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.

88 thoughts on “What It Really Takes to Build Influence

  1. Interesting thought – influence as more of a skill than a gift. That’s worth pondering for a while. I also definitely believe that the most influential people aren’t the loudest or most prominent…neither should they be. If we are listening to the loudest or most prominent, we may not be going in the right direction.

  2. Jeff, Thank You! I really need that. I’m getting a little traction and people are beginning to contacting me. Now it’s time to reach out and try to help them.

  3. “It’s not who you know. It’s who you help.”

    These are words that I’ve personally taken to heart when I decided to shift the focus (and purpose for that matter) of my own blog.

    Also worth noting, that Jesus knew (had access to, and was followed by) many folks, but he chose to spend his time “helping” the select few.

    Reminds me of the “teach a man to fish” concept, but in this case it’s in reference to helping. Be diligent and help out a few people, in the hopes that they, in turn, pay it forward by doing the same.

    1. Great way to frame it, Brian. I think you’re one of the most generous, helpful people I know. And I love the heart behind what you do. Thanks for leading by example.

  4. “And it’s not about being particularly smart or exceptionally brilliant.
    It’s just about asking the right questions, being curious enough to

    This resonates with me – I’m not a subject matter expert on anything, but the act asking, listening, and responding within my community has been a powerful way to connect. I’ve also noticed that it lead to connections with similar-minded people (others who want to “return the favor” by asking/listening/responding to their own audience).

    1. ^ what you said up here, Carrie, is the epitome of communities like the one we’ve built with Genesis and somehow I think you know that. 😉

  5. This was very refreshing to read and initiated some good time of reflection.
    What I think I have appreciated about my past mentors more than anything else is their ability to challenge me with their lifestyles, with and without words. I find myself compelled by their example to try to live in such a way that uplifts and encourages others.
    That is the kind of person I hope to imitate!

  6. “It’s just about asking the right questions, being curious enough to care.” I love that. I knew curiosity was powerful. Though I never heard it packaged like that: curiosity is actually a sign of caring. Thanks, Jeff.

  7. Re: “It’s not about being charismatic or popular. It’s about helping people — using the resources you have to make a difference in others’ lives.”

    I like this a lot. I’ve always tried to do this – be helpful – whether someone becomes a customer or not. It’s the right thing to do. And people will appreciate that more than anything.

  8. Excellent advice. I suspect that if more people sought to share and help rather than promote themselves, there would be far fewer online bust-ups (and a lot less spam).

  9. Great message. “It’s not who you know. It’s who you help.” Well put. Wish I would have thought of it. 🙂 My sales career took off when I stopped focusing about making money and started focusing on serving and helping my clients. Funny how that works. Thank you.

  10. My mom always told me… “If you want people to be interested in you, try being interested in them first.” It’s great advice. When we try to help others become better, we become better in the process (and therein forms the bonds of great relationships as well).

  11. I just keep doing what I do. I’m a little dismayed with the whole online thing. Meeting people in person is much better, although I’ve never been impressed with conferences either. I always get a sense that many people try too hard and that makes them feel less sincere to me. So sincerity is important to me when it comes to influencers.

  12. I enjoy the ones who make an effort to connect, even online. And encourage others. If they’re negative, I run! Who needs more of that in their lives? Not this girl. I left a group of bloggers because I didn’t like the attitude and focus they had about getting “big” as Christian bloggers. I get it, we want that audience but if that’s my main goal, maybe I’m not really writing for the right reasons. Maybe that’s just me. I’ll just keep plugging away and encouraging the best I can. I don’t want fame to take my focus off Christ… This writing gig is tough. How do you stay humble while trying to promote your work?

    1. Great question, Melinda. I don’t think promoting your work and humility are mutually exclusive. I think the motive behind what you do is important. If you are inspired to create something useful and helpful, it can be a very generous act to share that. You just have to do it in the right way so that people trust you.

      And don’t worry; I’m sure when the time is right, you’ll find an event that’s a good fit for you.

  13. Great post Jeff. The last few years of my life resonate very well with this. I started doing work to help others in video and it landed me my current job. Now I am writing on my blog with my personal photography to help others with things they struggle with and it’s opened up an opportunity for new relationships and even for a full gallery in January at the Heyde Arts Center. All of these things are building up my influence. People are starting to know who I am and what I am capable of especially when they meet me in person. So glad you shared this with us. Maybe some day we can grab a cup of coffee. 🙂

  14. Giving it away is the easiest thing in the world if you’re in love with your subject and in love with what you’re doing. That’s why I love geeks and I’m proud to call myself one. They love what they do so much that they cannot wait to share it. They bubble over with excitement about it and that excitement is infectious. I’ll go off on what I call my “babbling” mode when I talk about Louisa May Alcott (my passion) and then I’ll stop myself, embarrassed that I’ve held the floor that long. I apologize and the response I always get is, “Oh no, are you kidding, this is fascinating, please continue!” I love sharing what I’ve discovered and I love helping others to do the same. Geeks equate that to fun; I am definitely a geek! 🙂

  15. Jeff, this one post is going on my bookmark list. I long to be influential so that I can make a difference in the world and I just didn’t get it till now – till I read this. I preach giving before taking, serving and loving, yet I didn’t make the connection between those things are influence. Influence is DIRECTLY connected with giving+serving+loving. Thank you for giving me such an intense moment of clarity. <3 Ritu

  16. Ouch. This one hurts. Please stop reading my journal Jeff.

    Regardless of my benevolent (hopefully) desires to be influential, the green eyed monster of envy still creeps up from time to time. When I look to hard at others and the influence they wield, I forget the influence I already have, on family, friends and even the internet.

    Confession: I get envious. But, fight it with perspective. I have helped a lot of people, and I will continue to do so.

    Now, how can I help you?

    1. Erik, you’re awesome. And I think you’re a great example of this. Keep serving and helping. You’re making a difference. And remember how far you’ve come. I have to do the same. It’s easy to lose perspective, but it’s important to practice gratitude.

  17. This was such an important message. It takes life experience to be able to slow down and see the bigger picture in what you are trying to accomplish. I think the greatest feeling can be reaching many people and still have time to interact and pay attention to anyone who wants to shake your hand.

  18. Jeff, beautiful piece! This particular post makes me think of the example left for us by Jesus. Look at all whom He has influenced over the years. As a Leader He served others and has influenced those with open hearts and minds to hear and believe His message. He who is last is first. (very paraphrased) That’s EXACTLY what you are talking about. You are serving others by sharing the gift you have been given. In turn, you are seeing the blessings from your open heart. So, the only clarifier for me would be that I have to know Him – God – in order for me to even want to help others. Otherwise, I’m likely to be a selfish “beast”. May your writing continue to bless and grow you and those who you have influence over.

    1. Tracy

      Wrote my comment and then read yours…on the same track we are 🙂
      I like what you said about knowing Him – oh yes…it is now turned to serve with the gift He gave us and not to get the glory for ourselves.

      When I think about Jesus being the great influencer, what stands out to me is He cared about the ONE! 🙂

      1. I’d say! I just read your post. My husband is travelling but now you’ve inspired me (see what a good influence you are) to do something kind for him when he returns later today.

        1. I’ve been married 6 1/2 years and love being married and look for ways to do for my amazing husband, even when he sometimes gets me mad, you know… Do all thing as unto the Lord 🙂 🙂

          Bet you’ll do something special for your husband…oh that is so good!

  19. I was reminded, this AM, as I made a special cup of coffee for my husband instead of doing what “I” wanted at the moment…he he I was reminded of this scrippy 🙂

    Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant….just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give HIs life a ransom for many. Matt. 20:26, 28

    Great word today – thanks Jeff!

  20. Great post, Jeff! There is a lot of meat in tiny (tweetable) chunks in this post. What is really cool about it is getting the opportunity to actually do what this post says, by us getting an opportunity to meet in person while you are here in Indy. Thanks for encouraging and enlightening posts like these, Jeff.

    1. Jackie, you going out of your way to meet me today — and make it easy on me — was a great example of this. Thanks for all the ways in which you’re already serving your way into influence. People are noticing. I know I am.

    1. Thanks, Larry. I would be remiss if I didn’t respond to this. Thanks for making me feel like my words have mattered. You’ve been a great encourager since the very start.

  21. This is so true; and a lot of people just never get it. Thanks for the reminder that in order to write, I have to connect to others. You need to have a life, in order to write about life.

  22. Great words of encouragement and advice. Serving others opens the doors to many opportunities. People will trust you when they know you care about them. Thanks for the insight!

  23. Hi Jeff. I would say availability is a key ingredient. I’m at the influence conference, and as creepy as this sounds, I’ve been watching you (and others) all week. I see you mingling, talking, laughing and cutting shoes for kids in Africa right along side the rest of us. You aren’t hiding away as someone who has arrived and is therefore untouchable. You are available., and I appreciate that. Amy

  24. A lovely little tale of how you learned the critical life lessons of Humility and Servant Leadership. (Puts me in mind, too, of John Maxwell’s musing.) Thanks a million for having the courage to share your story, Jeff. I never find you less than inspirational. (And so of course I’m looking forward to reading “The In-Between.” Cheers!

  25. Influencers aren’t afraid of other people’s opinion. They just do their thing and don’t lose their focus.
    Thanks for that post, Jeff. Greetings from Germany 😉

  26. I think most influencers underestimate how much they really influence others. I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have told me they are inspired by me. Me? Are you kidding? I was just like you five seconds ago! But I’ve had to give that mindset up and step into the role of influencer. My role is still developing, but your post reminds me to make it about those I serve, not about me.
    Thanks Jeff for the sage words. Again.

  27. Thanks for this Jeff. I agree, “Offline relationship leads to online connection.” I am
    looking forward to finish the whole book, The In-Between. Thanks for letting me in –in the Slow Down Challenge group. Greetings from Philippines 🙂

  28. I found that if I wanted to improve a relationship with someone the best way to do that was to ask them for help. Most of us believe that we can make people like us by helping them. This may work to some extent but when we ask someone for information we are building them up and letting them know how important they are.

  29. Great post–I couldn’t agree more. Everything we do should have value. If we can help, we should. 🙂

  30. First off, I just subscribed to your site and let me just say that the subscription process was very smooth and comfortable. I appreciate that. Secondly, I really enjoyed this article. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to be a genius to build a platform. Thank you for helping us newbies find our way!

  31. I love this post! It’s great to think the offline relationships develop online connection.

    As you said, people who help others make the biggest impact because they aim to always serve others. I think humility—a characteristic I admire in influencers—often comes with that. When it does, the influencer makes such an impression they don’t have to draw attention to themselves. And that’s a beautiful thing!

  32. A great influencer is one who remains humble despite the throngs of followers. He or she patiently responds to comments (haha) and continues to reach out to the newbies 🙂 You’re one great influencer Jeff Goins! 🙂

  33. People who have had the biggest influence on my wife and I during our close to 28 years of married life have always been people who have given freely of their resources to help others. They really applied the Golden Rule: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you must also do to them.”

    That means being proactive. We as individuals all need to take the initiative to do good to others instead of waiting for someone to do good for us and then repaying them. That’s what the most outstanding influencers do, among other things.

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