When you need to ask a favor of a colleague or business associate, a written approach allows you to outline your request, substantiate your need for what you're asking and give the recipient time to mull over your proposal before responding.
Types of Favor Requests
Favor requests of business associates should be kept professional, even if there is a personal context. For example, a favor might be a referral, a reference, an introduction, an invitation to serve on a board or committee, or a request to speak at an event. A favor also may be a sponsorship, a request for information or support for a professional undertaking.
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Formatting Your Letter
A favor request should follow standard business letter protocol in terms of formatting, but the tone and delivery can be informal if your relationship with the recipient is casual and familiar. Start the letter with an acknowledgement of the existing relationship or otherwise set the tone for what you're about to request.
Example 1: Since you're one of the most respected leaders in our field, a recommendation from you for the open position on the advisory council would go a long way.
Example 2: As you know, I've been looking to transition from sales into management, and an introduction to your hiring manager would give my career a great boost.
Don't beat around the bush when you ask for a favor; be direct in stating what you need and when you need it.
Example 1: If you'd be willing to write a recommendation letter for me on your corporate letterhead and send it to my office by the first of next month, that would be ideal.
Example 2: I believe your hiring manager will be in attendance at this month's convention. Could I buy you both coffee the first morning before presentations get underway?
Provide an Out
Provide an out for the letter recipient, or offer a minimized version of the favor so there's no pressure or awkwardness if the other person can't accommodate what you're asking for.
Example 1: If you're uncomfortable recommending a personal friend, I completely understand.
Example 2: If your hiring manager's schedule is too tight, could I leave you a copy of my resume to give her at your convenience?
Create a Win-Win
Whenever possible, frame your favor request in a way that gives the other person an incentive for helping you.
Example 1: If we're both on the board at the same time, I'd be able to support your recommendation to move forward with implementing a long-range marketing plan.
Example 2: If I'm able to secure a position with your company, I'd happily bring over my existing clients, which could be a great revenue boost for your department.
End with a pleasant note and a mention of how or when you'll follow up.
Example 1: We can talk about this at the kids' soccer game next week, if you're amenable.
Example 2: If I don't hear from you by the end of the week, I'll give you a call to see what Monday's schedule looks like.