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Today's task is about reaching out to someone you admire. This person may or may not be directly related to your business idea – it could be an expert in the field or someone who has done something similar in a different field. This person could be a potential partner or a referrer of later customers – or all of the above!
We never know who will aid us in our journey, and, as such, it's useful to meet as many people as possible and to build a growing spider web of connections. This increases the chance of any one individual being able to help us and enhances our ability to help others.
All of our business today comes from people we’ve met directly online or in-person and then through those people's recommendations. It's easy to complain about some people doing well in life because of "who they know," but it's equally easy to stop complaining and, instead, get on with building your personal network.
The word "networking" might conjure up the idea of "networking events" – large gatherings of several hundred people meeting in a conference room somewhere and standing awkwardly around clutching drinks, wondering what they are doing there.
Okay, that's unfair. Some people thrive in these environments. We feel, however, that there are better ways to create a personal network. Part of today's task is to help you with this.
Sit and think about companies and people in your space or related spaces that would be interesting to talk to. Don't worry about what they can do for you and your business – think instead about people whose work you genuinely admire and are interested in. This is a crucial first step. We're meeting and connecting with people to learn, not because of something we want from them.
You may feel that some people on your list are not contactable or are the sort of people who will never respond to a message from you. Maybe, maybe not. There's no way to know until you try. Also, if many people think the same as you do (that it isn't worth contacting this person because they'll never respond), maybe the person you have in mind receives fewer messages and contact requests than you think.
It is also crucial to realize that these people are...just people. Even if they are at the top of their field and someone you greatly admire, that doesn't change the fact that they are normal people! Very likely, they were at one point in the exact position you are in right now. Everybody starts somewhere with their passion or business. And everybody then struggles through the learning process of getting to where they are today.
Of course, you don't need to contact "celebs" – just don’t limit yourself. Feel free to contact people in the local area, friends of friends, or perhaps someone you already know but want to learn more about. Who you choose to contact is not as important as the act of contacting them. Think of it as practice for a particular skill: growing your network of personal contacts.
Set a regular target, like one person per week (or even just one person per month), and this habit will vastly extend your network. I (Kyle) worked on this habit personally with a goal in mind to meet (in person or just starting up an email conversation) one new person per week and connecting two people I already knew who I thought I should talk to. At first, this was a habit I had to force, but now, it comes quite naturally – if I see a company or person who is doing something cool, I'll just automatically shoot them a message to see if they want to grab a coffee.
How to approach people
The idea of contacting a stranger out of the blue and asking to meet might terrify you. It needn't. If it does, though, here are a few tips.
First, don't contact people with an ulterior motive. Yes, contacting them may lead to later business (maybe!), but that shouldn't be the reason for connecting. Instead, connect with people you are genuinely interested to meet whether or not it advances your project. You never know who will be helpful and who will not – so there's no point trying to guess! This also takes the pressure off when you are writing to them for the first time. Instead of desperately trying to make a "sale" in that first contact, you can relax and be yourself.
Second, talk about them. Pretty much everyone's favorite subject is the same: themselves. When someone listens attentively and shows an interest in who we are and what we do, we tend to come away from that interaction thinking, "What a nice person" – even if they didn't say a word! If you contact someone you want to talk to and express your genuine interest in what they do, chances are they'll respond positively. Humans are pretty much hardwired for this.
Don't overdo it and fall into sycophantic flattery. A simple "I saw your such-and-such work, and I'm really interested in what you are doing. I'd love to chat more about how you managed it" is more than enough. Again, your interest needs to be genuine. And if it isn't, you should ask whether you really want to meet this person!
Third, respect their time. You aren't asking these people for business (or money), but you are asking them to spend time. Keep your initial contact short. If they do agree to meet or set up a call, make sure you are on time, and keep it focused. Oh, and make sure you buy the coffee/beer/wine/meal when you meet. Consider it a trade for their valuable time.
How to find people
The easiest way to get started is to do an inventory of people you already know or have known. Meeting people you know for the specific purpose of finding out more about what they do is like grasping the low-hanging fruit. You already know these people in a social context, and getting to know more about their business is an easy next step.
This is the same with people you met before but never really kept in touch with. If you can think of anyone that would be worth chatting with, look them up again, and see if you can reactivate that relationship.
Also, tell your existing friends and colleagues what you are up to, and ask if they know anyone who might be worth talking to. You never know who your current contacts know until you ask – you may be surprised.
LinkedIn is really useful for exploring your extended network because of its second and third connection tool. If you don't have an account (or have an account you haven't touched for five years or so!), then it's worth having another go. Most people use LinkedIn to find jobs, but now that you have a project you are working on, LinkedIn becomes much more valuable for keeping track of your current contacts and building a network.
Whichever way you find the contact, email is probably the best method for first contact. An introduction from a mutual friend is even better, but if you need to send a message out of the blue, that's also fine. Briefly explain who you are and what you are doing. Remember your elevator pitch? One or two sentences at the beginning of your email should be used to quickly explain the project to the contact. Then, tell them (honestly) why you are interested in their work, and ask for a quick chat.
The best place to find an email address is the person's website, if they have one. Alternatively, check their LinkedIn profile – some people make their email address public. If necessary, there are email lookup tools that might also have it. RocketReach, Klenty, FTL, and Rapportive are all tools that can search for an email or "guess" it based on their company's email structure.
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram are also ways of reaching out to people, but these generally won't be as effective as an email.
We highly recommend that you read Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Workweek, and read Ferris’ suggestions for approaching new people and building your network.