How to Reach Out to Powerful People and Develop a lasting Relationship : 7 Tips
(Oddly enough) I regularly receive emails from readers who wants to know how to reach powerful people. By powerful people, they mean people who have the power to change their career, because if they could just reach them, then hardest part would be behind. (wrong)
It’s one thing to get someone’s contact, it’s another thing altogether to reach someone in a way that will grant you an answer, maybe even a coffee and eventually will lead to building a lasting relationship.
Authors and entrepreneurs Tim Ferris and Ramit Sethi have had years of experience sending cold emails to powerful people while climbing the ladder, and scanning through thousands of emails from people wanting something from them now that they are very high on the said ladder.
In an informative and entertaining 2h conversation on Ferriss’ podcast, the two men exchange thoughts and tips on a variety of topics, including the Do’s and Don’ts to enhance one’s chance to reach out to powerful people.
Ferris and Sethi might not belong to the Film Industry, but I believe their knowledge and advice can easily be tweaked and applied to any professional exchange, whether to reach powerful managers, agents, producers or to cultivate strong relationship with peers.
7 Tips from Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi to Reach Out to Powerful People and Develop a lasting Relationship
#1 – Aim at the Right People
The first simple tip is: don’t try to reach someone who is at the very top of the ladder. Between you and TOP Agents, Managers, Directors, Producers, Editors are a host of people who are really good at what they do, and will be much easier for you to reach out to:[pullquote]I genuinely feel that you will get a higher response rate from people if you do not go after people who are currently in the limelight.[/pullquote]
Ramit Sethi: “If you’re trying to meet President Obama, it’s not going to happen. If you’re trying to meet some NFL Star, probably not going to happen. If you’re trying to meet someone that was profiled a couple of months ago in Fast Cie, or in Author or in a blog that you admire, that’s eminently achievable.”
Tim Ferris: “I genuinely feel that you will get a higher response rate from people if you do not go after people who are currently in the limelight. If people are currently doing a lot of media, you’re going to be one of many people trying to get their time, and your chances go down. So find someone who was in the limelight maybe years ago, who is still very good at what they do. Maybe it’s not a public figure at all.
Don’t aim for Michael Phelps if you’re trying to improve your swimming, maybe you should find someone who was a Bronze Medalist two Olympics ago, guess what, they are still very very good and they are a lot better than you are. So don’t necessarily aim for the very top, your response rate will improve.”
#2 – Be Clear, Be Direct… and Do Your Homework
Sethi talks below about the importance of finding a commonality with the person you are contacting, which is a great way to show that your email is not a copy/paste desperate email, but something you’ve put thoughts and time into by doing your homework. (one of the most overlooked and underused tool to make an impact on one’s mind.)[pullquote]One of the things that I think the best people do is that they introduce themselves, find some kind of commonality, and then they make it clear what they are asking for.[/pullquote]
Ramit Sethi: “I think the ability to write a great email and connect with someone is a huge differentiator.
What it takes is being direct and making it clear what you want. The classic mistake people make is that they start saying, Hi I’ll make this short, and then 18 pages later they say, yeah, I guess I went on too long. Or they are very transactional, Ramit, I’ll buy you lunch and I’d love to get your advice about a, b, c, d, e, f, g. And I’m like, I can buy my own lunch dude, and also, I’ve been doing this for the last ten years!
One of the things that I think the best people do is that they introduce themselves, find some kind of commonality, and then they make it clear what they are asking for. So it might go something like this:
my name is Ramit Sethi, I’m a student, I just graduated from NYU, I’ve been following you for the last six years and the best thing you ever wrote that made a huge difference in my life was the article on Gawker ‘From Geek to Freak.’ Here are my Before and After photo, and I did that because I followed your protocol I’m going to be in town for six days, I’m looking to decide between X and Y jobs, I know you worked at X. I would love to get your feedback, and if you have the time, I would love to come to you, wherever you are, even if it’s for ten minutes, or Skype or phone, whatever you prefer, but I can promise you that I will take your advice and I will follow up to let you know what I decided.
You have a chance with an email like that.”
#3 – Show Empathy and Give People an Easy Way Out
No detail is too small when it comes to reaching out to powerful people. Ferriss points out the importance of closing, giving an example on how he would reach out to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Months after his conversation with Sethi, and only a few weeks ago, Ferriss went on having Schwarzenegger on his podcast, so it’s fair to assume his system works.
[pullquote]Don’t assume anything other than they are busier, more important, more successful than you are.[/pullquote]
Tim Ferriss: “Give people an easy way out. I paradoxically just find that the responses are better, because there are still people who are a whole lot harder to reach than I am so, for example, I have a friend who knows Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’d like to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger on the podcast but he is a hell of a lot more in demand than I am and if I were to email him, I wouldn’t say I look forward to your favorable response, Tim Ferriss.
That shit drives people nuts. Don’t assume anything other than they are busier, more important, more successful than you are. A better way to end it would be I understand you have tremendous demands on your time, if you don’t have time to respond, no problem. But if you do, even a sentence would mean a lot to me.
That is more likely to get a response, because you’re demonstrating a degree of empathy and you understand that their inbox is more of a war zone than your inbox.
[pullquote]That is more likely to get a response, because you’re demonstrating a degree of empathy and you understand that their inbox is more of a war zone than your inbox.[/pullquote]
Ramit Sethi “When I used to email Seth Godin, and this was years and years ago, sometimes I would write this beautiful email, and he would write me back one line. And I would kind of be: That’s pretty rude! In retrospect, you know I get over 1,500 emails a day, knowing that he even sent me an eResponse, I’m actually humbled by how he did that, because I get lots of emails that I don’t reply to.”
#4 – Know The Power Dynamic
A simple tip that is in the continuation of #3 is to make yourself available to the people you try to reach out to, understanding that their schedule is likely to be less flexible than yours.
Ramit Sethi: “When you’re emailing someone busier than you, you better meet them where they are. You better work around their schedule. You know if someone emails me and they are like I can meet at this time or that time, I’m like what?!’ so you have to know the power dynamic.
#5 – Always Follow-Up, and Follow-Up Wisely
That’s another extremely important step that should never be skipped, even when you are communicating with friends, or peers. If someone takes time to give you tips, advice, feedback, or to introduce you to someone else: keep them in the loop! A simple update with a thank you will get you a long way, while not doing it will only show lack of professionalism. (Yes, I feel very strong about that.)
[pullquote]Do not follow-up with an immediate additional request.[/pullquote]
Ramit Sethi: “The other thing is, we call it the close the loop technique, once you meet with someone, so many people just disappear forever. If someone takes the time to meet you, they actually are invested in your success, so one thing I encourage my students to do is to follow up with them two weeks later:
Hey, you told me this, I dug in, I discovered you were right, and so I took your advice and I just want to thank you. I’ll keep you updated a couple of months from now to let you know how the new job is going.
That’s how you build a real relationship.
Tim Ferriss: “A common mistake is:
Hey, great to meet up! Here are my seven follow-up questions!
I really enjoyed coffee, would love to take you out to dinner so I can have my three friends join and really benefit from blablabla.
Do not follow-up with an immediate additional request. Follow-up like you said, and ideally give it a day or two, and say:
Thank you so much for the time, here is what I did, it had these results, it really mean a lot to me, good luck with the project that you mentioned. All the best.
And then don’t hump their leg for a while; give it a little bit of gestation.”
#6 – Don’t Keep In Touch Just to Keep In Touch
That’s the first time I actually hear someone phrasing it that way, and it made so much sense:
[pullquote]You do not need to follow up just to keep in touch.[/pullquote]
Tim Ferriss: “Don’t keep in touch just to keep in touch; these people are too busy for that. Do not just become a pen pal because you think it’s necessary for them not to forget you. That is going, in my experience, to repel people because you’re crowding their inbox with zero substance email.
If I have a good experience with you, I will remember you. And, worse case scenario, if you ping me two years later, the first thing I’m going to do -guess what- is to take your name, and your email and search my inbox to see our previous communication. If you are a dick who follows up twelve times after I told you that I was sick and on deadline and couldn’t respond, I’m not going to respond to you, or I’m going to tell my assistant to decline.
On the other hand, if we had a good exchange, I’ll be like ‘great!’ and then, I’ve done my due diligence, I’ve checked it out, and I’ll respond to you. You do not need to follow up just to keep in touch.”
Tim Ferriss personal example of how keeping in touch with taste with Jack Canfield had an unexpected outcome years later is a good demonstration that knowing powerful people can make a big difference, if you know how to use that connection wisely:
Tim Ferris: “A great example of that is Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul. I volunteered to a group called Sillicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs and organized an event, invited him as a speaker, developed a relationship in that way, just by helping to organize and inviting media and so on, and over the years. This was in 1999-2000.
Every once in a while, and I do mean once every few years, when I had a legitimate question, I would send him a philosophical question about a life decision. I would say:
Jack, just as a reminder, this is me, I know you’re super busy, if you can’t respond, no problem, but I’m facing this one life decision, here it is, and I’m considering a) or b). Here is my thinking on it. If you have any input at all, it would really make a huge difference to me, I’m just a young guy trying to figure out what my next step is.
And then he would respond, again very Seth Godin-like, usually in a short way. And I did not keep in touch, but I respected his opinion and knew he was qualified to answer these types of life questions every once in a blue moon.
And then, many years later, he was the one who made the introduction to a brand new agent who turned out to be my book agent, and still is my book agent, who is one of the few people who had the confidence to sell the four-hour work week after it was turned down 27 or 29 times. But that was not because I stayed in touch for the sake of staying in touch.
#7 – Understand What Lies Behind a No
There is a lot of talk about not taking ‘No’ for an answer in the filmmaking industry, about being persistent and never giving up. And if all those arguments are valid to a certain extent, what they often mean is that you need to either find creative ways to climb passed the walls or take a detour. It does not mean harassing someone, being argumentative or blindly stubborn.
Tim Ferris: “I think that you need to recognize when someone is saying No because your pitch isn’t ready, or when someone is saying No because the timing isn’t right. I think it’s very important to learn to discern those things.
If you want to see how I hired someone who started off as one of my readers, named Charlie Hoene, he wrote a post called “12 lessons learned while marketing the 4 Hour Body”. There I explained how we developed a relationship and how he approached it; I think it’s a pretty good way to get the attention of busy people.”
This last article is a great read and lesson in many aspects including but not limited to emailing a powerful person.
You can listen to the full podcast here.
I hope you found as much value in those tips as I did.
Any additional tips you live by? Please share below in the comment section!