Because I said so

helper mouseActually, the credit for the brand new Ask Havi category all goes to Kelly Parkinson (aka Copylicious).

Kelly, who is also my amazing writer-friend slash colleague slash cheerleader, likes to regularly point out how unfair it is that I don’t let people peek into the contents of my inbox.

This happens whenever she asks me for genius-advice on something. She asks, I give it, and then she wants me to put it out there for everyone else.

And because she’s always right and because she’s careful not to use any icky marketing words like “leverage” (ewwww) when she brings it up, I said I’d think about it.

Then Naomi started in. Yes, that’s Naomi-my-internet-crush aka Itty Biz, who is also my another amazing writer-friend slash colleague slash cheerleader and is also always right.

Actually, Naomi recently wrote a great piece about why to be nice to the people who contact you, which now makes me feel even worse about the way I’m completely going to recklessly disregard her smart advice again.

When it’s good to be a helper-mouse …

The weird thing is, I actually love the idea that one quickie email answer of mine could help more than just one person. Also love the idea of being part of a living library of useful, practical, here’s-what-you-do information.

And, generally speaking, I like being what my gentleman friend would call a helper-mouse (don’t ask).

Who doesn’t want to be a helper-mouse? Hey, that’s pretty much the whole point of my business.

But just to fully establish my helper-mouse street cred before I blatantly refuse to be helpful a couple paragraphs from now: over the past few years I have gone way, way, way out of my way to help a ton of people who aren’t clients and probably won’t be.

Nice people. People in need of a helper-mouse. Mostly fellow Israeli expats who are now in America and Europe.

I help out partly because they ask (hello, to be Israeli is to live the Art of the Ask).

Also partly because I’ve moved countries three times in my own life. Having had to grapple with the harsh learning curve, I completely identify with how incredibly head-banging-against-the-wall frustrating that particular change can be.

Learning new ways of communicating and/or doing business: so not fun. I absolutely remember how great it is to have a helper-mouse, and how miserable it is when no one wants to be one.

When you really don’t feel like being a helper-mouse!

So yeah, helping people is what it’s all about.

But, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. Welcome to the downside to the “hi, I’m an approachable helper-mouse” thing.

People know I’m “that way” and that I have a duck and that I’m a big believer in acting like a real live human being.

Thus, the deluge. I get all sorts of requests from all sorts of people.

Some of them I’m happy to answer. Sometimes requests even lead to friendships. In fact, this weekend I’ll be having tea with Sandra Gross, a yoga teacher from Zurich, who came all the way to Berlin to see me teach mind-body brain training at the Berlin Yoga Festival. And also with Gabriela Rosa da Silva, a photographer from Paris.

But a whole bunch of them I don’t actually feel like dealing with. Ever. In fact, I have so many of these in my inbox right now that I don’t feel the slightest bit like being a helper mouse.

At all. Ever again.

Screw helper-mouse-ism. Screw who-knows-what-future-benefits. Screw good-person-ness. Screw karma karma karma. I just don’t feel like it.

Today, anyway, I’m feeling more like a grumble-mouse.

Hmmm, what kinds of requests, you ask.

Oh, for example, the “Would you mind rewriting the copy for this event I’m doing so that people will actually come to it?” requests.

Uh, yeah, actually I would mind. I don’t even know you and it takes time, energy and dusting off my genius hat. Grumble grumble.

Or the steadily growing requests (three this weekend!) which start something like this:

“I know we haven’t talked in fifteen years, but …”

“I found your profile on LinkedIn and you went to Tel Aviv university and I went to Ben Gurion university, which are totally in the same country, so ….”

“I’m also a teacher/healer/coach/etc so we have a lot in common, so …. “

And end with:

“… would you please review my website and tell me what you think and what I’m doing wrong?”

Urm…

So here’s what we’re going to do

The truth is, I think it’s super important that people feel comfortable asking for things and get better at letting themselves ask for things. Yay asking for things!

And I also think it’s super important that people who aren’t in the mood to give those things feel comfortable about saying no when that’s the true answer. Yay boundaries!

More than that: it’s also important to me personally to be able to step into helper-mouse mode when I feel like it … and without it ever morphing into a “should”. Yay minimal amount of self-awareness!

So, taking a cue from my father, who is big into the “there’s always some sort of solution that you’re just not seeing” kind of thinking, I came up with a compromise. Yay compromise!

Alright. People ask me for stuff. Good for them. And if you’re one of those people, you can keep asking.

Here’s my solution. Ask away, but know that I might fold my advice to you into a blog post. If I’m giving you my time and energy, then everyone gets to share.

And I want a small favor from you. Well, not a favor, exactly. I just want you to do something for me before you ask, and that is to read the rest of this post and follow the advice therein.

Yes, I said therein. Oh, I told you it was grumble-mouse day. It’s so grumble-mouse day.

Before you ask me (or anyone) for website advice: step #1

Run, do not walk, to your nearest independent bookstore or online independent bookstore and grab a copy of Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think”.

Yes, that guy I’m always quoting in my noozletters and such.

Internalize his approach to usability testing, download his freebie test script so you know exactly what to ask people, and then test your site for usability. Observe how people navigate, what they don’t click on, what confuses them, and take notes.*

∗ Ummmm …. please see my Hi-I’m-a-cobbler-and-my-kids-are-barefoot disclaimer: It’s been eons since I tested for usability on my own site.

Before you ask me for website advice: step #2

Talk to Men With Pens. They’re smart, they’re funny, they’re polite and sensitive in a way which only Canadians (or people pretending to be Canadians) can get away with. What’s not to like?

Also, they do this awesome $30 site review, which they call a “Drive-by Consult“. They’ll tell you what’s not working and why, and then you fix it. Excellent.

No, I’ve never done it, but I hear from reliable sources that it rocks, so maybe I will. And really, for expert advice, $30 is absurdly cheap.

Once you’ve tested for usability and gotten your site shot up by Men with Pens, then I’ll tell you what I think. And I’ll even thank you for saving me 9/10ths of the work.

Before you ask me for freebie advice on everything else:

Hmm, I guess the best thing to do would be to read everything on this website.

But in general, if it were up to me (I know, it’s not, I’m still in grumble-mouse mode) and I got to choose how I’d want you to ask for freebie advice on any subject imaginable, it would be exactly like this:

Hey Havi, hey Selma! I loved the piece you wrote about [for example: solving the but-I-just-don’t-have-time problem].

I’ve been trying to apply this stuff but I’m getting stuck with X, Y and Z. Do you think you could write a piece that addresses this angle more specifically? Especially how to [whatever]? Because that would be so great!

But regardless of how people ask — and again, good for you for asking — I’m going to be doing a lot more of my answering here on the blog in the newly christened Ask Havi section.

(Don’t worry, I won’t name any names unless you specifically say you’re cool with that!)

That way, I’ll have more fun with it, and (she types hopefully) my helper-mouse moments can function as a useful resource that’s available to all sorts of people (especially the ones that would never dream of asking for help).

And best of all, that way I’ll be back in helper-mouse mode and out of the grumble zone. Because the grumble-zone isn’t good for either of us.

That’s it! Ask away.

(photo credit: Richard Miller :: Calyx Design)