Ask for what you want–the right way

Jack Canfield, in his book The Success Principles, says, “Ask! Ask! Ask!” (principle #17). He outlines five ways to ask for what you want.

  1. Ask as if you expect to get it.
  2. Assume you can.
  3. Ask someone who can give it to you.
  4. Be clear and specific.
  5. Ask repeatedly.

Pat Carney, Last Rays watercolor Image ©Pat Carney, Last Rays

Surely you’re familiar with these two famous sayings about asking.

You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

It never hurts to ask.

While I believe the first to be somewhat true, I find that it does hurt to ask some things. For example, here are a couple of questions that come in my inbox. They prove that sometimes it does hurt to ask–if you ask in the wrong manner.

“I just got a new website. Will you please check it out and tell me if I’m on the right track?”

This is from someone who either (1) doesn’t know me or what I do for a living–like evaluate websites for artists; (2) isn’t respectful of my time and commitments to clients; or (3) is kind of clueless as to how the world works.

A better question would have been: “I’ve been reading your book and set up a new website according to your guidelines. I’d love for you to look at the photo I have at http://xxxxx and tell me if this is what you were thinking when you recommended action shots.” Okay, that’s not really a question, but it is a specific request for a single specific thing that doesn’t require I look through the entire site.

“I just linked to your website. Will you please add my link to yours?”
This is another clueless soul. Link exchanges are something we did in the late 90s! You add a link when there is a site that you particularly like and think your readers might also enjoy. You add links to show genuine friendship and affection. You don’t add a link to get something in return. This is almost a form of bribery.

Incidentally, you can add my link to your site AND be rewarded without resorting to bribery. Just sign up to be an affiliate.

I’m sure there are many other examples of asking for something the wrong way. I’d love to hear your insights.

Addendum one hour later and one hour wiser: I used the above examples because it’s my world and what I know. I bear no ill will toward anyone who sends me these questions. But they don’t get my attention. I usually just delete them because I have so many other responsibilities that are clearer. I don’t have time (and most people don’t have time) to go back and forth in email asking for clarification. I guess the bottom line is that email makes us lazy. Be careful what you send. If it’s under the name you use as an artist, your reputation is on the line.

Ask! Just ask wisely and kindly.

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8 comments to Ask for what you want–the right way

  • Hi Alyson,

    Unfortunately, a lot of folks out there think they’re going to promote their business by getting someone important to look at their work (someone like you). They don’t think they’re being clueless – they just don’t know any better.

    The better way to make connections in the artworld is to give and highlight the good work of others. IE my first writing assignment for American Artist – I asked to write about some friends of mine who were fantastic artists. I said if the articled sucked, they wouldn’t have to take it.

    Turned out the editors loved the article. I didn’t ask for any pay, but the project manager put in a good word for me. Then when I came up with an idea for a series of articles (still on the work of other artists), they gave me that opportunity.

    Be generous with your talent. Help others and the favor ‘may’ eventually return to you.

  • “Hey I don’t have any money can I have one of your paintings for free?” This is the WRONG way to ask, I am willing to accommodate an acquaintance by working out payments that are part cash and part barter of a good or service that is beneficial to me (this can almost always be obtained) but “can I have free” is such a turn of to hear.

  • Lori: I didn’t say they thought they were being clueless. You said “they just don’t know any better,” which to me is a nicer (I confess) way of saying “clueless.” You just have to be careful of what you write. Email can be way too easy to send.

    Zach: Good one! “Sure! Can I have your first born?”

  • Hi Alyson, I really like the “You don’t get what you don’t ask for”. I heard you saying it several times this past week-end. I am thinking about that often and trying to act on it when necessary. Some people are rude, and have never learned social skills. And not only in the art world, it happens in life in general. I guess no one has taught them life/social skills. Or it could also be that they are so self centered that they don’t consider the other person/people. This is common behavior with 5-6 year olds…guess those people are like Peter Pan.

  • I’m always amused when I read comments on Blogs along the lines of: “Great Blog, now come and look at my even greater Blog.”
    The web is a wonderfully generous arena, but some people forget that everyone has to make a living and take such generosity for granted.
    No artist would expect a high street gallery owner to provide marketing for free.
    Still, there’s no accounting for folks! That’s me ha’pence worth, now I’ll hop off me soap box and get me back to work.

  • I agree email has made us lazy, and I have been guilty of it. But, after reading Alyson’s book, I now thank everybody for their time, and address them by name. But, I think text messaging has made it worse, using things like c u there, etc. it isn’t professional in an email. But, I do know an artist that is shamelessly self promoting and will put her work in front of anybody of importance. Sometimes it works, but it isn’t me. I like the slow steady approach of the turtle, which has led me to great contacts and great opportunities. and I agree, some people just don’t know any better – I actually saw a sign at a festival “Compliments don’t pay my bills” – I laughed, but I stayed away. Compliments may pay the bills down the road!

  • KL

    I recently had someone email me to ask for mentorship. I spent about an hour writing a thorough letter, referring the writer to a number of resources (including your blog, Alyson) that have all been extremely helpful to me, and noted that I did not have the time to mentor someone. And I did not even receive a thank-you email in response….

  • Alyson, I love your blog!

    I, too, get e-mails on a regular basis from artists asking me to look at their work and their website and “tell me what you think.” It’s frustrating, because I don’t have time to do it, and at the same time I don’t want to cause ill will by not responding.

    What I’ve been doing of late is e-mailing artists back my consulting fee sheet, and my hourly rate, along with a credit card form and ask them if they want to set up a meeting.

    Would you guess, about 99.9% of the time I get no response back?!