How To Make The Most Important Connections To Accelerate Your Success
Connecting with the right people is hard, and getting them to do things for you is even harder.
Connecting with the people who can accelerate your success 1000x is even harder, yet those are the people who can help you achieve a ten year goal in six months.
“How can you achieve your ten year plan in the next six months?” — Peter Thiel
One way is have the right decision maker decide.
Yet, we often put the cart before the horse with connections.
“If only this person would mentor me.”
“If only someone would introduce me to that person.”
“If only this industry influencer would share and endorse my work” (that rarely helps and is short lived unless you get a slew of them doing it all at once though it’s a nice credibility piece to add to the portfolio).
“If only I lived in NYC where the power players live.”
I’ve had those thoughts and moved to NYC for connections and I can whole-heartedly tell you you don’t need to move anywhere to network effectively (though it has other proximity benefits I’ll touch on later).
This is what get’s me so fired up to coach people that the internet alone is your world. 7 billion people at your finger tips and every influencer online.
Why move to NYC or another major city? I’ve grappled with this question for a while now and know I could reach anyone from anywhere.
Getting the right people to do things for us, when we want them to do it is extremely difficult.
Getting to that level where you can confidently pick up the phone to just say ‘hey I’ve put out this piece can you share it’ takes a relationship that’s so deep, so trustworthy that it can take years to cultivate — and it does take years so you need to start networking today, in a thoughtful way that doesn’t signal desperation and signals you’re a valuable contact — and therefore worthy of their connection.
When I had Ashton Kutcher share this article, it was because the piece was already starting to go viral.
It had done very well and was a perfect fit for his publications’ goals and objectives. The piece was my best work, and I had commissioned exclusive art for the article.
Furthermore, I had had another connection I’d cultivated, Ryan Holiday, publish it to the NY Observer.
More long term cultivating with value.
As you’ll read later in the piece, there are three different relationships you need.
- Close vested mentors and/or coaches who have done what you want to do or have achieved at the level you want to achieve.
- A friendly tribe of colleagues.
- “ Weak ties” — professional connections who know you at arms length and will help if you have something of value.
Mentors and Coaches — You Only Really Need One
Jerry Jasinowski, the former long time CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers is my closest mentor and helps me anytime I need him.
He does this because I’ve provided exceptional value over the years, and we’ve built a ton of trust and a deep friendship.
Jerry was one of the closest advisors to my first company’s founder where I was the first employee. For six years during that time, I saw Jerry at our conferences, talked to him at events and eventually we became tennis buddies.
Playing tennis took our friendship to the next level and he got to know me well. He therefore got vested enough to help me out when I needed him.
However as you’ll read more later, even with a friendship that deep, I treated it as sacred and only continued to send him very high valuable opportunities and requests.
I first did my best to be a resource to him and helpful.
I got to a point where I was so valuable that he took joy in fulfilling a favor for me if I needed it. That’s where you want to be.
Also, and this is important: Jerry is at a point in his career (retired) that helping young people is a benefit to him.
So when I launched my event business in New York, and he saw I put in a ton of work to produce world class events (raised money, got an amazing space in NYC, moved there), he had no problem introducing me to the Chairman of Ralph Lauren when I wanted to do an event on responsible supply chain or the founder of Vodafone when I wanted to do an event on the national grid.
So Jerry is what I would call a classic mentor and we all need one to make introductions when we need them.
However I can’t help but repeat, it always requires a great reason to get and request an introduction and your most important job is to be so good and be such a good fit for your target, that anyone can introduce you and would look forward to.
Your Work Tribe — Your Inner Circle that Will Help You No Matter What
My sponsor at my start up lab is a part of my work tribe because he is vested in my success. This costed him reputation and political capital to bet on me.
I got to him because I’ve been in the start up ecosystem my whole career, cultivated a friendship, and learned from him as a mentor for a long time.
This began at my previous company where I was an employee. So it took 8 years of friendship to get his sponsorship and trust to bet on me for one of his coveted lab seats.
I also was able to take advantage of the tide of his rising as well. He has an amazing career and landed as the partner of a world renown star up lab and fund.
Lesson: play the long game always.
Fast forward to today, when we were raising money, he would make introductions to investors. Even then, he only did that because we had enough traction and he thought our team was a good opportunity.
Ultimately, investors want to see ‘deal flow’ (investment opportunities) and he looks good for sending other industry investors of the ‘up and coming next best thing’.
So he still looks good.
Strive to create the perception that your work and traction is the ‘up and coming big thing’.
If you want to introduce your book to an agent, just send it to them. It should be good enough to speak for itself. However yes, having someone that agent knows accept your book adds a layer of credibility.
The writers in my writing course are my work tribe for writing. These are people who have enough familiarity with my character and work — who can confidently make credible introductions when we need them.
Strong introductions begin with the relationship and credibility of the introducer so investing in relationships are always worth the time.
So who’s your work tribe? It’s likely people at work, groups you share an interest in like meet ups or anyone else who knows you and your work confidently enough to vouch for it.
Who do you want them to be?
This can be cultivated via social media as well. I tweeted high value things to Jason Silva, host of Brain Games, several times.
He’d take notice and like my tweets. I’m a huge fan of his, so I had this piece of art commissioned because it’s a quote I really like:
It costed me $40 and I use the quote for my articles. Worth it to meet a guy who’s done what you want to do and on TV? I think so.
I now know that he knows who I am, and if I have something of value, I can tweet at him.
Though funny enough, I was on the phone with an entrepreneur who was introduced to me for fundraising advice, and it turns out, she’s good friends with him.
She immediately offered to write an email intro if and when I needed it. Value for value. I helped her. She’s helping me.
Law of reciprocity.
I haven’t used that one yet but it’s another contact I have if I need it.
Professional Connections — “Weak Ties” That Will Benefit Helping You When You Have Value
Weak ties are the secret to reaching anyone.
As we’ve said, for anything to work, we need to have extreme value.
With extreme value or a bold idea the target should be interested to hear about, you can reach out or reach out to people within their networks framing it as though they’d look good sharing a new opportunity with the target.
So let’s say I want to share the TV series I’m writing with a major film producer, I could look around that persons network and look for someone who’s connected to them on Linkedin or FB.
I can write an email like “Hi xxxx, I’ve written a five season series on xxx topic and xxx genre, I know that producer Joe works exclusively in that genre so I wanted to share my work with you since you know Joe, and if you thought it would be a good fit, to have you check to see if he’d accept an introduction.”
Even though it’s a long shot, if that person is ‘one rung’ below that producer, and could do something of value, and perhaps has time to meet with you to get to know you for a coffee, it’s a shot. You may just cold approach the target directly as well but it always helps to have a credible vouch to increase your chances.
Fine line to walk as many in the arts or venture capital have a strong rule that an opportunity that comes ‘inbound’ needs to come in from someone trusted.
So remember that to not get filtered out.
Also, don’t forget to hit up your personal rolodex.
I catch myself doing this all the time. When we often need a connection we feel we don’t have, we go searching the interwebs and cold contacts and perhaps some usual suspects.
But don’t forget to hit up your friends and family, especially the older people with more experience and contacts who are the same.
Everyone knows someone who knows someone who’s an actor or in an industry etc. — especially the more experienced people are.
Another thing: people ‘at the top’ don’t hoard contacts. If you encounter someone who does, they’re usually an amateur trying to ‘stack connections’ but that’s not how the pro game of connections and reciprocity works.
Again, it’s about value and the best professionals benevolently share contacts in the spirit of making connections based on valuable match making.
So even if you don’t know someone, you can reach out for a conversation with your value prop if it’s a good fit.
Getting Introductions When You Need Them — Think Of The Other Person First
Getting the right introduction at the right time starts with you and the work. Why should someone introduce you?
Again, you never want an introduction that doesn’t provide the target a perceived opportunity that isn’t amazing, and you never want the introducer to not feel like they’re adding value to the targets world by putting you in touch.
The good news is, if you get to a point where you have enough value, you can request any introduction you want.
My friend who started Run For America, requested an introduction with Howard Schultz, the billionaire founder of Starbucks. The reason the person put them in touch (which he of course pre-qualified to see if Schultz accepted prior to intro)is because Run For America is a huge idea that affects American politics today (they place millennials in political posts across the country), so it’s big enough to warrant interest in someone at Schultz’ level.
He got lucky and Schultz took the meeting. It’s obviously hit or miss given people’s schedules but give someone a bold idea and a strong reason to connect, and you can meet with Howard Schultz.
Also, don’t believe mega executives are always busy. They prioritize what they want and can make the time to do so — even more so than non mega executives.
Takeaway: have something as big as the connection you want to reach.
A Bold Decision
Decide you’ll never look for or accept nepotistic connections again. This does several things:
Creates discipline so you radically rely on yourself and your work to talk for you.
Approach connections with your work in a way that interests them.
Sure have them open the door, but think how you can show them a 10x reason to introduce and a 10x opportunity for the target first.
The Most Important Thing When You Get Connected
Act like a pro.
Act like a pro and signal that you’re not just in it to gain from the target and know where you stand in the invisible hierarchy of the connection.
If someone is much more ‘important’ than you in the context of the intro, acknowledge that.
This is so critical I can’t emphasize it enough. People are so selective about who they work with and a first impression is critical.
When I first got introduced to best-selling author and marketing strategist Ryan Holiday, through a ‘weak tie’, I was brand new to writing and he was at the height of his career. This was exactly around two years ago.
He took three weeks to respond to the email intro after agreeing to accept it from the introducer and probably considered not responding at all which I would have completely understood.
However when he did he quickly said he’d take a consulting call that would cost me $1,500.
This was both a qualifier and in some ways a test. Had I balked and started complaining about a $1,500 phone call, I can guarantee he never would have responded to me again.
However I wanted to gobble up his industry knowledge and jumped on it. As a result, he was gracious and brought the fee down to $1,000.
Now you can imagine after securing the phone call, I may be thinking “now the tides have turned, I’m the client paying $1,000 for a phone call. It’s going to be the best and most valuable phone call of my life.” Not even.
I took it as a calm first intro call as though money wasn’t an issue and I promise you it very much was!
I was living on a few thousand dollars a month living at my parents house at the time and had to dig deep to make that spend. It’s about standards, and I wanted Holiday to know I was a pro and valued his connection beyond the $1k.
The call came and went and my only purpose for that call was to show Ryan that I was a pro and someone he could collaborate with. People at that level don’t care about money or $1,000 consulting calls.
They’re merely qualifiers. We ended up doing several of those calls, and I was able to get deep insight into the publishing world from A to Z very fast and establish trust with Ryan.
Now I can email him whenever I want for high value things and know I’ve established myself as worthy to receive a response.
There are also different scenarios to reach people like that. For example, I could have came in the front door at his marketing firm if I was writing a book. There are many ways to skin the cat but you get the point.
It starts and ends with you and your value.
Lead with that.
Then make sure it’s a good fit for the target you’re trying to reach. Everyone who’s a busy pro looks forward to seeking new opportunities.
Find a mentor, this is your champion. A champion who thinks your’e the best thing since sliced bread and will go out on a limb to say ‘you have to work with this person because they’re so good.’ That’s the ultimate intro you want.
Build your work tribe and build as many weak ties as you can.
Most importantly, be so good they can’t ignore you and you’ll get any connection you want.