A few years ago I presented at LaunchUp in Provo, Utah. At the end of my presentation someone in the audience asked me “How can we help you?” In the face of this gracious offer from the startup community, 200 or so of whom were in attendance that evening, I was speechless. Not because I was overcome with gratitude by their kindness, but because I had no idea what to say. I lamely said something that was not what I needed nor something the audience would be inclined to give, and that was that. Suffice it to say, I was not prepared.

Since then I have frequently been in meetings where someone has asked “What can I do for you?” I’ve frequently said “Oh, nothing,” or “If I think of something I’ll let you know.” This, despite the fact I frequently ask the same question of others. And when I ask the question, I would love for the person I’m asking it to to have a good answer. I sincerely want to help them if I can. And I expect those who are asking me the question would sincerely like to help me.

I had such an experience today. I had not prepared consciously, and was not expecting the question as I should have, but when it was asked I did have a reasonable answer. And guess what? I’m sure glad I did.

I am working on launching LaunchUp here in Hong Kong, my new residence. We’ve got the website coming together, incorporate and bank account are almost set up, and now I’m ready to start getting corporate sponsors. When I finished pitching it to an associate of mine today, he said “Fabulous. I want to help. What can I do?” My brain went into overdrive and I managed to get out “Well, we need to get a headline sponsor, and [company name] is the #1 sponsor we’d like to go after.”

“I’ve got a guy  in our incubator who just left [company name] a few months ago. He was the head of event marketing for [company name] for Asia for 7 years. Let me call him in here right now.”

I was stunned. The only better connection could have been this guy’s replacement, but this guy knows his replacement, and better yet, can give me some advice on how to pitch him/her.

Does this mean [company name] is going to be a sponsor of LaunchUp Hong Kong? Maybe, maybe not. But man, talk about a great connection. And to think if I had responded with “If I think of something I’ll let you know,” it never would have happened.

You never know what someone might be willing and happy to do for you. Of course it is better to give than to receive, but be prepared to receive graciously as well.