An important part of influencing people — and one of my personal “secrets” to connecting with influential people — is simply having the courage to ask. However, asking is not enough. Before you ask, you have to have permission.
You don’t propose marriage on the first date, and you don’t ask a complete stranger for a favor. Instead, you woo the person, building a relationship over time. The same is true for networking — for winning friends and influencing people.
You can’t realize your dream and live your passion without the help of others. Connecting with influential people is essential to getting the help you need. Unfortunately, few people take the time to do it right.
“Making the ask” is the second step in building a meaningful relationships — whether it be in the workplace or in your circle of friends. The first step is building trust through establishing credibility. Before you make an ask, you must first make a friend.
This is the essential guide for how to do that.
Networking is not what it used to be. Social mixers and business card exchanges rarely work. What works now is having the courage to get on someone’s radar, build relational bridges, and serve your way into new relationships.
Ultimately, what will help your dream succeed is humility, friendliness, and confidence.
Get on someone’s radar
- Start by approaching the influencer. As I said before, the new leadership is approachability; you’d be surprised at how many people are open to a meeting with a stranger. Make the approach informal and without expectation. Try to make a friend. (See this infographic for how to do that.)
- Use the best medium for the influencer. It’s often best to start with something formal like an email or phone call, and then move to a more personal medium, like a physical meeting.
- The rule is to reach out and wait for a response. You can follow up once, if you don’t hear anything. After that, move on.
- Go until you hear “no.” Don’t say no for someone else. These people are busy, but if they’ve said “yes” to a meeting or relationship with you, then you are free to continue pursuing that (without stalking) until they’ve told you to back off.
Build relational bridges
- Create small wins. There is a natural momentum to influence. As you begin to influence more people, it becomes easier to approach others. In fact, they may even seek you out. Focus on a few ways to under-promise and over-deliver; this will lead to other connections.
- Consider the degrees of separation. I like Ben Arment‘s advice: Don’t ask, “Who do I know?” Instead, ask, “Who do I know that knows somebody?” It’s about making connections.
- Once you’ve made a connection and built credibility, ask for an introduction to someone else. (This is bold territory, so be careful with this. It shouldn’t happen at the first meeting.)
Serve your way into new relationships
- The best way to establish credibility and trust with an influencer who can help you is to help that person first. In fact this is pretty much all I do. I invite influencers out to coffee, ask how I can serve them, or offer meet a need.
- Don’t squander the opportunity by asking for a handout. Most people approach leaders, wanting something. If someone is willing to give you the gift of his time, don’t dishonor that by asking for favors. Instead, establish credibility by looking for opportunities to serve.
- Don’t do favors so that they’ll be reciprocated; do them because you love doing them. But I promise you: What goes around does, indeed, come around.
Are you ready to get started? Here’s how you can begin:
- Think of five people you know who know someone you would like to meet.
- Make a list of at least 10 leaders or influencers who could help you with your dream. What would you ask them if you had 15 minutes of their time?
- Map out a plan for how you will first find ways to serve these people before asking for anything.
- Contact the five people on your list. Don’t apologize, and don’t force it. Just ask. If they personally know the person you want to connect with, ask for an in-person introduction or find another way to connect (email can be great for this, too). Go until you hear a “no.”
- Reach out to the 10 influencers on your list, introducing yourself and asking for some of their time on the phone or in-person.
- Start meeting with people. Send questions ahead of time. Arrive to the meeting prepared. And follow up with notes afterwards. Ask permission, build trust, and find ways to continue connecting.
The difference between persistence & being annoying
Finally, all of this involves a certain amount of intuition and attentiveness.
While I want you to be bold and courageous, don’t be foolish. And don’t be annoying. Don’t coerce someone into a relationship out of guilt or pity. And don’t stalk.
Ask permission, follow up, and find people who want to hear what you have to say. And then, please, say it.
- Why It Costs to Connect with Me by Randy Elrod
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki
How do you “win friends” and influence people? Share your tips in the comments.
*Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik
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