Getting out of your personal comfort zone is terrifying by nature, but it's almost always a professional win. Enlisting a mentor to show you the ropes not only shows initiative, competence, and humility, but it helps build your network in your new chosen field.
Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Fame notes that
"If you want to go somewhere, it's best to find someone who has already been there."
An expert mentor who's already traveled the road you're mapping out is an asset that most of your competitors will lack. I'll show you how to create opportunities to connect with an expert who could become your personal Success Mountain Sherpa.
Sound a little intimidating?
It probably should, at first. Influencers and experts have built walls around their time, both professionally and personally.
Think about it: Unless you're an Inbox Zero master, your own unread notifications probably number in the dozens. Add in other commitments—such as evening volunteer events or lunches with associates—and the time an expert has to devote to your needs shrinks.
Of course, time isn't your only obstacle.
Some experts are hard to track down. Do they even check that inbox where you sent your perfect introduction? Are they the ones reading their Twitter replies, or do they leave that to their social media manager?
You're also not the only one asking for their attention. Plenty of others are lined up before and after you, and if you're not on the expert's radar, you won't stand out in the noise. An expert's patience with yet another bit of small talk or the umpteenth life story is just about nonexistent.
How to Connect with Any Expert
I'll show you how to:
1. Identify, organize, and start getting to know experts according to your knowledge needs
2. Get past the noise to make the first connection
3. Write a not-so-cold email request that enables you to learn more from them.
4. Make small asks that build deeper connections.
1. Identify and Organize Your Experts
The first step to connecting with an expert is to find the one that's relevant to the task at hand. You've got a few options, here:
If you're using Twitter lists, segment field experts into lists by specialty … voila! You've got a searchable stream of knowledge.
For example, I created a private Twitter list for my favorite Content Marketing experts. When I ran into a budget roadblock at work, I didn't search Google for 'How to Convince the Boss to Invest in Content Marketing.'
Instead, I scanned my Twitter list feed and saw that someone I admired had written a post on the subject not two weeks before. Knowing this made both a Twitter reply and a blog comment timely, relevant ways to ask her opinion on the subject, so that she could later provide one-on-one advice to me and my situation. As bonus, she could also see that I was a follower and had engaged with her content before, making her more inclined to respond.
Notey is a topic-led content service, where founders Catherine Tan and Kevin Lepsoe surface 750,000 of the top independent publishers and bloggers in more than 500,000 curated collections. You can sort through these by topic, date, relevance and popularity, making it a great tool to drill into when you're looking for hyper-relevant and timely authors who might be willing to provide an interview, or advice.
Alternately, you can take a broader view by changing out your timeline on a topic, and noting who pops up in popularity on a regular basis. These will be the major players in the field, and (while flooded with requests) they may be open to a mentoring or consulting option. Feed these possible mentors into a spreadsheet to get a bird's eye view of experts who regularly post on your venture of interest.
**Tip:** If (or when) your spreadsheet of possible expert connections starts getting unwieldy, Lifehack's brief tutorial on using PandaForm to manage networking offers good advice to managing your soon-to-be network.
Oh my gosh do I love BuzzSumo. It searches for content around a topic on all the major social networks, then ranks it according to social shares. Choose to organize these rankings by most shared on a given network, content analysis, trending, domain comparison, or top authors.
The fastest way to build a list of topic experts is to look for the Influencers tab next to the default Content Research tab at the top of the site, which dives into Twitter influencers for you.
You'll enter your preferred topic in the center search box. Here, advanced search gives you more specific options—try getting as niche as possible with your first couple emails to experts. For instance, "content marketing" is wide-ranging with a lot of experts to choose from (125 pages on Buzzsumo!), all of whom are already burdened with requests. "SaaS content marketing" returns a more manageable 25 pages. You can then narrow the list further in the left-hand checkboxes to weed out types of publishers (like the "regular people" type!) and 'broadcasters' with a less than 4% reply ratio.
Online resume and networking giant LinkedIn has its own identified Influencers. Although active, these are the top-tier experts that you may want to hold off contacting until you've built some serious value and credibility in the community by connecting with lesser-known experts.
To identify more accessible experts in your field via LinkedIn, use the Advanced People Search by clicking the word Advanced, located to the right of the main search bar.
Search for people to connect with under 'people,' using keywords from your topic or field to narrow your search. You can shoot for CEO or another title, but be warned that searching for "expert" will surface plenty of less-than-qualified results.
Drill down through your connections or your alma mater to find points of intersection with the interesting connections that you find, or narrow your results by ZIP code to find an expert to take out for coffee, or invite to a meetup (more to come on meetups in a just a minute).
As leaders in their chosen fields, conference and convention speakers make powerful, knowledgeable first connections. Head to Lanyard or 10Times for a comprehensive collection of conferences around the globe. Sort these by industry (Media and Advertising, Internet and Startups), then check out the conference website for a lineup of expert speakers and their niche topics.
Start Learning More About Your Targeted Experts
Now that you've narrowed in on who can provide you with the best advice, it's time to learn more about them and see where an opportunity to connect exists. If you've been following the trajectory of an expert, a CEO, or a founder for a while, this step is a piece of cake—you already know if they reply to tweets, or get into deep Product Hunt discussions, or publish a weekly Medium piece that attracts active conversations.
If you're just starting down this road, use a tool like Riffle while you're checking out possible experts to connect with on Twitter. Riffle only needs a Twitter handle to offer rich information on someone's social presence, so you'll be able to research the expert on the network profiles it provides. We'll come back to the importance of research when we start talking about crafting an ask, but it's a point that bears repeating now.
In order to connect with any expert, you must have a genuine interest in them. As Dale Carnegie pointed out in How to Win Friends and Influence People 50 years ago,
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
Your interest and research serve two masters:
1. You're not wasting your time trying to contact an expert on the wrong channel (don't we all have that old email address from high school?) or at the wrong time (imagine how disrespectful it might be to ask the lead designer of your favorite app out for coffee the day before they launch a redesign).
2. You'll develop ins that you would not have noticed without research. You'll hear that they're guest hosting a podcast (go comment on it!), looking for great ribs in a city you're familiar with (make a suggestion!), or pick up on trends in their posting schedules that you can capitalize on.
2. Make the First Connection
People seem to fall into two wildly divergent camps, here: Either they're so hesitant to reach out that they can't make the leap from researching their expert to connecting with them, or they're so confident and anxious that they reach out on every channel, stymying any real chance of a relationship in hopes of a quick get.
Experts are people. Smart people, busy people, successful people … but still people. Treat them that way! Courtesy and courage, my friends.
Joining their circle of influence, proving that you're paying attention, getting on their radar, and providing immediate value are ideal first steps toward deeper connections, and social media provides all of the tools to complete these tasks.
In the case of LinkedIn post authors, the comment sections allow the author to respond directly to commenters—an opportunity awaits!
Search for an expert that interests you by name. Most active profiles populate a ton of information; you can take action on some of this info (like what LinkedIn Groups they belong to, their most recent posts, or what they do for charity work) or discover helpful nuggets that might crop up in later discussions (such as the businesses they follow, schools they attended, and who they identify as their influencers).
**Tip:** You don't need to sign in to LinkedIn to see most of the profiles—just click on the profile picture, instead. Since LinkedIn notifies people when I view their profile, I usually don't sign in until I'm ready to contact someone. Alternately, achieve this by browsing LinkedIn using Chrome's Incognito Mode, or Private Browsing in Safari or Firefox.
Awhile back, I used LinkedIn to connect with Jennifer Aldrich, a User Experience expert at InVision, after I noticed that she pushed a lot of her blog and business content to LinkedIn. She also mentioned in a tweet that she's open to new connections, so I knew that this was a platform that she was hoping to grow her presence on. After sharing, commenting, and engaging with her posts, she accepted me as a connection and wouldn't you know it? I now have access to a brilliant UX professional when I need her, as long as I continue to provide her and her business with value. As the relationship grows, I can choose to leverage it to connect with other experts in her field.
**Tip:** When mentioning and linking an expert (or really anyone) in your content, notify them! I'll be sending Jennifer a note about this post after it goes live, to show my appreciation for her helpfulness and let her know that I'm still adding eyeballs to her name, business, and content.
Here are two thoughtful ways to connect with experts on LinkedIn:
Join the Same Group
These appear at the bottom of the profile. Click a group to view its summary, member count, who founded the group, and other active members (like group managers) that you may want to add to your list of possible experts to connect with.
You'll need to sign in to join the group and follow the discussions. Members will be able to see your profile, and the group will be listed on your own profile page.
- Once you've joined a group, make it a point to ask relevant questions or contribute meaningful insights.
- When someone that you hope to connect with asks a question, answer it!
- Engage with experts through genuine compliments, thoughtful messages, and worthwhile content that matches the level of content your the expert is providing — a thumbs-up is fine, but saying "Great idea!" doesn't add much to the discourse. "Really excellent idea here. I can see this working for my X product marketing. I'm going to try using this technique on my next sales call. Will let you know how it goes!" is more valuable.
Here's a pretty good idea of how not to be a productive group member, from the "Group Rules" link for the 109,000 member user experience group:
Dont's: Post anything that isn't relative to the group's name. This would include, posts to your blog post looking to drive traffic, self promotion of your company and/or services, SEO, Photoshop tutorials etc. Once again this is pretty simple. If you think it might be questionable, it is. Posting any of this will get it deleted and if a pattern of continued abuse persists your account will be terminated with the group.
Once you've researched some of their recent activity posted on LinkedIn and feel confident that you can add value to their activity, send them a note (via InMail) about content that they recently published on LinkedIn, or a talk that they recently gave and shared there. Alex Piroux talks to Forbes about some of the best ways to build connections on LinkedIn, saying:
To be successful on LinkedIn and in business overall you have to add value first. Just because they accepted your connection invite doesn't mean they are interested in what you have to say…
Make sure the value that you've provided your expert is evident to them by contacting them right on the LinkedIn platform. You can access InMail on their profile page, next to the "Connect" button, but you'll have to subscribe to one of LinkedIn's premium models to access InMail. Costs range from $29.99 to $119.99/month.
InMail is slightly less invasive than email, and less assumptive than asking to connect right away. This strategy engages them on a platform they're currently using, and allows them to see your profile in return — a big plus over a typical email system. If it's within your budget and you're finding a lot of active, valuable experts to connect with on the LinkedIn platform, InMail is a worthwhile investment.
The relative ease of connecting with an expert on Twitter is hard to beat. Marketers, small business owners, designers and developers from entry to senior level tend to have a Twitter presence, and it's the first place I start looking for influencers and experts in those areas.
You'll also find a tremendous amount of freelancers and entrepreneurs with an active presence on Twitter. The platform gets bonus points for its informal style, instant gratification, and multimedia availability, as well. Add to this the ability to reference your contacts and multiply your audience with a simple @ sign toward the right connection, and you've found yourself a platform that really hits all the marks for expert connection ease.
Start by following an experts and favoriting relevant Tweets, so that once they do notice you, they'll notice that you're already providing value to them.
To get on the expert's radar:
Tweet about them, their company, or their product
- Use the extra 140 characters in a quoted retweet to provide a summary of the content for your readers, which also shows the writer you've read, understood, and appreciated the content. Magnify their content further by mentioning others experts in these retweets.
- On their Twitter profile, head to "Tweets & replies" to see how often they respond, and what they're usually replying to, then craft your replies to them in a similar fashion.
Pay attention to their activities:
Consider using Zapier and Pushover to push their tweets as notifications to your phone, so you can respond right away if they start discussions you want to join.
**Tip:** This is not only for Twitter. Pushing experts' RSS feeds and actions on other social sites as notifications to your phone or desktop is a great way to make sure you're keeping up with them.
- Are they attending a conference near you? Go say hello!
- Are they visiting your city or asking for recommendations? Provide some! Also, following their posted moves helps you avoid becoming one of those commenters that begs someone to come to their city ... days after they left!
- Are they launching a redesign, new eBook, new podcast series, or the like? Then early engagement and input is key to that new venture. Share your knowledge on these subjects, if it's valid or actionable, and your appreciation for the experts' work. Offer your assistance (yes, arguably for free!) via direct message, reply, or email.
- Are they looking for some help outside your wheelhouse? If your network can support it, offer to hook them up with the great "X" who helped you in the same manner.
For instance, if you're an entrepreneur, but your entrepreneurial idol is looking for an amazing copywriter on Twitter, mention your favorite copywriter's name via reply. Try to frame yourself as the connector. Chef, entrepreneur and TED speaker Chris Hill notes says, "a great way to build one's credibility, within their niche and the marketplace, is to be this person — the connector."
**Tip:** Can't locate your idol's email address? Try Twitter Advanced Search and search for "email" or "@gmail.com" from that user's accout.
Remember, experts are still people. They still have specialities, so they don't have all the answers to every platform, and appreciate support on (plus engagement with) new ventures as much as you do.
Since one of the key principles of connecting with any expert is to add value, be on the lookout for ways to do it consistently. If you're using their blog posts as jumping-off points for your own blog (and crediting them), or tweeting out content or quotes they've produced, they will be much more open to your request when you ask it. They'll remember (well, if you remind them) that you're the one who made the Ultimate Guide to YouTube Stardom the week before they launched their YouTube series, and were cool enough to send it along in a non-promotional, unselfish way.
Founder of X tweets: 'Looks like we're adding a YouTube series on productivity to our arsenal in the next few weeks! Wish us luck!'
You reply: 'I know you guys will kill it, but I'll leave this here just in case ;-) (link to Ultimate Guide to YouTube Stardom)'
Note the distinct lack of an ask.
After the most obvious networks to start your, erm, networking in above, there's no reason not to reach out on more focused forums, community chats and comment-rich sites to see if you can find an expert with the blend of knowledge an experience you're looking for.
Once you've identified experts relevant your field or topic on Twitter, Buzzsumo, or elsewhere, check for a presence on Medium.
Medium is an open, self-contained, alternative blogging platform from Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. Users of the site can author posts, recommend other posts, follow authors and publications, and discover new content by topic or their Medium network recommendations.
To give you an idea of the heft of Medium posts, consider that President Obama leaked the State of the Union on the network in January 2015. Experts (who aren't the president) write longform content and tease out big ideas or big grievances on the platform, like Crew CEO Mikael Cho, who wrote some popular, lengthy advice for job searchers, and entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk, who tells you why you shouldn't take VC money. Vaynerchuk also points out a literal highlight of using Medium to reach experts writing on the topic that you're interested in – he asks readers to send a private note via Medium to get it touch.
The commenting system is top-notch, providing plenty of space for conversations to get really involved (which means you can get really involved). Here's how:
- What stands out to you as you meander through your experts' posts? Highlight the relevant bits and tweet them out. This amplifies your experts' content, and the highlight-tuned-tweet automagically includes a mention, so they'll know you're paying attention.
- If you're using Buffer, schedule these with your own insights added throughout the next few weeks, using content from several different posts.
- Respond to a section that you highlight in their post. Medium handles responses like full-bodied posts, with the ability to create headings, add links and add images. It also notifies the original writer, and they can recommend or respond to your response. Additionally, you have the option to send the author a private message – just tap the speech bubble with a padlock icon.
- Mention an expert with their handle in a post you craft on Medium or feed there from your blog— the platform will notify the recipient for you.
- Follow them, and follow the publications that they write for to get a better bird's eye of what interests them, and what ins you may be able to find there.
I had been searching Medium for answers to my stuck-in-a-rut organizational marketing issues, and ended up highlighting and tweeting some fantastic insights from Higher Ed marketing consultant Ron Bronson. He noticed, and a few days later contacted me via my personal site to set up a time to chat.
Blogs and Other Undervalued Channel Content
Commenting directly on a blog is an excellent way to connect with a major expert, especially since they're often on all of the channels, in all of the discussions, and unlikely to reply to most requests.
I have over 804 emails in my inbox marked for follow-up right now, including many questions from people asking for advice. I will probably never have the time to get to them, but if someone were to ask me a question in a blog post, you can bet I'd make that a priority to respond to.
Think about it: They're already sharing with the world at large via every channel that they can, asking to be paid for their time where they can, and yet here you are, asking for yet more and wanting it for a value-add that they may not need at this point in their career. Serena Soo talks about this rather well:
Recently I heard author Michael Ellsberg share in an interview that when someone becomes a sought-after expert, they are no longer able to help many people 1-on-1. That's why they create a newsletter, write books, and give talks. They want to share their work with the masses. So when you are requesting 1-on-1 meetings to get extra advice, especially when you don't have a strong relationship with them, you are likely disrespecting the way they want to help people.
With this is mind, how do you get on their radar?
Try commenting channel where they're already posting content, but they've got the least amount of attention — oftentimes, their blog or YouTube platforms (assuming 'YouTube SuperStar' isn't their claim to fame).
Example: Paul Boag is a UX consultant with 40,000 Twitter followers, but his blog — while retweeted and quoted by the best in the business — is a virtual ghost town. Learn from the commenters who take the time to reply thoughtfully to a post, and then receive thoughtful feedback in return:
You can bet that Paul will remember Donna's comments (especially if she keeps it up) down the road. A request from someone so clearly interested in what Paul was saying, not just the leverage he might be able to provide, will likely garner more attention than the zillionth tweet about "Hey, can you try my X product and tell me what you think? You'll totes <3 it!!"
**Tip:** Comments on blogs come with subscriptions to platforms like Disqus, where the author will be able to click your profile to see who's commenting. Spend five minutes to clean up your profile before you comment as a silhouette.
Example 2: Yes, influencers really do like it when you tweet about their undervalued content. Prabhul got this kind of tweet right with a simple share, which earned him a favorite and a response from Highrise CEO Nathan Kontny regarding his split venture with Basecamp founder & CEO Jason Fried, the Work In Progress YouTube series:
Sometimes vibrant and sometimes fraught with digital tumbleweeds, online communities can not only be great places to connect with experts, but also provide incredible opportunities for lateral relationships with people in similar situations.
Yes, even a desolate community can be a goldmine – at the very least, those who do engage, engage for real.
If you're looking to connect with a designer, these are some of the places to follow and engage with their work.
- Behance shows you how to find the most popular creatives on their site to comment on and follow.
- Dribble lets you narrow designers by location, skills, availability, and more. It also has meetup sections, which more people should get into (and I will toward the end of the post).
- Instagram is personal for most folks, but artists or visual app designers appreciate a following here. Try commenting on Instagram in addition other platforms, more to bevy efforts than as a sole effort.
Some say it's a good idea to browse a company Instagram before heading to an interview, and it would follow that you would follow a CEO's Instagram before you interview them, (e.g., for a podcast) but that may verge on creepy. Your best judgement prevails!
- Designer News provides a search function if you already know who you're looking for. You'll be able to see recent posts and comments from experts you've identified, and hop into discussions that they're having in the forums.
Startups and Tech
Possibly the best mentors, highly quotable folks, and people willing to giving your new solution a go are those engrossed in startup culture. You'll find them on the networks already listed, but here are a few more niche networks to check for expert participation:
- Quora: Not exclusively startup, but you'll find instances of experts popping in to answer questions. There's also no harm in asking the community for recommendations—both on your current quandary and on ways to connect with an expert that you're looking for.
- Product Hunt: If your expert has an app, they have it on Product Hunt. Go tell them you love it, and why! Product Hunt also plays host to lengthy discussions on the viability of new products or features, if you're so inclined. Additionally, try searching Product Hunt's podcasts section for your favorite founder's content, or to find another avid learner's interview with them. Reach out to the interviewer to ask for tips on contacting the same expert. Product Hunt Live also hosts chats with some of the best makers in the business. Look ahead on the calendar, then schedule these experts' chat times into your own schedule so you'll remember to pop over and join the conversation.
Ask Me Anythings
- Reddit: Not exclusively startup by any stretch, but this massive, global and active supercommunity hosts Ask Me Anything Q&A's with influencers that are hard to beat. These discussions range from off the wall to on point, and can prompt further discussion via email, if you strike while the iron is hot.
The key here is to know if and when the experts you're looking for will be featured, so check the calendar (in the right hand column on the AMA main page), or follow the Reddit AMA Twitter account for up and coming AMA posters.
For upcoming expert posters, either ask your question well ahead of the live Q&A, or prepare follow-ups to your primary question in case another commenter covers it.
- You can also search older AMA's by topic to see if the experts you're interested in participated in the past. If so, use some of their answers to find a point of intersection with them beyond the topic at hand.
- Marketing communities Inbound.og and GrowthHackers also hosts Ask Me Anythings with powerhouse marketing guests like the Buffer team and the aforementioned Larry Kim.
- Slack Chats: From the watercooler of the Internet, these chat groups evolved out of online workplace discussions, then industry discussions, and now operate like less-formal LinkedIn Groups.
Slack Chats currently features more than 100 public Slack channels, all discoverable via search, trending status, and a list of latest channels to be added. In effect, these are online communities that may have previously congregated on Reddit, forums, IRC, AIM, or other platforms, but which are now choosing Slack as their preferred method of interaction. The topics covered span a wide range, but – perhaps not surprisingly given Slack's golden startup status and enterprise focus – tend to lean toward technology and business at this stage.
- Slack List is a curated selection of the most popular Slack Chats to join, including Chats for #smallbiz and #femaleFounders. What these communities lack in expert participation, they make up for in crowdsourcing experience. Use them to learn from other small business owners, digital marketers, and creators who have already faced down problems similar to your own.
3. The Not-So-Cold Email
You've come this far. Whoopee! Hopefully you've gotten a few responses on social media or comment sections, you've evangelized/awesomized for an expert's content or product (or both), and you've proven genuine interest in what they do. Now show them how life could be even better for them if they spent some time showing you the ropes.
Let's take a second to address some key connection principles.
Key Principles of Connecting with Any Expert
- Express/Have Genuine Interest
- Offer Value
- Respect Their Time
- Follow Through and Follow Up
1. Express genuine interest
Experts will see through promotional material disguised as interest faster than most. Take your time to do your research and prove your value over time before you ask for anything in return.
Read their blog/listen to their podcast/download their book/ follow their social profiles — invest in the expert, since you're expecting them to invest in you.
Flattery is almost always a winner, but note: it's only flattering if a) you mean it and b) it's authentic and specific. I've shown examples of 'You're great! Yay!' working to get a response on Twitter, but when you're looking for a quote or an interview, you'll need to back up your flattery with specific ways the expert's published content has helped you.
2. Offer Value
Have I mentioned this yet? :) Here's where the value of the content you've *already* been creating around them really shines! Some Value-Adds to consider:
- Note that the blog post where you quote your expert will reach X readers/webinar viewers/podcast listeners.
- Assure them you will provide links, which are always valuable.
- Provide a testimonial on the expert's products, if applicable. Make it an engaging testimonial for their audience, a true seller of the product.
- Example: You want to reach the founder of X app. Did X app bring you a % increase in site visits? Chart it for them. Explain how your team utilizes X app. Send it straight to the founder's inbox. That's the kind of testimonial that gets a positive response.
**Tip:** Did Twitter Advanced Search fail to find the email address you needed? Email Hunter finds email addresses by company domain, with 200 free searches per week and a Chrome extension to search any site for email on demand. Even if it doesn't find the address of the exact person you're hoping for, it will show you the pattern their company uses for email addresses, e.g., FirstNameLastIntial (at) siteacronymn (dot) com.
- If you've evangelized for the expert's brand or product for your followers, prove that it's been worthwhile: "This last tweet about MegaBrand engaged 922 of my 2,500 followers, reaching X many people." Show your expert the amazing tweet in your ask.
3. Respect Their Time
According to the email research firm Radicati Group, "business users send and receive on average 121 emails a day in 2014, and this is expected to grow to 140 emails a day by 2018."
When you keep this in mind, you'll realize that reading your life story is an imposition on your expert's most valuable resource — their time. The less time you've been in a relationship with the expert, the less time it should take to read your email/direct message/proposal.
In this vein, you'll want to remove as much friction from accepting your proposal as possible. Make the positive response to your ask a call to action: concrete and concise.
Example:"Let's set up a 10-minute Skype call next week. Here's what I've got open on my calendar …" If you use a free online appointment setter like Time Trade, add a link to your availability here, so they can click an open time to chat. Don't forget to schedule follow-up emails and notifications to changes in your schedule for your expert interviews.
4. Follow Through/Follow Up
- Always provide what you promise in terms of value, and over-deliver to the best of your ability.
- Say thank you after your expert has answered your request— sending cookies is not out of the question, here.
- Continue to invest in the relationship without wasting their time (replying to tweets, commenting on blog posts) to avoid giving the impression that your contact was a one-night-stand.
No one wants to feel like they're being used because their mentee contacts them every other week to put out fires and never hears from their mentee otherwise. It's draining, and makes the mentor feel used.
The Email Ask Template
You'll probably make your first major, or deeper, connection with an expert via email. Below, some sample template emails to get you thinking in the right direction when it comes to asking a tenuous, expert connection for a favor.
The main points? Keep it short, chock full of value and specificity, use genuine flattery, and close with an actionable item.
**Tip**:To help craft emails that resonate with you expert's personality, use Crystal. This service combs the Internets for your recipient's online presence, and returns helpful tidbits like the best greeting to use, whether or not emoticons will be appreciated, and if your expert is more keen on data or emotion to drive action. Below is a clip of my profile via Crystal, and it's pretty spot on.
Crystal is free to look up unlimited personality profiles via web app or through a Chrome extension, and offers a free 2-week subscription for Gmail templates. Beyond that, continued Gmail use and non-Gmail email assistance is $19/month, and you can add Relationship Analysis for $49/month., plus enterprise options.
From Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, an email that you can modify to get an expert perspective on your product:
Hi Natalie. I absolutely love your blog, especially the . I've got a limited opportunity for style bloggers that I'd like to run past you please.
I'm Nicole, the Community Manager for Swell.com, an online beach lifestyle boutique. We've been around for 10 years, and have an email list of more than one million customers. We carry the big brands like Billabong of course, but also up-and-coming brands, too.
Our team at Swell has selected our 9 favorite style bloggers, and of course you made the list. We'd like to send you 3 outfits from our Fall collection. Then after you've had a chance to check them out, we'd like to interview you on Skype about which one you like best and why, and then include that video on our Facebook page, where we have 61,000+ fans. It's a great way to introduce a bunch of new people to .
We'd like to get the clothes out to you tomorrow, and schedule the video interview on .
Can I get your mailing address today please? Also, please let me know if you don't want to be a part of this program. Thanks! I look forward to working with you.
Two Template Takeaways
1. You don't want to start your pitch with "I've been following you for awhile now" because they have a hundred emails that start that way! Talk immediately about how they or their business/product *changed* something about you, how you work, or your industry.
2. Don't make them feel beholden to you or guilt-trip a knowledgeable person into sharing their knowledge in exclusivity.
What to Ask For
Not everyone begins their search for an expert with a specific end in mind. From mentorships to job hunts, blogging help to promotion, a relationship with an expert is fantastic path to start down, with a wide range of possible detours.
Below, you'll find a few avenues to mull, but keep the benefits both to the expert and to yourself in mind before you hit anyone up, ok?
One way to build a budding relationship into your content is to include them in a list of experts in their field for a blog post.
Notify them of the list via beforehand and ask for a quote. Unless you've already shown your value, accept that they may not have the bandwidth to provide you with additional content.
I went the prior-notification route with most of the people mentioned in this post, and got quite a few smileys and "Thanks!" in return. Would I prefer a quote, or an interesting new angle to expand my piece? Sure, but that's shooting for the moon. Sometimes it's okay to settle in among the stars, just remaining on their radar for the time being.
Experts do this with other experts all the time!
A second example is this list of 35 Unique Entrepreneurs that are Changing the World from David Siteman.
I love the image part of his idea, too — using profile pictures as the featured image for the expert list blog post! All of the faces are eye-catching in a social feed, and sure to delight at least a little ego in the experts featured.
Requesting a quote that aligns with content that you're already creating is a simple, fast, great way to send a not-so-cold email that opens up conversation. Here are some tips to get the most out of this way to connect:
- Remember to tell them you'll link their X (website, profile) to the post where you quote them.
- Remind them of the value this quote will bring to them in additional audience eyeballs, and also remind them of your credibility.
- Keep in mind that experts truly do want to help you. According to Silicon Valley entrepreneur and advisor Adam Rifkin, everyone wants to do the Five Minute Favor, which is primarily what a quote is asking for. It's your job to find the right experts, prove your value, and make it as easy as possible for them to perform the favor.
- Give them a very specific topic — don't waste their time by making them guess what you want to talk about or telling them to give you a line about "whatever".
- Try to be interesting/out of the box. Smart people like to think, so try not to ask for a quote that resembles what you could have found with a Google search.
- Open-ended, journalistic questions can lead to excellent, uncanned answers. Here are some starters from Ann Smarty:
"What's so good about ..."
"Why do people need to ..."
"When is the best time / Worst time to use..."
"Is location important for ..."
"Who uses ...."
Ask them for an Interview or to be a source on your…
You've probably already got eyeballs here, so a blog interview is an easy integration on your part.
**Tip:** Try co-editing the interview post in Google Docs. Simply invite them to a document with all of your questions for the expert to answer, and build the post out right in the doc. They'll have full access to change answers or add more as the post fills out.
According to Dorie Clark, writing for Forbes, "In the future, everyone will have a podcast. So start yours now." Already a strong contender in their monetization capabilities, podcasts are infinitely available to the multi-taskers of the world (what are you doing with your commute time?)
Over-prepare for this interview. Absorb the expert like a spirit animal, so you're not caught asking them redundant questions, or questions that no longer apply to their current business goals.
It's much easier to get tripped up when you're live and flustered, so take advantage of not being in the same room by having well-organized notes about topics laid out right in front of you during the podcast.
Don't have a podcast? It's not as tough as you think: Here's a comprehensive "How to start a Podcast" guide from Lifehacker.
A powerful, visual way to increase leads for your product or service, good will in your market, and establish yourself as someone with a circle of influence.
If your expert is fresh off the exhilaration of a Twitter chat, they're already comfortable with the surroundings and likely willing to do another. Conversely, if they've never done one before, you can introduce them to this opportunity to build loyalty and community. Twitter chats can grow the social following of everyone involved, start worthwhile discussions, and produce excellent feedback.
An expert with a fresh series that's still working for eyeballs might be more inclined to play a part in a well-established series — so if you've got one, invite an expert with complementary experience to come join the conversation!
Don't forget about expert IRL encounters of the expert kind!
Karen Wickre, editorial director at Twitter, describes the need for reaching out beyond, or after, the chimed-in, three-word responses inherent in social media networking:
Each of these platforms certainly has a place for finding and trading on information and connections. But don't limit yourself to them, as you'll get random, self-selected responses, none as detailed or nuanced or private as you might need.
You have more to offer than an email can contain, let alone a tweet! Search out an opportunity to give the person you admire the gift of your time and rapt attention if they're near (or going to be near) your city. Here's a few ways:
Host a Meetup in your area and invite a visiting expert on the topic at hand, or a local one. Promote your meetup for a quality turnout that ensures a great value-add for your expert, as well as engaging conversation.
Treatings, a sort of mashup app of LinkedIn and Tinder, helps you find like-minded professionals in your area to sit down and chat with. Quiet, in-person meetings give offer an excellent opportunity to get to know your possible mentor, and let them get to know you, as well.
Get involved with charity work
From Tim Ferris, "Volunteering for non-profits and business organizations is the best way I've found of meeting people who are otherwise untouchable." Search the profiles of the experts that you admire to see if any of your goodwill advocacy aligns. If you can't make it to an event where they're involved, you can count the similarity in non-profit interests as an in the next time you reach out.
Go to an event where they're speaking
Creepy? It's possible. Also: It's dedicated. Some helpful hints on graciously working the speaking circuit:
- Say hello to an interesting speaker after they've presented, don't just tweet about all the cool things that they said. Then you get to tweet about how nice/informative/gracious/realistic they were when you spoke, which they'll appreciate.
- Invite them out for coffee before or after the event. Experts need coffee, too!
- In the same vein, invite the speaker out to eat before or after they speak! This was the best thing that could have happened to me after I presented at a conference in an unfamiliar town recently. I didn't have time to research a spot for dinner after traveling and preparing all day, so when two seminar attendees offered to treat me to dinner, I was more than happy to take a deep dive into their social media strategies over some steak and potatoes.
- Go all out, like Patrick M. Hodgdon, who took note-taking and conference-hustling to a new level in order to meet some of his A-lister startup idols.
Finally, Keep serendipity in mind
When was the last the last time you talked to that nice guy you always see on his laptop at the dog park? The lady who's riding the elevator with you in a giant office building? Never underestimate the magic of starting up a conversation on the plane, on the train, at the coffee stop — get uncomfortable and you might meet someone you didn't expect!
What avenues of communication did I miss? How have you succeeded in connecting with an expert? What are some standout ways that someone has successfully contacted you for advice?