Why no one will help you

Yesterday, I got yet another email from someone who was complaining that very few people in the industry are willing to give advice on how to start your own clothing line. Since Miracle and I donate incalculable amounts of free time to help people succeed, we talked about the reasons why we don’t help certain people. We help everybody we can -time permitting- unless they are stupid, annoying and cheap. All kidding aside, everybody has to start somewhere and whether you intend to or not, you can be unintentionally stupid, or annoying or cheap. I know I have been outside my range of expertise. I think one can only be one of those three things. In other words, one can be stupid -this isn’t brain surgery- but one can’t be annoying and cheap at the same time. Or, one can be annoying but not stupid and cheap. Or one can be cheap, but one can’t be annoying and stupid too. Make sense?

Based on practical experience I’d say people won’t help you because they can’t. You’re usually asking the wrong question or you’re asking the wrong person. It is only rarely that you do ask the right person, the right question and they won’t help you. If you’re not asking the right people the right questions, few will volunteer the longer course because they think that you’ll poison the well. Everybody thinks nobody will help them due to fears of competition but you’re on the outside looking in. They’re doing it, you’re not. You are not a threat. Trust me.

The reason most people won’t help you is because they think you’re not ready. If you’re asking for a contractor referral and no one will tell you, it’s because -in their estimation- you’re not ready to enter in that kind of a relationship using their name as a lever. You need a referral to get a good contractor, or good suppliers. Not always, but mostly. Most businesses are leery of people calling from directories because callers aren’t screened and they won’t know if the person is really ready to get into this or not until they’ve invested in the relationship that they might end up not wanting -which is why you need a referral. In the beginning, it is very unlikely you will be charged the full cost of handling your job. We subsidize you (yes, we do). Like any investor, we want the best bets, those who are as prepared as they can reasonably be.

If someone gives you a referral, they are vouching for you, implying you are ready to take this step. We are cautious about referrals because your actions determine our reputations too. If you do something untoward, that contractor will lose respect for the person who referred you (for picking somebody like you) and take their other referrals less seriously. Your actions in part, determine our reputations -and believe me, we love to score points with our contacts by sending them good business because they will make us an even greater priority and give us other referrals we may need. So, just as we have much to lose with our contacts by making bad referrals, we also have much to gain by making good ones. There is nothing that raises my reputation in the industry more than giving a good referral. But again, this is why any other designer will refuse to tell you about their sources for the same reasons. They don’t want someone poisoning their retail-well, their rep-well or their contractor-well. It is always embarrassing if one has made a bad referral with much loss of face and apologies all around.

If you’re not ready, it’s more likely -be honest- that you haven’t been listening to advice you’ve already been given. If you’ve been frustrated in your quest for advice, be honest and think about it. Have you gotten advice you didn’t follow up on and you should have? It may not have been the answer you asked for or wanted but if you’re asking the right person, someone who is an authority or trustworthy (why else would you be asking them), they will answer the question you need to have answered, rather than the one you wanted. Take inventory. Has someone given you advice you haven’t taken but should have? Doing so will prepare you, from which you can get referrals. For example, I don’t give referrals to anybody who hasn’t read my book. I have no way of knowing if they’ve prepared sufficiently otherwise. At least that way, I’ve got a baseline of standards and expectations and it must be working okay because contractors call me sometimes and compliment me on the quality of customers I send them.

In summary, people usually won’t help you because you could poison the well. Throughout history, the answer is the same. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. If your teacher hasn’t appeared, it’s because you’re not ready. Follow the advice you’ve already been given and then your teacher will come. In the meantime and until you are ready, people will keep you from fouling the well.

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15 Comments on "Why no one will help you"

[…] take. The paradox is that because they are public, they stagnate and fail to grow. There’s very good reasons why people with proprietary information don’t post in public and it has nothing to do with […]

[…] on your judgement so again, there’s no reason I or someone like me would give you a referral. The reason you need a referral to find a good manufacturer contractor (also) is because if I send someone who is not ready to my manufacturer contractor colleague, he or […]

5 years 6 months ago

[…] 2006, I wrote an entry explaining why people won’t help you (and a part two of sorts). It was about why we don’t want to give referrals to people we […]

5 years 9 months ago

[…] and money. Both of us get tons of requests for advice but hardly anyone listens. Many start ups say nobody wants to help them, but when we tell them what they need, they don’t listen because it’s at odds with what […]

6 years 11 months ago

I’m a newbie trying to start up an accessory business from scratch. I don’t sew, and have no formal design education. I really appreciate the honesty of the people contributing to the blog. I also appreciate the time and advice people give me whether I’m paying or not. All I’m looking for is a little direction, if not a smidge of encouragement. I think if people treat each other with respect and kindness it will come back to you. For the most part, everyone has been wonderful. I pray that this will remain the case as my business comes together.