“In all this technology we get lost from the fact that life still revolves around one thing and one thing only – genuine personal connection.”
Editor’s Note: I first created a version of this post for the members of the A-List Blogging Club. It was well received and happens to be incredibly relevant as a follow-on of last week’s How Business School Killed the Entrepreneur post. I have repurposed it for a more general audience. No matter your goals or business, the world runs off human connection.
What do Warren Buffett, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, Leo Babauta and Seth Godin have in common?
Other than being bad asses, the common thread is I’ve spent time and connected with all of them. Some have even become good friends. I had no special introductions or existing relationships to make this happen. It comes down to a process and philosophy, and it’s all repeatable.
I’d like to tell you how I did it.
It’s not all about the Internet
In the last 10 months I’ve grown my blog from 114 to over 3,300 subscribers. Contrary to popular web marketing jargon, the Internet was not the cause of this snowballing.
To be honest, the web was required to gather my audience, but it’s not why it happen.
Technology was simply one of my means. But the key to my traction was what happened offline.
I did all the bootcamps and took all the courses. Diligently tested all of the suggestions and worked my ass off to create the best content I could. But this doesn’t necessarily ensure the audience mushroom effect everyone hopes for. There’s plenty of blogs out there that get nowhere despite doing the above and often much more.
In two words: Personal Connection.
It’s easy to forget such an ancient art in a era where everyone can hide behind a flashy blog banner and tiny laptop. But remember that the web, a blog, cell phones, twitter and all the other trinkets that weren’t around 5, 10 or 15 years ago are nothing more than modern day tools. While you can do plenty of things with these tools, more than anything they are here to help us better connect.
Unfortunately for most of us, they’re doing the opposite.
Behind every post, every comment, every tweet and every page view is an actual set of eyeballs inside a brain that makes up a unique human being.
This is not something to be taken lightly.
I have met more rockstars in this space and others because I keep that close in mind (Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta, Tony Robbins, Chris Guillebeau, Richard Leider, Seth Godin, Keith Ferrazzi (I credit his book, Never Eat Alone, with a lot of the connections mentioned in the post), Rolf Potts and Warren Buffett to name a few). Most importantly I care about the genuine connection more than anything.
So I propose we take a step back from social media, headline writing and keyword optimizing and look at the big picture.
9 Ways to Reclaiming Genuine Connection
1. Be genuinely interested. It all starts here. The person and connection come first. Don’t have another agenda. So many people go to networking events or send emails and notes asking for one thing or another. That’s not what it’s about. Only go for a connection if you actually care about making that person a part of your life.
2. Pay attention. Notice the things they do. What they like. What they write about. The adventures they have. Birthdays or other big life events. Only follow a few people on Twitter and subscribe to a few blogs. The ones you really want to learn from and the writers with whom you want to spend time. Take note of the important things.
3. Stand out and connect. Sadly this is easier than you’d think, because so few people on the web are doing it. Don’t ask for anything in return. Just write a short two sentence email or Tweet thanking them for their work or something specific they did. You could even specifically mention you aren’t asking anything of them. You just wanted them to know you appreciate their work.
4. Give with no intention of receiving. Most people think they have nothing to give to a famous entrepreneur, blogger or other high profile person. Wrong. If nothing else, just say thank you. And mean it. A big time writer and mentor of mine came to town recently and I spent two hours writing up a list of activities and restaurants for he and his family to check out. Why? Because I would have appreciated the same if I was new to town. In the past months he’s become one of the better like-minded barefoot running crossfitting buddies I have in town. Giver’s high is awesome. Get out and experience it.
5. Link to them. Links are the ultimate form of giving online. And they’re free. If you like something, be sure to call it out in your work and link to them. Then send them a Tweet mentioning your call out. They probably won’t respond but I assure you they’ll see it. David Garland’s recent article How to Interview and Build Relationships with Influential People is a killer resource on using your blog to make connections.
6. Create experiences. People love memories and stories. That’s what makes life real – I don’t care how famous you are. Two years ago I wrote Warren Buffett a letter asking for help in picking out an engagement ring for my girlfriend. I had paid attention over the years and knew that Warren owned a jewelry shop, loved good looking women and held marriage as the most important thing to get right. So I sent him a note and a picture of us. I did not expect a response. I just thought it’d be fun. One day later I got a letter back from Warren. Yes, the letter was postmarked one day later. He set me up with the CEO of his jewelry company and rolled out the red carpet. My engagement story just got a few notches better…
Later that year at his Annual Meeting in Omaha I found myself at the who’s who cocktail party of the weekend (I had told my engagement story to someone, which helped get me in the door). Every big time author and investor in the space appeared to be there. At least five name tags had Buffett on them. Then out of nowhere, as I walked up to a group of people to say hello, a woman gave a scream and embraced me with a huge hug. It was Debbie, Warren’s assistant of 30 years. She thanked me for making them a part of my engagement and said Warren and her were loving seeing the story unfold.
Not only had I created a rockin experience for myself, but I had created one for Warren and those close to him. How cool is that? I have since made 30+ meaningful connections as a result of that night. And it didn’t stop there. The next day Becky Quick of CNBC got wind of my story and gave me a 30-second impromptu interview. My mind was blown.
7. Take Pictures. People love this. Post them, email them, Tweet them or even better yet, snail mail them. It’s my favorite way to quickly connect and it keeps your name and face in the front of their mind. I always carry a camera and follow up on any meeting with pictures. The giving continues.
8. Get face to face. This is the holy grail. It’s difficult when across the country but if you care enough you can usually make it happen. Make a note of where your favorite people are around the world. When are they off traveling, in town for a talk or when might you be on their turf? Offer to buy coffee or even better, get out for a workout or walk. Be different and give them something fun to do.
If you will only have a minute or two to make an impression after a speech or event then have your intro ready. Take it seriously. Do it before they get on the stage if possible – much fewer people will be clamoring for their time.
It’s so easy for an email or Twitter connection to get lost in the sea of thousands of followers. You stand out as soon as your name turns into a face, a voice and a personality. Go to any length you can to make this happen. Start with Skype if you must.
9. Be vulnerable. Be open. Sharing something uncomfortable or non public with someone about yourself has an amazing way of creating a deeper connection. Rapport will appear almost out of nowhere. But don’t do it just to do it. Pick something you know that person would appreciate or could help you with. Lay yourself out there. It will likely be reciprocated. I just watched a killer TED talk on Vulnerability if you need some inspiration.
Relationships do not happen overnight. And if they do they are likely unnatural. Friendships and bonds build over time. If you show interest and care enough, the connection will happen at some point. Don’t rush it. Without patience you will likely stop short of most of what I’ve mentioned.
Patience in action with Tim Ferriss:
For years I had wanted to hang out with Tim Ferriss. His book, The 4-Hour Workweek, had dramatically changed my life (and that of about 22 friends and counting) and I thought we’d get along well. I had no agenda, just interest. I started to comment on his blog and Twitter as well as get to know his assistant pretty well and helped her with a few things as time went on.
Then randomly a few years ago when I was in Omaha for Warren Buffett’s annual meeting I ran into Tim and we got to chat for 5 or 10 minutes. Sweet. Afterwords I tried to keep in touch but since he doesn’t technically use email, I didn’t have much luck (other than a bit of blog and twitter chatter).
I continued doing my thing and just a few months ago a good friend was going on a workout with Tim and knew how much I respected his work so he asked me to come along. The experience was freakin’ awesome (and exhausting–kettlebells will do that to you). I’ve even seen him a bit since. My guess is that won’t be the last time as we now have a number of friends in common. That was 4 years in the making.
Patience in action with Tina Su:
Another example started about 3 years ago when I first started reading blogs. I came across Tina Su’s ThinkSimpleNow and absolutely loved it. I saw that we had read similar books and I decided to write her an email to say thanks and congrats on what she’d built (I love writing random notes of congratulations to people). I didn’t even have a blog back then so I clearly had no second agenda in mind. Over the years I sent her a short message here and there.
Then I began to build this site and realized how awesome it would be to write for her and her 18,000+ readers one day. Soon after, I noticed she hadn’t been posting very frequently anymore. So I wrote a short note asking what was going on and if I could help with an article. It turns out she had recently had a baby (which I knew from paying attention to her work) and being an overwhelmed new mom, was grateful for my offer. That guest post acceptance started 3 years before I knew a guest post even existed.
Would you rather link to a friend or a stranger?
While there’s no question that getting big guest posts on A Listers’ sites and as many high quality links to your site is the formulaic way to create a massive following, to fully execute on that requires a genuine connection. I routinely link to great sites in my work and they routinely link back to me. And while the connection may start online, the magic tends to happen in person.
Just think, would you rather link to a cool site whom you don’t know the author or a cool site where the author is a friend? Obvious. The last 15 guest posts I’ve pitched have been accepted on sites with between 12k and 250k+ followers. I had a connection with all of them first.
Did you know that Tim Ferriss had over 63 blogs and sites link to him or offer him interviews and guest posts within the same few days/weeks of the launch of his new book The 4-Hour Body?! And these were all the most highly trafficked sites on earth. That’s unreal. Do you think he “sold” all of them on it? No way. He’d been building these friendships for years.
It’s not magic. It’s not just about crafting the perfect email pitch. Sure, all that helps, but without a human connection behind the black and white text, you’ll be nowhere. I don’t care if you run a blog, the local yoga studio or a multinational. The world runs off human connection.
Surround yourself with excellence.
While it’s quite possible to create world class connections on your own, it can help tremendously to become part of a group. This is the biggest benefit I see in business school. But you don’t have to spend $150k in tuition to meet a group of cool people who will help you change the world. There are groups everywhere. Many are free and some may cost a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars to join. They’re worth every penny if you use the above and go at it with authenticity.
Our standards and expectations are a direct function of those of our peer group. There’s no question about it. Surround yourself with people who will test your limits and your limits will expand. But no one’s going to do it for you.
Here’s a very small taste of some groups to get you started (I budget about $2-4k a year on communities like these):
- Summit Series for the global business builders of tomorrow
- World Domination Summit for bloggers and online entrepreneurs
- Entrepreneurs Organization membership for early stage entrepreneurs
- Young Presidents Organizations membership for more developed leaders
- South by Southwest is where all kinds of people out to change the world get together (wish I were there right now!)
- Blog World says it all in the name – Any entrepreneur-minded person welcome.
- A-List Blogger Club membership for every blogger from brand new to pro
- Burning Man for all non-conformists and interesting folks around world (I plan to “burn” this year…no, not like that)
- Toastmasters Clubs membership of all kinds of people who care about communicating
- NameSake is a community for people who love to create. See comments below for an invitation.
- Berkshire Annual Meeting and Value Investor Congress for pros and amateurs serious about value investing
Connect because you love it. No other reason.
The second you attempt to connect with some other agenda, is the second you will be seen as a fraud. Humans have relatively good sensors for this, especially if they are humans with big followings.
For me there is nothing more valuable to my life than genuine connections and relationships. I love making friends. So that’s why I connect. If one of them decides to promote my business or to link their massive following to me then awesome. But that’s not the goal. For me, winning is making the friend. Any other bonus as a result is welcomed buy not expected.
The web is nothing more than a tool. Don’t forget that.
It all comes back to connection.
So who’s on your list?
Who do you commit to connecting with in the next month? Make it someone big and famous. Share your connection goal in the comments below. The results will blow your mind.
Looking to learn more? Read Never Eat Alone and do one exercise each week. My connection with Warren Buffett came within weeks of finishing that book.
Image courtesy of Mr. Theklan