7 Words That Can Transform Your Business And Life

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authorThe other day, I had the pleasure of hanging out with a new friend, Ramit Sethi, the author of New York Times bestselling book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich and founder of the wildly popular blog, IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com.

We were spinning on all sorts of topics, from personal finance to behavioral change, the psychology of persuasion, marketing, strategy, media, publishing. All common interests we’re both passionate about. It was a bit like a Vulcan mind meld.

As we wrapped up our convo, I was about to open my mouth to ask Ramit a very specific question. One I try to end every conversation with. And, mean it.

But, I was too slow.

He beat me to the punch and asked me the very same question first. It was seven simple words, but those words have been responsible for so much serendipity, good will, impact, connection and, yes, business and money in both my pocket and the pocket of many who’ve been on the other side of the question.

The 7 words Ramit asked me were…

“What can I do to help you?”

And, here’s the thing. when he asked it, he meant it.

If you’re in business, you’ve probably gotten into the habit of asking this question or some variation to customers or prospects. That’s cool.

But, what’s not so obvious is that you should be asking this question to everyone, all the time.

Not just the people who might buy from you, but the people around you. The people you’re in a position to do something nice for, even if they’ve got no ability to reciprocate. Today, tomorrow, ever.

Why?

Because, it’s a way of planting Karmic seeds. Because, maybe one day your kindness will come back to you. And, because even if it doesn’t it makes you feel great for having helped. And…it’s just the right thing to do.

I don’t start every day on twitter asking, “who can I help today?” because I’m looking for something in return. I do it because it feels good to ask and to help. What better way is there to start your day than by helping someone, often a total stranger, with some small deed?

So, as you explore building your own professional path, think about ending as many conversations as possible not asking for a favor, but with those 7 simple words…

What can I do to help you?

Then, do one more thing…stand behind your offer.

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53 responses

53 responses to “7 Words That Can Transform Your Business And Life”

  1. Jonathan, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to make the concepts that help make more “traditional” businesses – ha! I’m well aware I’m at the home of the Career Renegade! – succeed so that I can help the people of my niche: indie artists & crafters.

    And I think, as much as we feel like a “community” this the essence of why there is so very little traction in our industry. Who is asking that question? Well… I try to but I don’t succeed nearly as often as I like. I – and those around me – devalue ourselves & our time and then spend hour upon hour working just to make ends meet. So we think we don’t have time to help.

    But helping is the most important part!

    I think if we woke up to the fact that what we have to offer is valuable, it would become easier to ask the question: What can I do to help you?

  2. I like the *intention* behind this but I hear it so often now that I feel like everyone I know has been on some course or got a memo I missed.

    Saying the words is not why it works.

    The first time you hear it you think “cool! what a nice person, that is awesome”.

    After a hundred or so repetitions from different people you start thinking “ok, I see what is happening here”.

    Some even use identical body language.

    Not trying to be negative because it really does work if everything is done for the right purpose, as I say, don’t just parrott the behaviour, understand the meaning and be sincere – otherwise it does more damage than good.

    So, what can I do to help you? 😉

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      That is definitely the one big caveat.

      Which is why I ended by saying you’ve gotta then stand behind your offer or else you end up being just another person posturing for reciprocity.

      If at all possible, ask the question then make it clear you’re waiting and open for an immediate request. I actually try to help as immediately as possible as a way to demonstrate the offer is not just B.S.

      And, the other part is I won’t help if it goes against my internal sense of ethics. So, if someone asks me to promote something for them, but it’s not something I can stand behind or it’s not right for my tribe, even though I’m in a position to help, I’ll still politely decline, then explain why.

      • I wasn’t sure if to post the comment because it is so obvious that you do things ethically and so do most of your readers, but there seems to be a trend online where people will see something like this then immediately go out and just see it as a tactic to exploit rather than something to think about more deeply 🙂

        • Irene Ross says:

          I have to say this pushed a HUGE button for me both professionally and personally. Professionally, although I’m no longer in the field, one of my biggest points was to send reporters links to articles, as well as other source filing items I thought they’d might be able to use. “You never want the first time a reporter hears from you to be when YOU only want something from them,” I said to one assistant,” because it’s about developing relationships, not about just having them do you a favor.” Consequently, when the time was right, I obtained major stories (full page interviews) for my boss in major publications, including the New York Times. Now I employ that very same tactic to my current business in the health and wellness field. As for personally, what can I say? I’ve been a Buddhist (Nichiren) for many, many years, so all of it rings true, especially, “giving a crap”–i.e., sincerity.

    • Good point, Chris.

      I think it comes down to asking ONLY IF YOU ACTUALLY GIVE A CRAP AND PLAN TO FOLLOW UP 🙂

      • Ha, yeah so maybe it goes like this
        1. give a crap
        2. ask how you might help

        😉

        • Hi Chris (and Jonathan!)

          I think this point is important…one thing that comes to mind in order not to parrot the sentiment, but to express genuine desire to help is to actually be explicit with the ways you would like to help.

          For me that may look like:

          How can I help you?

          -Send me an email:: I love hearing your questions or thoughts and will be sure to email back.

          -Let me know what you want more of:: I have a super quick survey you can take to give me ideas of what topics you are most interested learning about.

          -Join the forums:: You’ll get support, encouragement and direction from myself and the community of busy moms who are learning how to take excellent care of themselves together.

          **
          You get the idea. Just a thought 🙂 Being specific in my mind, communicates that the intent for helping is real.

        • Ren Atkins says:

          I’d blow this baby out to a three-step process:
          1. Give a crap
          2. Demonstrate that you give a crap
          3. Ask how you can help

          If someone has demonstrated that they’re generous with their thoughts and ideas (e.g. sharing them on a blog), with their comments and connections (not an uncommunicative ‘friend collector’ in social media) or with their time, then a question like “how can I help you today?” comes across as a thoughtful and genuine offer.

          But without first demonstrating that you care? Forget it! It won’t take a cynic to see the disconnect.

  3. Jonathan –
    The simple things are always the most powerful.

    I responded to one of your “who can I help today?” tweets a couple weeks ago, not realizing that it was your start-of-the-day ritual. Knowing it now for what it is, it makes me smile even more.

    Apart from the obvious good karma that comes from extending yourself this way, I’ve found that asking that simple question cuts through the clutter like nothing else. In Real Life exchanges, I’ve watched it stop people in their tracks … literally. They freeze and look at you like you just materialized out of nowhere.

    A variation on the theme (and sometimes a baby step for people not entirely comfortable with putting themselves out there so directly) is simply to ask a question that shows your interest in the other person. While I was on vacation in Acadia recently, I asked my bartender (who had been very accomodating and chatty all night) what his life aspirations were. He almost dropped the wine he was pouring. I learned about his cross-country travels and his dream of someday owning his own restaurant. He felt special that I asked him to share, and I felt special that he was willing to share. I had been given a glimpse at someone else’s dream and it made both our days brighter.

    … anyway … in a rambly mood this morning. Thanks for inspiring the comment.
    🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love that, reminds me of the line from Billy Joel’s The Piano Man – “he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke, but there’s someplace that he’d rather be.” What a gift you gave him in being interested in that someplace else.

      • Ahhh … Billy Joel. Takes me back – “Bottle of red, bottle of white … ”

        I’m back.
        🙂

        Yes. It was a gift that gave both ways.

        Happy Friday.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Garrett, Jonathan Fields, remarkablogger, Grant Griffiths, Nicole Rodriguez and others. Nicole Rodriguez said: RT @scoutiegirlblog: RT @jonathanfields 7 Words That Can Transform Your Business And Life http://bit.ly/9P2YVO […]

  5. Sean Cook says:

    Thanks for writing this Jonathan,

    I’ve been away from my blog-reading lately, and distracted by so many other things. But over the last two or three days, I’ve been diving back into it, because I realize how much it centers me, allows me to reflect, and to stay connected.

    Your posts always help me, and not in the ways I always expect. Today, you helped me along in my path of waking up and focusing (at least for today). A few weeks back, when you posted the Stevie Ray Vaughn video, you reminded me that I hadn’t gotten out my guitar in a while, and I spent some time remembering that time in college when I was getting into Stevie Ray big time, and then he died in that helicopter crash, and I dove in for a while to the idea that I wanted to be as awesome as he was, and practiced like crazy. And I had to realize that not practicing wasn’t getting me there. The same thing happened (in a different way) this morning.

    Thanks for the wake-up call. I’ll try to drop back again soon. Keep the good thoughts coming.

    How can you help me today? You already did. Thanks.

  6. Jodi Kaplan says:

    “Let me help. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over I love you.” – James Tiberius Kirk

  7. This is such great advice, especially the part about making sure the recipient of the question, “what can i do to help you?”, knows that you expect him to ask for something now. This is key. You can’t throw out the question and then move on.

  8. I think being able to say those words and mean it is fantastic.
    However I think that ding it right is a skill and an exercise in awareness. What I mean is that one must be prepared to quite a few outcomes, once those magic words are out:
    -follow through and lend a hand
    -admit that that they don’t feel good about the request and allow themselves to say “No”. “No” is another e magic word, that sometimes take years to master
    -Be prepared that after the “No”, things can go off – and have the wisdom to accept it

  9. I usually say: “Let me know if I can help you with anything”. Reading your post, Jonathan, made me realize that even though a variation of the same thing, there is huge difference between that and a direct question – “What can i do to help you”. When you are asking a direct question people are much more comfortable to actually ask for help. So I am switching – What can I do to help you?

  10. The best way to balance the karmic budget is to invest early and often.

    It’s proven that you get “Helper’s high” from helping others with no intended reciprocity. It has also been proven to increase happiness and health.

    There are so many benefits to helping others, why wouldn’t we all do it?

  11. Great post, Jonathan. My friend, Joel Canfield, turned me on to your blog when he wrote a guest post here; I subscribed the same day and have been reading it since then. This post was a great reminder…thanks for sharing!

  12. Liz says:

    Thank you for this. So simple, yet powerful. Sometimes amid all the networking and social media, we forget why we’re doing what we do in the first place. At least for me, it comes down to that sense of needing to help others. If we were all more transparent in our efforts, and direct in our asking, the world would definitely be better off.

  13. Lisa-Marie says:

    Definitely a karma thing. I have some one in my sphere who nags me for not charging “consulting fees” when I choose to spend a few hours on the phone with someone who needs advice and support. I am going to email this post. Great stuff.

  14. […] Simply ask them “What you can do to help them today?” […]

  15. […] Simply ask them “What you can do to help them today?” […]

  16. Radu says:

    Asking the question and standing behind the offer (of help) implies something that has become a rare commodity these days: listening. By asking the question AND listening to the answer, one is already helping – like Suddenly Jamie wrote, the bartender shared his dreams and that alone was helpful – the more people he shares his dreams with, the more committed he will be to the task.

    • Radu – What a great addition. 🙂 You’re right – sometimes just getting people to share something out loud can make a world of difference. I also think that sometimes it’s easier to share dreams with strangers. I’m not sure if I’m curious because I’m a writer or I’m a writer because I’m curious, but I’ve always taken a big interest in other people’s lives, thoughts, and dreams. There are common threads that bind us all together, no matter how diverse our “outside” lives may be. 🙂

  17. Suddenly Susan says:

    I love the bartender story. In my experience, what people really want is to be heard. It doesn’t cost anything but time. I recently got to take the bus to work because my husband was out of town with the car. I hadn’t been on the bus for over a year. I forgot how much I love riding the bus. I chatted with my neighbor for 20 minutes, found out he’s moving to the other side of town. He works for a famous online service and loves his job and I simply took in some of his joy as I got ready to depart to my ho-hum job (working for attorneys). Okay, so my point is, sometimes you don’t even have to ask “what can I help you with today”, sometimes just doing it, i.e. listening to someone’s dreams, listening to the neighbor kid talk about their favorite teacher, listening to someone talk while you’re standing in line together at the store can be more helpful than you’ll ever know. That is, if you can get people to look up from their iPhones long enough to grab their attention.

    • Susan – “… what people really want is to be heard.” I think that’s a big truth there. I now work from home, but when I used to ride the commuter rail into the city each day, I actually enjoyed it because I would inevitably strike up a conversation with someone and get a little glimpse into their world, give them a chance to talk about themselves, maybe even get them to share something of their dreams with me. It’s amazing how much starts pouring out once you open those floodgates and just listen instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next! 😉

  18. I really love that the credit union I bank with here in Vancouver, Coast Capital Savings, has a big ass sign on their wall that says `How can we help you?

    It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and it makes you feel welcomed and totally at ease. What’s more they back it up with great service.

  19. I really like that you added that you must stand behind your offer. That is the key. We must always stand behind all of our offers. Being sincere and actually wanting to help others will in turn bring us more, but like you mentioned, getting more is not the reason we should offer help to others. Thanks for the great post!

  20. Excellent post and so very, very important to remember. I had a boss once who began every phone conversation with “What can I do for you today” even when she was totally stressed out and over worked. She attracted more clients this way than w/advertising because she really did mean what she was saying. She wanted to know how to be of service and how to help out. I know I forget this especially when I am swamped w/a to do list that doesn’t quit. Thanks for the refresher course in how to be of service!!

  21. Good post Jonathan.

    And on the opposite side of that question, there is always someone who needs your help.

    As The Beatles said, “Help, I need somebody.”

    Andrew

  22. No doubt the question “what can i do to help you” is powerful. However I do find the connection you have made to karma more interesting – “.. Because, it’s a way of planting Karmic seeds. Because, maybe one day your kindness will come back to you. And, because even if it doesn’t it makes you feel great for having helped. And…it’s just the right thing to do…”. Recently I got involved with a group called TiE that helps mentor and inspire entrepreneurship across the globe. Myself being in Midwest am part of the tieconmidwest.org which is part of a global group called tie.org. The theme of this group is summarized in their slogan for this year- “Business Karma 3.0 – Create. Connect. Collaborate.” – with the underlying explanation of – what goes around comes around, that’s karma. I wasn’t able to understand the real and simple meaning of this phrase till I read your article. Thanks for sharing your experience Jonathan. Ramit is awesome, I am a big fan of his work. With the approach he takes in his work, i’m not surprised that he asked this question first.

  23. Leisa LaDell says:

    Thanks Jonathan. I’m going to start putting this one into practice. When it comes right down to it, I get the most fulfillment out of knowing I have provided something valuable for another. This is a reminder to come right out and ask how I might be able to do that. Cheers, Leisa

  24. Jonathan,
    So great – I love this. The other replies are also wonderful. What a great group of people you’ve inspired today.

  25. Moon Hussain says:

    Jonathan, this is such a touching post. Period!

  26. Marilia says:

    The first thing I liked about this post is that you talked about how Ramit Sethi is a NEW friend of yours. Transparency again all about your blog, while others like to say how they are friends with people on line that they never had a conversation before an interview…

    I see you asking that question in twiter every morning and I think it´s great. I should´ve stepped up before and have you helping me with a little thing… Now I guess you will have tons of more people to help. which is probably the goal anyway 🙂

  27. Kevin Kruse says:

    I end almost every meeting or call with these words and, unlike what Chris Garrett’s experience has been, I almost NEVER hear anyone ask me this question. In fact, most people seem stunned when I ask it and uncertain how to respond.

    Great post.

  28. Dahlia says:

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for the wonderful post. Not very many people in the business share the same value these days. That line has been overly abused so many times and turned out to be so generic that many don’t believe in it anymore. Yes, I agree with Chris that we ought to give a crap before blowing the line. As a result, the question pops out naturally, which is the true essence of it. Why do we ask in the first place – because we care.

    I’m not saying that by asking we have to always say yes to their requests. In this case, we explain. For those who have ulterior motives, I hope they realize that people can sense the bogus between the lines. And it can be pretty annoying hearing people ask just for the heck of it. When you ask a question, expect an answer.

  29. I think you have to give much more than a crap.

    You have to give a pretty valuable piece of yourself.

  30. Awesome. That’s exactly what every business or person should do, they should ask this question and always do whatever in their power to help.

    I saw a video of a talk that SEO of Zappos Tony Hsieh talk about this (but not using the exact same words). Zappos culture is all about customer service and how to deliver happiness. After the talk I wanted to start working at Zappos :-))

  31. Chip Tudor says:

    Sometimes just spending the time with another person in conversation, showing genuine interest in their thoughts and their life, and actively listening to them IS the help. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence in the NOW.

  32. Terrific post…I have been working on doing something similar once a week, which is…doing something for somebody that they could not possibly repay you for the deed.

    It takes giving/helping to another level and takes out the reciprocity issue!

    Mark

  33. Hi Jonathan, Love your new header design. Definitely an improvement over the foot with the flower too 😉
    – I saw your tweet this morning with the same question, and i seriously took it as a — yeah right — moment. But no i see you meant it, and you have a real reason to share it…!

    SO, i just shared it on FB and asked THE question in my share… wonder if people will think the same thing about me?

    Anyway, I think it would help me if you just said hi. SO i don’t feel like an idiot by myself over here with my stuff all hangin out in the wind. Maybe you would even take a look at my new site and read an article. That would be cool.

    Much love and i trust you’re well,
    Satya

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Satya,

      Love the name, Truthfulness, and thanks so much for joining in our little tribe. : )

  34. […] help — I have to say, though, you’ve taught me one of my biggest new lessons — the 7 magic words. I love that you really live that in your life, work and business. […]

  35. […] in this 7 words? If not let’s take  a look at this wonderful article written by Jonathan, from Jonathanfields.com in which he shares his experience  he had with Ramit Sethi, the author of New York Times […]

  36. Action cures fear and this is a very good way to inspire specific action. Having read this blog it is very helpful and has a plan of action. How can i help you is a great slogan for business and also life.

  37. […] recently read a blog post 7 Words That Can Transform Your Business And Life. As you will see when you read it, the 7 words are in a sentence. They are: What can I do to help […]

  38. Hugh says:

    Don’t forget the need of why your customer is calling you to begin with