Today Lisa sent in this question which I thought might make an interesting post topic:
“I would love if you’d do a post on how you handle emails from people who ask for one on one help.
As my site and blog grows, I continue to get more and more emails for one on one assistance. I often feel guilty about saying “no” but I have to setup boundaries in order to remain sane.
Thanks for the question Lisa – it’s a good one and one that many bloggers grapple with as their blogs grow.
It is actually a good sign that people are approaching you for assistance in this way as it shows that people see you as an authority in your niche and someone that they want trust to help them apply the principles that you talk about on your blog. That is worth celebrating!
OK, so it’s a positive sign, but the problem still remains. How do you respond to these types of approaches? As I see it there are a number of responses – all of them are valid (although I’d avoid #2) and some will appeal to different people depending upon the life stage of their blog and time commitments.
Here’s a few options for you:
1. Respond to each request for help
At one end of the spectrum is the option of freely helping each person that asks for help. This one is doable for those with either a small blog with few requests or someone with a lot of time on their hands but isn’t really sustainable once those circumstances change – unless you’re willing to lose that sanity that you talk about in your question.
I should say before I give you any other options that this would be my personal preference in an ideal world – but like you say there’s a need to have boundaries.
2. Ignore all such requests for help
At the opposite end of the spectrum we have a fairly harsh approach – while this might help your workload it’s probably not going to help your reputation that much.
3. Work on Reader Expectations
One technique that has helped me a little is to add information to my contact form to help filter some of the approaches that I get. I include on that form that I read all emails but can’t respond to everyone. I also note on my contact form that I’m not available for consulting and link to my FAQ page.
All of this is to help readers to get their expectations aligned with what I can offer. People are still able to contact me but I don’t promise to respond with help for everyone. In having this information on my contact form I found the emails I get asking for help dropped.
4. Develop a Draft Response
Of course no matter what you say on your contact form I still get a lot of emails asking for help. This is something that I enjoy and while I can’t respond to everyone I’ve developed an email response to those asking for help that is an attempt at helping readers find the information that they need as well as decreasing my own workload.
The email is fairly simple and explains that I am not able to help everyone and that I’m not taking on new consulting work. It then goes on to suggest a number of strategies for readers to help themselves. It points readers to my Blogging for Beginners page, my book and some other key pages on my blog. It also says that while I don’t do consulting at the moment that I would be happy to recommend others that do so on a paid basis.
While I’d prefer to be able to help everyone that asks for assistance it’s just not possible and I find that this draft email response has helped a lot. For many readers I try to personalize it a little more. If they ask a question about something I’ve written about I often add a link to the email or make a very quick suggestions. The draft therefor acts as a head start to a response.
5. Public Answers
Another technique that I use is to reply to those asking the questions asking if they’d mind if I answer the question publicly as a post (either giving them credit for the question or not – some like anonymity). You’d be familiar with this technique Lisa as this is what I’m currently doing.
These types of responses kill a few birds with one stone. Firstly the reader gets an answer, secondly other readers who didn’t verbalize the question but have the need get the answer too and thirdly, you get a new post for your blog!
6. Community Discussion
Another tactic is to take the question asked and pose it to your wider readership for them to answer. ProBlogger readers will be familiar with this technique (I did it a few times over the weekend just gone by). The beauty of this approach is that your reader gets an answer (or many of them) and it generates good discussion for your blog. You do need to choose the right questions for this type of thing though.
7. Convert to Paid Consulting
Lastly, you could also respond to such requests with an email that attempts to convert the questioner into a paying client for some consulting work. This won’t work with every type of question – but if what the person is asking is for you to actually help them do something or work through an issue that you can’t do in a quick response it might be reasonable to offer your services in a paid capacity. This might be something you only do in the minority of circumstances but you’ll find that in some people will have a need that they are willing to pay for an answer in.
I’m interested to hear what techniques others use to help them deal with requests for help from readers – particularly when the requests begin to get more numerous than you can actually handle?