We all have that one person who we’d love to meet—the best business contact or our biggest creative inspiration.
When Brad Lawrence and Michael Zach started the art apparel and body paint company BLVisuals in 2010, they dreamed of getting their goods in front of music star Macklemore.
“He inspires us and we’d love to meet him,” Zach told a Detroit-area television crew when they were featured on their local news last year. You never know when serendipity will strike; turns out, the cameraman was friends with Macklemore’s security guard and he arranged for Lawrence, Zach, and their crew to meet Macklemore when he and Ryan Lewis were in town for a concert a few weeks later.
“Listening to his songs while trying to overcome obstacles helped me delve fully into this dream I was developing and trust that everything was going to work out,” says Lawrence. “After meeting Macklemore we had several new opportunities simultaneously unfold, from last-minute out-of-state festival opportunities to live news interviews.”
Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur like Lawrence and Zach or a veteran in your field, there’s probably someone you’d like to meet. It might be a rock star, or it could be an industry thought leader, investor, or a hiring executive. The good news is that the meeting doesn’t have to be a pipe dream, says marketing consultant Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: “If you can establish credibility and offer a good reason why they should they speak to you, it’s possible to score a meeting with just about anyone,” she says.
The easiest way to connect is to figure out who you know in common and ask for an introduction, says Clark. Like Zach, you can tell anyone who will listen who you want to meet, or you can increase your chances by leveraging your current connections.
“Facebook has a ‘mutual friends’ function that will tell you if you know someone common, and LinkedIn charts connections out to the second and third degree,” says Clark. “When a friend makes the introduction, the person you want to meet will view you as a colleague, someone like them, rather than a stranger impinging on their time.”
Having someone else vouch for you is a warm lead and a form of “social proof,” a psychological phenomenon where people look to others for cues on how to they should react.
Social media–especially Twitter–can also serve as an introduction vehicle. “It’s difficult when the person is a celebrity because they have too many followers and they may not directly handle their accounts,” says Clark. “But the CEO or CMO of a company probably manages his or her own Twitter.”
Create a connection by tweeting the person questions. Congratulate them on article in which they were quoted. Or retweet their tweets. Over time, the interaction and engagement will make you familiar, and by the time you make your approach it will be a warm lead.
You can also make connecting easier by looking for something you have in common. Recently Clark saw that novelist Emily Liebert would be speaking at a nearby event. Through her alumni association, she learned that Liebert was a fellow graduate of Smith College, so she sent her a note through her website and offered to organize an author dinner while Liebert was in town. Liebert quickly responded and a meeting was planned.
“For some, that connection might have been hard, but because we both had gone to the same college, it was easy to reach out,” says Clark.
Another way to meet someone is to work your way up to them. Clark says a good example of this is Shane Snow, CCO of Contently, a company that connects creative professionals with brands needing content.
“Shane was looking to meet clients and he started by recruiting small businesses,” says Clark. “Once he had names, he would go to the next tier up. Those mid-level companies recognized the names of the small companies. He continued the process until he was working with Fortune 500 companies, building social proof by using a ladder strategy.”
Finally, Clark suggests demonstrating your credibility by associating your name with brands or people that others know and recognize: “Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, talked frequently about having gone to Stanford when he first started,” she says. “At the time, he was random guy who created a blog about personal finance, but the fact that he went to Stanford and had a master’s degree was a credibility tool.”
Another example is John Corcoran, who started the podcast Small Business Revolution, says Clark. Early on, Corcoran invited best-selling author Daniel Pink to be a guest. After Pink said yes, John was able to attract a number of people who are prominent in their field based on the social proof that Pink had agreed.
“We worry sometimes that we have to be super prominent before we approach someone, but with the Internet anyone can find what you put out there,” says Clark. “No one ever asked John how many listeners he had.”
Once you’ve identified the person you want to meet and have an idea of how you can connect, determine what you have to offer.
“A million people want to get in front of Richard Branson, for example, so you’d better find a compelling reason he’d want to meet with you,” Clark says. “It’s easy to delude yourself into thinking that what you’re offering could change someone’s life, but you should never presume that anyone wants to connect with you.”
Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, calls this step finding your currency. “If the person you want to meet has higher status than you do and you don’t have a warm connection, make it clear from the beginning how the person would benefit from the meeting,” Clark says. “They probably have a lot of people wanting their time. Always think of what you can bring to the table.”
You could offer anything from a PR opportunity, such as an interview for your blog or podcast; business leads; or an opportunity to connect with someone in your network.
When you know what you can provide, Clark suggests starting with a modest ask. “A half-hour doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but if you’re one of 20 or more requests that week it can quickly become overwhelming,” she says. “Don’t ask to meet for lunch; aim smaller–10 minutes on the phone. This approach makes it easy for the other person to say yes.”
Lawrence an Zach got just a few minutes with Macklemore: “It was the most exciting period of our lives and it set the pace for BLVisuals going forward,” says Lawrence.