with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
I know I’ve written about this before, but I’m going to do it again because it keeps coming up. And it’s possible that I’m just a curmudgeon (likely, even), but it’s also possible that our society has, by and large, just forgotten what it means to behave appropriately and professionally when requesting help. Either way, we’re going to visit this particular goat rodeo one more time.
Here’s the thing about asking someone for their time and/or wisdom: They’re doing you a favor. It is best to approach any request with that pertinent little factoid in mind.
Do you run up to strangers you’ve never met before and ask them to do things for you? I don’t. I would find it presumptuous unless I was experiencing an emergency and the request was for the kind of help that starts with “Please call 911.” The exception to this rule, of course, is that sometimes you run across someone virtually who you think may be able to offer you something no one else can, and then—although you don’t know each other—you may end up reaching out via email or phone to make a specific request or establish a connection… but at least when I do that, I go to great pains to 1) introduce myself, 2) make it clear why I wish to establish a connection, 3) offer a succinct explanation of what I’m seeking, and 4) thank the other person profusely for their time.
To me, this is just common sense. But… not everyone sees it that way.
Here’s an actual email I received this week:
I read your blog, I found it in the Become a Work at Home Mom book written by Georganne Fiumara. I found your blog to full of humor and real life. I would like to start my own blog and would like some tips on getting started.
That’s the entire email, save for the sender’s first name and an “inspirational quote” in her signature (which, I cannot help noting, had the author attribution spelled incorrectly).
Let me count the ways in which this email rubbed me the wrong way:
1) The salutation doesn’t include my name. The email was sent to me at my main email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, so it’s not as though she doesn’t know my name. Is that rude or am I being picky? I find it weird.
2) I had no idea I (or my blog) appear in the book mentioned, but I feel like the explanation of “I found you in a book” is, in the sender’s mind, enough exposition to justify why I should assist her. Especially when…
3) … the somewhat perfunctory “I found your blog to full of humor and real life” [sic] comment is supposed to be… a compliment? I think? I’m supposed to be flattered, I suspect, but years of receiving PR pitch emails that assure me that my blog is the bees’ knees has really made me impervious to generic praise.
4) She’s thinking of starting her own blog, so she’d like some tips. And because she took two minutes to send me this email, I am supposed to be forthcoming with them, apparently.
I sound cranky. I know I do. The thing is, I’m more than happy to help people out. I take time out of my day to mentor beginners and throw ideas around with fellow writers on a regular basis. To me, that’s good karma and part of what I really enjoy about being in this line of work; I learn from others, I help teach others, and we all benefit. I truly enjoy those situations. But a “I like your blog and I want one too so please tell me how to do it” email from a stranger is always going to make me a little rage-filled.
Do you want my—or anyone else’s—help? Here’s what you do: You address the subject of your correspondence by name. You write an error-free email which clearly took you longer than two minutes to compose, and in it you offer genuine praise or abstain from commenting. This shouldn’t be difficult, as you shouldn’t be approaching anyone for advice whose work you don’t already sincerely admire and feel may teach you something. But then you also spell out what, exactly, you are hoping to learn—this shouldn’t be difficult if you already have an action plan. If you don’t have an action plan (and “I want to start a blog” is not an action plan), I’d posit it’s rather rude to contact a stranger for advice. And finally, you thank the person you’re addressing for her time, because otherwise you just sound clueless and somewhat entitled.
I work for a living, and right now more than ever my life is crazy hectic. Will I take time out and help you if you appear to be motivated, on the ball, and appreciative of the assistance? Probably. Will I take time out and help you if your email tells me that you have no idea what you’re doing and only contacted me because you saw my name in a book and assumed I know how to make money and can tell you, too? Probably not.
But I may write a cautionary tale about you, so thanks for that, I guess.
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