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How to Respond to Individual Requests for Help From Blog Readers

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?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. lex g says:

    I regularly get emails from businesses who turn into clients for consultancy later on.

    First thing I usually do is respond for free. After a while I then usually receive an email for paid work …

    Just shows how a free and ‘giving’ response can turn into a real project sometimes …

    Lex

  2. Mizuu says:

    I’m having a blog dealing with Japanese (and I am an active participant on forums of that matter), so people often e-mail me asking if I can translate something for them (song, a short phrase, a design for a tattoo).

    Fact is that when I’m certain I won’t screw the translation (some things are just VERY hard to translate) – that is 95% of the time, I do it and e-mail them with whatever form of translation their want (JPG, coded text, just the reading…).

    Problem is, soon a response follows “Why this way, not another?” or “And how would that be in plain form?” or “do you know any good books on that matter?” – most often I refuse further explanaitions telling them I am a teacher and that is what I do for money – explain grammar / vocab / prounanciation issues. I add a BTW that it’s a broad matter most often that requires a lot of time, I often lack.

    So far so good, only one person got mad at me for such an explanation / refusal.

  3. Dave says:

    I’ve always used the Thunderbird plugin “Quicktext” which allows you to setup a series of templates. When replying you can quickly piece together a reply by selecting predefined templates to build up a (hopefully!) useful response! The software also allows you to use variables so that eg the person’s name is automatically substituted into your templates.

    A more detailed response would be calling me to make a public post, if it’s worth going into detail its worth sharing with the world!

  4. Joe says:

    Hey Darren,
    I like to answer readers questions whenever possible. Sometimes it pays off in odd ways.
    On a few different occasions, I had those same people send me unsolicited testimonials as a thank you to me.
    They are always nice to get!

  5. Muscle Post says:

    This is great! I’ve actually considered asking bloggers for advice/assistance before, but usually do not want to bother them because I’m sure the big ones get it all the time. Instead, I usually just look through their archives or at their popular posts, and sometimes my answers are already there!

  6. Thank you Darren for posting this when I need it the most! I blog about Blogger (mostly customizations, how-to’s and so forth), so it’s a magnet for people emailing me for help.

    Until recently I’ve been able to manage answering emails on a personal basis, but now that my blog’s readership is beginning to increase, I’ve really been struggling with the balance between correspondence and valuable posts.

    One more thing I would ask is whether you think readers would feel offended by a shift from #1 to #3?

    Best wishes and thanks for this great advice :)

  7. Frugal Dad says:

    Darren, I started receiving these types of requests just a few months into blogging and decided to convert the questions into a series of posts, “So You Want to Be a Blogger?.” It is totally off the subject of my niche, but remains one of my most popular series as I wrote it from the perspective of just starting out in the world of blogging.

    These posts are more infrequent now, but the archived series provides a spot where I can point emailers to when asking for advice on the topic.

  8. I get a TON of emails from people asking for advice or help. For the most part, I look for a few things to decide how I will help them.

    - If they are asking for a huge explaination or ideal that would take a phone conversation to explain, I generally point them to my consultant page, and ask them if they’d like to schedule a meeting or phone conference.

    - If they are asking a simple question based on something within their business or marketing that I could answer reletively quickly… I answer it and offer any additional advice that would be relevant.

    - If they are asking for step by step info on a topic, I will generally explain it, unless it’s a huge process.. then I’d consult.

    I think for most professionals, there is a fine line between small questions, and large questions. A good rule of thumb is that if it seems that someone wants to be coached on something, they’d be better off with your services as a consultant, rather than a short answer to their all-important question.

  9. Andrea says:

    Yep, I agree with all the above. I give out some help (sometimes a LOT of help) because I know it will pay off in the end.
    I have a rough timeframe of 15 minutes or so in mind. Anything that requires much more than that is good for a consult.
    If I get persistant emails from a person looking for a lot of free help, I tend to take longer to respond. They either get the hint & hire me, or they figure it out on their own.
    Since I have very specilaized info dealing with WordPress MU on my tutorial blog, I definitely limit free answers to things I can explain easily or resources I can point people to. I *don’t* code or make extensive changes to plugins for free though.

  10. I can still answer each request individually. I respond with one “tidbit”~a one sentence response. I might link to an article I’ve previously written on the topic, (I get a lot of, “Help! I’m serving 150 women this weekend, any advice welcome.”) and I offer my consulting services last.

  11. liam says:

    Great topic.

    I think if you don’t have time to help them one to one then What I would do is;

    Offer any advice that I might have on the issue just off the top of my head, and if you know any articles/reading which might backup your point, or answer his question then take a little time to find the article. Or if you know of a site which might have the answer just say something simple like “You could try looking on ProBlogger.net for your answer” – Or link to relevant support forums you might know.

  12. Lori says:

    Ditto on what Terra said. I am overwhelmed with emails like this but I do my best to answer some, I’ve ignored a few but not many. I try not to do that because I know how it feels for a bigger blogger to completely ignore your email.

  13. Raag Vamdatt says:

    I write about personal finance and investment planning.

    I have a “Your Queries” section on my site, where I answer questions asked by readers. I also include questions emailed to me, so that all my readers can benefit from it.

    At times, I write an article based on some query, and I credit the user for the topic.

    Apart from that, I also have a discussion board, where even other readers can contribute.

    This combination works quite well for me.

  14. I’ve often done a variation of #5–answered the question publicly in my blog, but keeping the inquirer anonymous.

    For questions that will take more than a brief answer, I send readers to my consultation page where they can buy private consultation.

  15. Joe says:

    I try to answer any questions that I can. I find it helpful to browse forums for help as well. That way you can answer and get your questions answered.

  16. I blog about presentation skills and as my traffic increases, I am starting to receive requests for help but these are still at a level which I can manage, even if I can’t always deal with them immediately.

    Response has varied from still not receiving a thank you months after sending a detailed email in reply to one reader’s query (admittedly a few weeks after I received it) to turning another reader’s question into a 3-part blog entry, useful reference posts which new readers are constantly discovering. In addition, 2 of these posts were featured in the weekly and widely-read ‘best of’ review chosen from around 100 public speaking blogs. I have now also been featured in 2 blogs written by the questioner and she has also connected to me on a major networking site.

    I probably would have posted much of this information at some point anyway but receiving her query and tailoring my posts around it made me do this much sooner and with additional material added to give a good working example for other readers.

    If you can find the time, it can be well worth replying in detail, especially if you can feature this help in your blog.

  17. I got one email to help setup G policy acording to new G adsense tos. I helped, and i think i will do again ;)

  18. I run a blog about the astrology of relationships, and I have a clear “Ask Jeff a Question” link in my sidebar, but I still get emails asking for relationship advice. I’ve drafted a blanket response (stating that I cannot respond individually due to frequency of questions) referring people to my “ask a question” form and to tell them about my consulting services, and just add a few details to demonstrate that I’ve read their email.

  19. Lisa Irby says:

    This was very helpful, Darren. Thanks for answering my question. This reminds me that I need to update my FAQ section and provide a link from my contact form.

  20. hemu says:

    hey Darren, Its really useful for bloggers. nice work, keep it up man.

  21. Robert Brown says:

    For me it all depends on the context. My personal blog is the sort that doesn’t really make people want to contact me. But if someone did, i would help them since it would be such a rarity.

    However, were it a lot more specialised. Such as the blog I had to write when I was working for a certain well known behemoth software company then things would be different. The blog was about C# development and I got loads of requests for help, some o which were downright cheeky such as “Can you write me a program to do X etc, etc?” In these cases things can get out of hand so I developed a form reply which basically said “I’d love to help, but I just don’t have the time”. That did the trick most of the time, bar for the occasional rude response.

  22. Luis says:

    I like the Forums approach, this way you have a centralized place to refer people that need help, that at the same time your community of subscribers can help out.

  23. Darren, this post is perfect timing. It’s a question I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. As my blog grows I’m getting more and more requests for help.

    I currently run a monthly Q & A session, so am able to direct a lot of the requests to that forum. A lot of the emails are about products and I don’t do reviews – so I have a standardised response for them.

    But at the moment I have no means of answering individual health questions. It’s partly a time issue, but mostly a question of ethics and professional responsibility. However, these are the requests that are on the rise. So I’m grappling with deflecting these to local health practitioners, or setting up my own online consultancy.

  24. GettyCash says:

    This post is very useful. Recently I got many e-mails from my readers. I am trying to help them as much as I can.

  25. I received a lot of emails asked for help,if I have spare time I will answer the question,otherwise I answered it on my posts either I wrote it by myself or by other writers,so everybody got the information too.

  26. Because of the theme of my blog I don’t so much get requests for help as I get general type questions about whatever subject I’m blogging about.

    I always try and answer every question. I think it is the least I can do for people who are reading my blog.

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  27. Simple Mom says:

    Ironically, most of my requests are about graphic design, theme customization, and WordPress questions – and my blog is about simplifying home management. Maybe I come across as a nice, nonthreatening person to ask bloggy questions to? I dunno.

    Either way, it’s a mixed bag for me. While I appreciate the compliments on my site’s layout, I just don’t have the time to specifically answer people’s blog questions. I usually give them quick answers, then link them to blogs about blogging – like Problogger, for instance.

  28. hekim group says:

    When replying you can quickly piece together a reply by selecting predefined templates to build up

  29. I’ve seen several bloggers setting up forums. A forum site will save a blogger’s time in answering the same questions asked by different people.

  30. Barbara Ling says:

    It all depends – if I see a tweet about it and can solve it in less than 56 seconds, I’ll do so. Researching online is one of my specialties – I’ve been it since 1988.

    If I receive a question in email, I’ll generally answer it and if it’s relevant to my audience, craft a blog post about it.

    It also depends upon who is asking. Folks who have been there for me in the past get priority in the future. I always believe in returning good deeds.

    Data points,

    Barbara

  31. I receive a lot of emails and questions from aspiring artists. I do try to email them individually, but one day I realized that I wasn’t able to help someone by email with as much detail as I would like, because I have 4 kids and here I am like a crazy woman trying to get work done!

    So what I did was create pages on Squidoo.com to deal with the kinds of questions I receive – how to price pencil portrait art, how to communicate with clients, how to advertise a pencil portrait business, how to start a pencil portrait business, and so on. Now I can direct people to the page that helps them with what they need. They are still getting the help from me, but it’s so much more detailed and useful for them. I feel better, and I actually make money from my Squidoo pages! So I highly recommend this as an option to everyone. The Squidoo pages bring a lot of extra traffic to your website or blog, too. You can put RSS feed to your blog in your Squidoo pages. You really can’t lose. Check it out.

    My art help pages on Squidoo:
    http://www.squidoo.com/pencilportraitmoduleslist

  32. Bryan Clark says:

    It got pretty tough to respond to these types of emails so I went with the last option – paid consulting. It’s actually been a blessing in disguise!

  33. Globalbiz says:

    Paid consulting always works best after we reply with a soft email + reasonable response that many people ask us for the same advice and therefore have no time for ad-hoc replies. Then sum it up with, “…….but with $……., I can gladly give you a comprehensive, detailed study, report, & consultancy on your behalf…..” Feel free to contact me for further inquiries….

  34. Sentences says:

    What if you don’t have time to respond to help everyone?

  35. Kevin says:

    Great post! You are amazing to write simple things, so they become smart an easy! :D

  36. traveler says:

    I always try and answer every question. I think it is the least I can do for people who are reading my blog.

    having a faq page does helped me to reduce the num of help i get thou. and alot of the question that pops up helped me to make my page better too

  37. Dave says:

    Although I have not gotten many requests for help on my blog, this could be useful for when my blog gets a lot bigger. Usually try to be as helpful as possible and certainly respond as quickly as possible, but if I were overwhelmed with questions and requests then these things would have to be done. I think I like the idea of a public response much like this post. If you respond to someone publicly then it will likely help others having the same problem and decrease your work load. The best part is you even get more material that is relevant to your blog and to your readers. It is a win win situation.

  38. I get a few request for help every now and then. As long as I know how to answer them or help them, I usually do the best I can.

    Sometimes I searched in Google just to head them to the right directions (gave them the link and asked them to follow the instructions on the page, forum, etc)

    I guess you may or may not have the time to help them all

  39. Mel T says:

    Normally what i do is answer questions personally or publically on my blog.

    However, recently I’m starting to offer paid consultations. It gets difficult when you want to help everyone who contacts, but it’s just not possible to do it all for free.

  40. I am new to blogging, I already ordered your book to educate myself about blogging. I was very touched when you replied to my email with my request on getting me a copy of your book. I did not expect that you will reply promptly to my request. I will be writing about it on next coming days. I am just sorting out all the necessary things that needs to be accomplished to establish my blog, which is according to what you have written. More power to you!

  41. PaPo says:

    For me the idea of collaborating with other dedicated health care professionals and providers can have great business benefit. I generally get requests to be featured on the blog. I postpone some and convert most to non-public collaborations.

  42. I have a set response letter/email, but I wrote it much more personally so it does not have the sound and feel or a “form letter”
    Next I always respond in some fashion. There is no quicker path to failure then ignoring your customers, or readers in this case. And let’s be honest, we are “customers”. Our loyalty, participation, and contributions on this site (and others) help the site owners make money. We are as much customers as we are readers, plain and simple.
    Finally, you can only really take the paid Paid Consulting route unless you actually have something to say, teach, advise. I have seen far to many people who are getting paid, but offer very little in actual, tangible, advice or information. This type of scam, or negative experience is what hurts the others who are actually offering some real helpful knowledge.

  43. Majo says:

    Thanks for the post Darren, I’m having this problem too. When people ask me to teach them the pathways to success I just say – look I only got to where I was by failing and learning, by imbibing tons of information and experimenting some more. It took many failures to reach my point of success and even now over half of my websites are flops. Then I tell them to go look at your blog, Digital Point forums and a few others to get ideas about how to sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

    Also completely off topic but Erwin McManus was speaking at Citylife Church in Wantirna South this weekend and I know you would have loved it… From what I have read on your perspective on Christianity I would say that he would connect with your style of thinking.

  44. coolingstar9 says:

    Problogger, I am coolingstar9, I fully understand your feeling that you feel sad to say ” no ” while people especially the new blogging asking some questions.
    I did see some blog site who mentioned the anger about asking but no respone from the famous blogger.
    For me, I know blogger like you really do not have enough time to answer all question but you had systematically say it out on your past blogs already.
    I havd readed your blogs whenever I am free. For example, your previous post- fear of blogging-motivate me to continue blogging with passion. You had mentioned joining ezine, I also participated and already be an ezine expert author- william tan seng.
    Thanks for your unselfish contribution and efforts.
    Have a wonderful life. from; coolingstar9.

  45. I sometimes answer their questions in my blog posts. I think the best thing to do is develop content that explains their queries and whenever they ask that questions, quickly send them a link. For instance, somebody asked me what’s the difference between a content writer and a copywriter. I quickly posted the difference on my website and sent him the link, and he really appreciated that. As an added bonus, this also gives you lots of search engine relevant content.

  46. loans says:

    My answer is only this ‘Ignore all such requests for help’, lol…cruel but true…

  47. visit says:

    This is great, look forward to looking into every area. Thanks for being there.