What It Really Takes to Build Influence

How do you build influence? Is it through a blog? A speaking career? Incessant marketing and conference attendance?

Or is it something else?

It's Not Who You Know
Photo credit: Jeff Goins (Yes, I took this while driving.) Click here to pin this.

After interviewing some famous people (well, famous to me, at least), I was pretty proud of myself. I had overcome my fear of meeting new people and was surprised by how many were willing to give me the time of day.

Could it really be so simple as just asking? I was blown away.

Overconfident and high on adrenalin, I emailed Julien Smith, to boast of my discovery. But he disagreed, saying that was not the best way to influence people.

“What is, then?” I asked.

“Meeting people in person,” he said calmly.

Oh yeah. That.

What I learned from envy

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I set a writing schedule, started calling myself a writer, even told my wife and friends I’d publish a book some day.

But all of that hinged on one important move: I had to build a platform. Which meant at some point people had to know me. And that meant I had to interact with others — like, in real life and stuff.

Nothing could have scared me more.

For years, I watched others succeed at this. They created blogs, got published, and started public speaking careers. All the while, I remained in obscurity, watching with curiosity and seething with envy.

I didn’t get it.

What did they have that I didn’t? Was it talent? Charisma? Mad DJ skills? No. It was something far more simple and far more difficult: relationship.

That’s what these influencers had that I didn’t. They knew people, the right people. And those people introduced them to other people. Connection led to more connection until they reached a state of momentum where nothing could stop them.

And that’s all a platform really is: a way to connect your message to an audience that cares.

But how could I build one? What would I do to connect with people? I hated the idea of networking and handing out business cards. But maybe there was another way.

Maybe instead of being the smarmy self promoter, constantly selling himself, I could do something different. Maybe I could add value instead of taking it.

How I started building influence

Little by little, I started finding ways to help people — an interview with an expert, free cup of coffee for someone I admired, even a little bit of advice doled out to strangers.

Slowly, people started to talk about me. Word of mouth grew, and opportunities opened up. And as this happened, I discovered an important principle about influence:

It’s not who you know. It’s who you help. [Tweet that]

Before I knew it, there was a community of people telling others about me. My name spread, my network grew. I was becoming a person of influence — and it all started with service.

It began with a simple change in mindset. Instead of hounding, I was helping. Sharing instead of shoving my message down people’s throats. Giving instead of taking.

For the longest time, I waited for someone to notice me, to be picked by a publisher. I counted the days till my opportunity of a lifetime would arrive, but it never came. It wasn’t until I started showing interest in others that anyone bothered paying attention to me.

That’s when I realized what had been missing all along. During that time of waiting and wondering when my big break would fall into my lap, the answer evaded me. But as my dream came true, it dawned on me:

Offline relationship leads to online connection.

All this technology is a tool — nothing more, nothing less. It’s a means to an end. And that end is relationship.

The takeaways

Influence, for me, isn’t about big ideas or huge campaigns. It’s about little conversations. Small discussions and interactions that add up over time.

It’s not about being especially charismatic or popular. It’s about helping people, using the resources you have to make a difference.

It’s not about being exceptionally smart or brilliant. It’s just about asking the right questions, being curious enough to care.

If you were to look at the people who made an impact on your life, you would probably see a trend: The most influential people are not the loudest voices or most prominent personalities. They’re just the ones who stick around.

That’s the secret. Influencers keep showing up. They outlast and out-give the rest of the pack. And because they do, we remember them.

So if that’s what influence really is — more of a skill than a gift — then it’s something we all can practice.

And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing… would it? More people making others matter? Being helpful and generous and not giving up until they’ve served someone?

No, I don’t think that would be too bad at all.

(By the way, I’m at the Influence Conference this weekend in Indianapolis. If you’re going to be there or are in the area, I would love to try to meet up. Leave a comment or send me an email.)

What are some traits of influencers you appreciate? Share in the comments.