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You’ll Never Know Unless You Ask

Posted By Darren Rowse 17th of July 2008 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Growing up I was a very shy little guy. I was so shy that I rarely put myself out there in situations that I was unfamiliar with and never asked other people for favors unless I was either in desperate need or very familiar with the other person.

I remember my mum telling me on numerous occassions when I was too shy to ask people things – ‘you’ll never know unless you ask’.

It struck me today that while I’m still pretty shy that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d not overcome my inability to put myself ‘out there’ and had I not learned to ‘ask’ others for help.

The reason it struck me today is that I’d emailed a couple of well known photographers asking them if they’d be interested in writing a guest post for me at Digital Photography School. I’d never had any contact with them before and they had no knowledge of me or my site.

A couple of hours later I had two of the three replying back saying yes (the other said no).

My natural inclination when thinking about these photographers is to avoid contact them.

  • I don’t want to put them out
  • I don’t want to risk the feeling of rejection of them saying no
  • I don’t want to look foolish in front of these people who are famous in their niche.

My list of reasons NOT to contact them could be long – I’m good at making excuses for myself – however over the last 5 years of blogging I’ve discovered that stepping outside of my comfort zone is something that more often than not pays off – both for me and the person that I step towards.

A few examples come to mind:

  • Emailing my hero Seth Godin and asking for an interview (and another time suggesting a a post he might like to link to) – both times he responded in the affirmative
  • Emailing national and international mainstream media outlets with ideas for stories that they could write that would feature me – this has paid off numerous times.
  • Emailing blog designers and asking for help with my blog’s design (I did this in the early days of my blogging and Rachel from Cre8d did some wonderful work for me very reasonably).
  • Sending countless links to countless bloggers (many of them so called ‘A-listers’) when I thought the links related to their content and having them link up

Again the list could go on.

Of course for every ‘success’ I’ve had like these I could tell you stories of rejection. Seth said no to writing a foreword for my book (understandably), countless bloggers ignored my emails, media outlets did stories on the topics I suggested without featuring me…. the list could go on!

The key to what I’ve learned is the same thing that my mum taught me as a shy little guy – ‘you’ll never really know unless you ask.’

When you ask things of other people the chances are good that they’ll come back with a no – but you’ll never really know until you ask – and the thing is that when you do ask you are a step closer to them saying yes than if you’d not asked at all.

The Key to Asking is Win Win Interactions

This post might make it sound like I never do any work for myself and am constantly living off the generosity of others – but this isn’t the case. The key that I’ve found with ‘getting’ things off other bloggers is to ‘give’ them something in return. Win/Win interactions are key.

If you can find a way that doing you a favor helps the other person as much or more than it helps you then everyone comes away a winner.

So in asking the photographers if they’d be interested in guest posting for DPS today I made it clear that it’d be very helpful for me but that it’d also bring them exposure to their own projects as the site was being widely read.

While not everyone can offer lots of exposure – I guess the key is to find some way that you can help the person that you’re asking a favor from so that they benefit in some way.

For example – instead of sending someone a generic email asking if they’d link to you – why not send them a high quality guest post that they can’t resist posting?

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 and LinkedIn.
  1. Great post — so much truth in “if you don’t ask, you’ll never get”. And, coupled with “giving, giving, and then giving some more” … I’ve found that what returns back is super delicious levels of karma and good will (and an excellent reputation), that translates into harder outcomes, be it opportunities in advertising, guest posting, extra links and so on.

    t @ dji

  2. Seemingly such a simple concept, yet so true.

    For me I have a ways to go before I really learn to get out of the comfort zone. I’m learning but I’m not all the way there yet. It’s a process I guess!

  3. “You’ll never really know unless you ask” – So very true!

    I think of myself as shy, but I do reach out to people at times :-) I think I’ll have to do a lot more of this as my site grows!

    And BTW, Darren – “This post might make it sound like I never do any work for myself and am constantly living off the generosity of others” – Hilarious!!

  4. I really like the idea of asking to find out, but since I’m also a shy guy, it’s easier said than done.

  5. @Rajaie — you’d be surprised how receptive some bloggers / people are if you approach them in a humble, self-effacing, non-confrontational, non-entitled fashion.

    Offering to help *them* first is often a way to get the foot through the door, too. Not by *asking* what would be helpful, but by observing what they do, and then suggesting or sending things that might be helpful.

    Case in point — bloggers are always looking for things to write about and stories to break; you could initiate a dialogue with a bigger blogger by sending them stories that you think are important or would interest their audience.

    t @ dji

  6. You already got the no so you can only win, it’s like asking a girl out for a date :-P.

  7. I’m a big fan of Seth Godin and have e-mailed him twice this year. Both times he replied to my e-mails. The replies were not ‘long’, but they were gracious and they were indicative that he had taken teh time to read MY e-mail and then reply to it with something meaningful. I give him all the respect in the world.

    I’ve been in sales my entire career and I can tell you taht Rejection stinks, and rejection after rejection sucks…but it’s 100% entirely true that you will NEVER hear the words “Yes, sure, OK!” unless you ask…


  8. That is a good thing to say, you never know until you ask…So am I the first to ask?

    Could I possibly write a guest post?, what format would this be in?

    Of course rejection is an everyday worry, but hey!

  9. I couldn’t agree more. When you avoid asking all together you completely ruin any chance you could have whatsoever. I always rather ask then not; my curiosity gets the best of me in these situations–and I hate to wonder “what if”.

    Great post Darren!

  10. Haha Slevi thanks for the laugh, I was thinking the same thing.

  11. I really believe in the concept of “ask and you shall receive”. Fortunately, we live in a digital age, so a lot of the asking doesn’t even have to be done in person or by phone. (For some reason, I take rejection a lot less personally, when I don’t have to hear it.) So, I ask for anything that I think would interest my demographic (moms of preschoolers).

  12. I’ve had an email to Seth Godin in my draft box for months; I haven’t gotten up the courage to send it! Until now . . .

  13. I’m really taking this post to heart. I would never have some of the relationships I now have if I hadn’t dug down deep and put myself out there.

    While I still struggle with this – I have to remind myself that just because someone says no isn’t a reflection on me – posts like this one and the comments are always like a energy drink!

  14. I actually made a post related to this the other day when I talked about contacting bloggers and how John Chow cares about his readers.


  15. I’m having a lot of positive feed back from my photographer interview blog. In which we ask the photographer a series of questions about their views and their work. So far we haven’t had photographer turned us down and all have given wonderful answers and insight on their work.

    I’m currently interviewing photographers that range form amateur to semi-pro. Maybe someday I’ll be able to interview my favorite living photographer David Lachapelle.

    I have to agree with you Darren ( ask and you shall receive )

    I linked to my blog once before in your WordPress Free Theme post and I’m still receiving traffic from that link/comment. Here is the link again because it has relevancy to the above topic of photography and asking questions.


  16. You’re right. And there is never a silly question!

  17. Well Said Darren…This simple strategy is overlooked by many…But how you approach the other person also matters. When you are new to the industry and approaching a well known figure through an email, the words in the email has to convey your passion (without sounding too pushy).

  18. This is something I’m learning now as a blogger and in life. It’s harder on the web, as I usually like hearing a voice. I realize that I can only improve if I take the initiative.

    Since, I’m currently in between jobs (long story on my blog), I’m trying to build my blog.

  19. Hello. I’m looking for a good webhosting company. I need Linux webhosting… but cheap… Can anyone help me?


  20. Great post Darren, you need to ask to see results!
    PS-Sure Gabriel , check sidebar on my blog ;)

  21. I used to by shy myself… Then one day I just thought, “what’s the worst that could happen?” The person says “no” and that’s that. But you’ll never know unless you take that step and ask.

  22. I like how you said the key is to create win-win situations. In life everyone is looking out for the ‘what’s in it for me’. So by providing them with something you will often get a better response. Great post Darren

  23. I definitely agree with this. I have always been a firm believe in asking for what you want, the worse thing someone can say is no….which puts you in the same place you were before you asked!

    I say go for it!

  24. Darren,

    Sage advice. Interestingly, I was just the opposite as a kid – pretty much the one with the lamp shade on my head trying to make a party out of math class. But now that my blog is all but 3 days old I find myself experiencing all the same emotions, concerns, questions as you described. Offline persona doesn’t naturally transfer so easily, it seems. I find myself having to make decisions about courage I consider second nature in the offline world.

    I feel empowered and emboldened by your post. I’m going to make a list of those I’d like to post or contribute or link to my blog and see what I can do for them, then I’ll take action.


    innovativeeconomy.com; shanelashley.com

  25. Great post… who would’ve thought just this simple sentence could be taken for granted… Some people are so arrogant, that even they don’t know what to do, they still wouldn’t ask for any help…

    Cheap Car Insurance

  26. Fear really limits so many potentialities and causes so many unnecessary hardships.

    You really need to give yourself that extra push to get past it once you recognise it.

  27. I was the kind of guy who never asked questions in class and hoped someone would ask the question I wanted to know.

    It was actually a big step to get online and put my writing and products out there for others to see. But once I did, I started to really like it.

    I know that one of the final steps I need to take is to interact more with people in my niches. But I still have trouble making first contact.

    I like the idea of creating WIN WIN situations instead of asking for a favor with your hat in your hand. I think it is always good to seek people out and make connections with people on your same level. You don’t need to bother a “guru”.

  28. This is all so true! I have been struggling with this recently, and I make such an effort to step out of my comfort zone when I can. I like to repeat Nike’s slogan to myself: “Just do it.” If it doesn’t work out, oh well, but at least you tried.

  29. too true, assertive people live better lives.

  30. Great post. I study journalism and in my first interview with the local mp I procrastinated for days before ringing her and asking her for an interview – I literally left my assignment to the last minute because I was so scared of calling. Yet when I did call she was completely helpful and even more surprising a week later her receptionist rang me back to offer me work. It always amazes me how receptive people are, especially when you ask them about something they are passionate about – do that and you might find it hard to shut them up – lol


  31. For me, the gem was at the end. A guest post is way better than a pimping request. Pure gold, from a gem of a man. Thanks for sharing your heart with us this post.

    How’s the little problogger?

  32. Awesome post Darren – I’ll link to it! In NYC I was a beginning photographer – doing paparazzi type shooting as well as some freelance fashion photography. I was working in a photo lab doing color slide film and assisting a well-known fashion / advertising photographer. I was rather new to photography – 2 years and not confident in my work.

    I thought I wanted to be an advertising photographer. Jay Maisel – an amazing photographer had a nephew… Stephen Wilkes. I decided – I was going to work with Stephen If he’d have me. He too was already getting big work in NYC and could have his pick of any assistant in the entire city. I wrote him a really heartfelt mail that talked about his work and what I liked… what I wanted to accomplish. I asked that we meet and see if I was someone he’d consider as an assistant to him.

    He responded with a call. We met. He liked me. Offered me the position. I accepted. I worked there 1 day. I decided… nah, not really for me!

    Ha! I was 21 and didn’t really have any idea what I wanted from life. Point is – I guess I wanted to see – COULD I get him to say yes based on my letter, my personality, my desire… When he said yes, the game was over for me I guess! Talk about indecisive. I went through a weird period there.

    Ask for anything – you might get it.

    Excellent post Darren. Best of Life! Vern

  33. I think my biggest problem is I HATE being rejected. I would rather NOT ask that be told NO. Need to work on that.

    Having said that, I did kind of employ this thinking with my Problogger guest post. In a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” kind of way. I tried to focus on it being a learning experience rather than an “accepted or rejected” type scenario.

    There is something else this post highlights. Being well-known and successful doesn’t change our humanity. I find it interesting and fascinating that Problogger himself has struggles and even knock-backs. I LOVE the way you’re so real Darren. I think that is SO important and valuable.

    P.S. Can you please send me a copy of your book? ;) Oh yeah, I forgot about the “win-win” part of the equation. What’s that quote? “you do not have because you do not ask”. LOL.

  34. East or West, Darren is the Best

  35. I really liked the post. Excellent work.

  36. Thanks Darren for sharing your experience.

  37. Darren — two more reasons why I admire you so much: 1) you inspire me to step out of my own comfort zone; and 2) your win/win philosophy is one I heartily share and wish I could find more of in the world. As the old saying goes (paraphrased), the more you give, the more you have. I’ve found that works, time after time.

  38. A very informative post, as always. This is great stuff for people like me who are just starting their own site – I’ll remind myself that asking questions can only be a good thing!

  39. Thanks for reminding us of the need to ask, Darren. My problem right now is that I don’t quite know what to ask for yet, and/or who to ask for “it”, whatever “it” is. Maybe in one of your future posts you could give us newbies a list of things we should be asking for, and where we should be looking to ask these things? Thanks! And I will list you on my blogroll in return.

  40. I was shy growing up too. As I got older I learnt this aspect of my personality was holding me back so I changed it.

  41. Ask, if it work’s out fine, if it does not, don’t let that stop you. If your good at what you do, you improve your odds.

  42. You are 100% right. The key to getting a favor is to offer something in return, and not be shy about it. If they say no, then they say no….but you’re no worse off than you were before.

  43. Yes ofcourse, we will never know until we ask..!
    Great post.

  44. Very timely for me. I’m in the process of turning my blog from the personal journey blog it’s been for the past two years to a blog focused on interviewing others and their struggle to deal with the “somedays” in life.

    (Speaking of asking – expect an interview request from me shortly)


  45. Thanks for this post its really exciting to note. I just want to know ways i can increase the awareness to m blog. it all about dating, marriage tip.


  46. There is a proverb in my country “you better ask than get lost in a way!”

  47. When I first started in sales, my boss told me that I had to go through ten “no’s” before I got one “yes”. So I thought I had better get the “no’s” out of the way so I can start making money.

    @ Ricardo – I love that thought provoking question -“what’s the worst that can happen?” I started my first business with that philosophy and I ask myself that question in most of my decision making. If I can live with the results of the “worst that can happen” then I just do it!

  48. Great post. We always find out, after stretching ourselves a little bit and getting out of our comfort zone, that it wasn’t that bad at all.

    Your post has definitely inspired me to reach out more!

  49. Darren,

    I’d love to hear more about “Emailing national and international mainstream media outlets with ideas for stories that they could write that would feature me”

  50. I have found that most photographers are happy to share their skills and knowledge with others. I think that is one of the things that makes photography so great.

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