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Beg For Questions; It Works!

By Bob McElwain
Posted Tuesday, August 19, 2003

On the Services page on my site I ask, "Want a second opinion?" I offer to give one for free regarding a proposed change in your site. Several of my friends issued dire warnings about this offer. They were wrong. It works very, very well.

At this writing, the page and this offer have been up for almost a month. I have answered some 30 questions. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for each. So call it 5-6 hours. A waste of time? No way.

I have 30 new potential clients, unless I discount the two that did not get back with a thank you. I have two brand new clients who will pay me monthly to support their site. I sold services to two others, who may yet convert to my monthly service. And another half a dozen I am still cultivating seem interested.

Contrary to the predictions of my friends, I have not yet received an unreasonable question. All have been "I'm stuck" bits in which the questioner really needed help. All have been uniformly good people, serious minded, and working hard to grow their site. Talk about targeting your market. Hey, these are my kind of people!

My pitch to you? Do all you can to solicit questions you can easily answer. After answering, always go a bit further. For example, if you are visiting a web site, begin by saying something neat about it, and very gently suggest a couple of things that might help. In one case, I suggested moving a graphic down the page and putting explosive grabber text up top of the home page that folks can be reading as the graphic loads. The thank-you reply for going the extra distance can be a bit overwhelming.

The reason my friends were wrong in their prediction I would be flooded with requests is that people in general are afraid to ask questions. As we look around at our peers, we say, "Hey, how can that be so? I don't see anybody afraid of anything in this business." This may be true of your peers, because like yourself they are out-going, assertive types. Most people are not.

Over my years of teaching mathematics and computer science in secondary schools, I found one of the toughest tasks was to get a youngster to ask a question so I could figure where he or she was hung up. I worked at it, and I suspect I was better at it than most. But looking back, I suspect over half the youngsters in my classes *never* asked a question. Here's the why of it.

To ask a question opens you up, exposes you to the person you are speaking to. You have given them something about yourself that you may not really want to share. And you have opened the door to laughter, ridicule and scorn. Even rejection, if there is no reply.

Okay, so I'm talking about high school kids. They're pretty much like people, I think. I know that in my contacts with wannabe and newbie webmasters, most are loaded with fears of this sort. Face it. Getting started on the Web is a scary bit!

No, there is no risk in offering to answer questions. I am going to go further to the point of almost begging for them. I want everything on my site to be as warm and welcoming as I can make it, all in hopes of more questions.

Given a question, of course, I always remind myself of the fears overcome in asking it, the courage, if you will, it took to hit the Send button. My response is always positive, supportive, and upbeat. Worst case something like: Hey, it's not all that bad. Sure, there's room for improvement, but you're really, really close. Then I add an idea that helps. Then a couple more.

It works. Try it and prove me wrong!


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