and read Japanese Mangas.

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