Is there REALLY any shame in asking for help as an experienced business owner?

How long do you leave it until you ask for help? 

How much do you pride yourself in not needing to ask others for support?

Where did you learn that asking for help was shameful, or pointless, or will only damage your reputation?

These are all things I have journaled on over the last few months since being made redundant….they are things I have thought about many times throughout my life.

When you are young, or new to something you have to ask the silly questions, you have to google stuff, you have to read books, and watch how-to videos, but as you get more experienced, and older, not having all the answers almost becomes a burden. One that many people hold onto because they feel like their credibility or reputation is on the line…and maybe it is.

Vulnerable leadership has become a bit of a buzzword. Posting personal stories of failure on Linkedin is seen as heroic. Writing books about being brave enough to ask for help signaling you are a great person and you truly want the world to be a better place.

But this only works for some people. 

For many, admitting that they need help is still seen as a weakness. Especially when they are already at a disadvantage by not being taken seriously in the workplace or in business….and especially on social media where you are expected to showcase your expertise and brilliance and never show any flaws.

Being able to share vulnerably or speak up in meetings about not understanding something is a privilege…and if you are reading this thinking “Give over love” here lies the problem. 

We like to think we live in a meritocracy, one in which we can all do well in life as long as we work hard, play by the rules, and have some level of talent.

The truth is the smartest and most talented people in the room don’t always get the recognition they deserve, and whenever they feel called to call this out, or even ask for support, they then get attacked with feedback about not being good enough or that their mindset is off, or they need to just work harder. Chances are there are other factors at play, unconscious bias, misogyny, racism, classism or some other power play.

In her book Snakes and Ladders, which I spoke at length about on my Podcast today author Selina Dodd (Professor at Oxford University no less) talks a lot about there being a hangover among working-class and middle-class folks who have climbed the social ladder, where there is still residual shame around showing your vulnerabilities and asking for help. She says, 

“Those who got a chance to shine in the past did so. their ideas, energy, and skills smashed preconceptions about what people of their class or sex or race were capable of, and showed the world that they were worth more than life on the lowest rung. Now in twenty-first century Britain at the top sits a tiny group of wealthy and powerful people, who have spent the last few decades stipping the world of its resources and destabilising the global economy to make themselves richer and more powerful still” Far below is everyone else, clinging tight, occasionally jostling to inch their way slightly higher, but all too often sliding down”

One of the things that have come up for me over the last few months is that when you hit rock bottom or are even simply going through some rocky times, not having to ask for help in itself is a choice that some people simply do not have. Many who have escaped poverty through education and hard work, still find themselves especially vulnerable when things like a pandemic, or bad health, or a relationship breakdown occurs.

Why so?

Because those who are generationally wealthy can often bunker down and do nothing and still be ok, they can leverage other well resourced assets, whereas the folks in the middle get squeezed and the people right at the bottom, although they may be caught by a safety net eventually, they will very rarely recover enough from the shame of hitting rock bottom, because their self-worth has been so cleverly entwined with their net worth by political rhetoric, the press and social expectations linked to having to seek help as in benefits or “hand outs”. 

One of the reasons that this is particularly hard for experienced business owners, is that many solopreneurs are running lifestyle businesses at best, and loss leading businesses at worst, if they really review the time, effort and energy they give to them over their lifetime, meaning that there is rarely much in reserve, and the business is usually reliant on them working on and in the business most of the time, leaving very little wriggle room for sustainable growth or even taking a break.

Add to that the pressure of looking like you have your shit together on social media so you don’t ever have an empty pipeline and its perfect storm conditions for a total mental health breakdown.

Many experienced business owners suffer in silence. They continue showing up to networking events, and attending mastermind sessions with their peers, but rarely share the honest truth about the cost of running their business, the sacrifices they make, the fears they have about it not reaching its full potential.

It takes real courage for an experienced business owner to say my business is NOT working, especially if from the outside it looks like it is, especially if others look up to you, or you have clients, peers and other stakeholders that have a vested interest in nothing changing. 

I kept my plus size fitness business going for 5 years longer than I should have done.

I didn’t have the connections, the clout, or the capital to scale the business in the way I wanted to, and what that meant is that my passion, time, and energy became the currency that kept it going, despite it being profitable and seemingly successful…it stopped me from building wealth and security. 

In 2020 when I had my best year in business during the pandemic as a business coach predominantly helping people take their offline expert businesses fully online, from the outside it looked like I had it all…a steady flow of clients, glowing testimonials, a best-selling book, I was even location independent for a bit, but it wasn’t sustainable.

The metrics which signified success for me were not the ones I was smashing out of the park…and finding the right kind of help to change that was hard….and it was hard to switch off that cashflow.

But it had to be done.

Because my legacy plans are not tied up to becoming a millionaire, they are connected to change, real systematic change, and so I decided to do something drastic, to work for someone else to build something bigger, to play with the even bigger boys lol…and sadly that ended in redundancy, and a scramble to rebuild my business coaching business. 

Experienced business owners work with me as their business growth strategist because of one thing, and one thing alone TRUST.

They know I won’t judge them, they know they can be honest, and they know I will support them to come up with an aligned strategy that works for THEM and their business, instead of a cookie-cutter approach that leads everyone through the same thing because that’s easier and more scaleable for me. 

So here are 3 things to think about if you feel stuck and don’t feel like you can ask for help…

  1. Understand the kind of help you need. Is it strategic, is it connecting to your vision, is it tactical, is it momentum, is it moral support you need, or help to believe that success is possible? OR do you just want a bitch and a moan, and someone to agree with you that business and life is hard.
  2. Don’t just ask people in your network…YES they can give you their take, but remember they might not have the whole picture, or have the right expertise to support you anyway. And what you might find is that the people you thought were friends were not in fact and only enjoy the side of you that makes them look good. 
  3. If you have the funds to, buy in the help. Having a contractual agreement to get you the transformation you require does two things, it balances the emotional toil of asking for help, AND it gives you power and autonomy to get what you need from the process without any weirdness about having to pay someone back later on down the line

And some things to help keep you sane in the process…

  1. People are not mind readers, they can’t help and support you if you don’t tell them there is an issue. Be frank, tell people what is going on. Do that overtly or covertly, whatever feels safe. Don’t speak in riddles though…say what’s REALLY going on if you can. 
  2. Not everyone has capacity to help, either practically, or emotionally…some people have their own stuff going on, and some just don’t give a shit
  3. You will be OK…ask for help enough and you will find solutions, be open to where the support comes from, sometimes all it takes are some kind words or a bit of a helping hand, and then you can sort yourself out

Having been made redundant in March, having not been paid for 3 months, just 2 months after moving my whole life to a new area…I had no choice but to ask for help. I don’t naturally find asking for help easy, as I have very much been on my own for as long as I can remember. But I don’t just have myself to think about, my daughter needs her mum to be happy, healthy and in work…and so when asking for help felt super tough, I journaled on my why. 

I also took a long hard look at the good will that I had stored in the bank. The amount of help and support I have offered in the past, the good work I have done, the legacy I have already created through my career….and I found that many people were more than happy but to give up their time, and expertise to support me. 

I also sought the help of professionals, I spoke to my GP, and I phoned ACAS, and got profesional advice around what my options were…one very kind lady on a phone call said, “Swallow your pride love and take the support, you have paid into the system your whole life, this is what it’s there for…and when you don’t need it, you won’t take it…you’d be surprised how difficult things are for so many people right now, you are not alone”

That comment alone made me cry with relief, it gave me clarity, it actually helped me find a solution that wasn’t claiming universal credit….and that unlocked something in me, that helped me come to my own rescue.

Asking for help doesn’t negate your expertise or your experience, it doesn’t undo your best work, or make you any less of a valued human being. What is does is it helps us to acknowledge that the last few years have been a roller coaster of emotions, and that life is ALWAYS one big challenge…and in some ways that’s what makes it so precious.

Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong….and I for one am on a mission to champion the idea of asking for help…alongside the calling out of the inequalities and judgements that still exist around asking for support when we need it.  

You have got this!!!

PS….And to every person who has responded to my requests for help, support, advice and insight over the last few months, and in fact my life to date, I am truly grateful. 



The Legacy Masterplan Incubator

Julie Creffield is a serial entrepreneur and legacy business coach. She has spent the past 25 years working on large-scale change and transformation projects, including 8 years on the London 2012 Legacy Plan.  

She has worked with more than 3000 business owners to help them think bigger and perform better…building ventures that give them a better return on investment NOW and not just in the future.

She is piloting a new business growth incubator and is looking for a small group of beta testers

This is for you if…

  • You are an experienced business owner who is looking to reconnect to their vision, and re-strategise for the next stage of their business and life.
  • You know you have more in the tank, you just need some support joining all the dots and stepping things up
  • You want to look at the BIGGER picture of your business, rather than getting caught up in the tactics
  • You know the power in working collaboratively with a coach and a small group of peers

Contact julie to arrange a call, or ask for the PDF overview of the beta programme


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