There’s probably a person you admire — an author, executive, entrepreneur, artist, athlete, or anyone else interesting — who you would really enjoy interacting with but feel is way too out of your league.
The thing is, unless you’re looking to grab a coffee with someone like President Obama, you shouldn’t dismiss the idea of networking with an influential figure, says personal finance author Ramit Sethi on author and investor Tim Ferriss’ podcast.
Here’s how to get important people to read and respond to your emails — and maybe even agree to meet with you:
Determine who you would like to reach out to.
Aim high but be realistic.
Ferriss suggests finding someone who may be famous but is currently out of the limelight, since their inbox (or their assistant’s inbox) is likely less flooded with media requests. He also says that if you’re a competitive swimmer looking for advice, for example, you may not be able to reach Michael Phelps, but you have a shot at connecting with a less well-known Olympic medalist.
Carefully craft the email.
Sethi says the best format to follow is introduce yourself, reach a commonality, and then ask a question. On the podcast, he gives Ferriss this hypothetical example:
My name’s Ramit Sethi… 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 going “From Geek to Freak.” Here’s my before and after photo, and I did that all because I followed your protocol.
I’m gonna 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 will come to you wherever you are, even if it’s for 10 minutes — or Skype or phone — whatever you prefer. But I can promise you that I’m going to take your advice and I will follow up with you to let you know what I decided.
Be direct and clear about what you want. (And be polite!)
Whether you’re asking for a piece of advice or requesting a quick coffee meeting, don’t let it seem too “transactional,” Sethi says. You’ll come across as awkward, if not rude, if you send something like, “I’ll buy you lunch and you can help me choose which job to take.” And don’t ask a question about them that can easily be answered from a Google search.
Be aware of the power dynamic between you and the recipient.
Sethi and Ferriss agree that this is the most important thing you can do when trying to get a busy person to respond to your emails.
You are reaching out to someone because they are more successful than you are, and that probably means that they are also busier than you are. So be humble.
Sethi explains that many years ago he took a long time perfecting an email to marketing guru Seth Godin and was hugely disappointed to see that Godin replied with a single sentence, and even considered it rude. In retrospect, Sethi appreciates that Godin receives hundreds if not thousands of emails every day and that it was actually generous of him that he took the time to reply with even a single line rather than sending Sethi’s email to the trash without reading it.
Be sure to follow up with the person after interacting with them. Just don’t follow up a coffee meeting with a bulleted list of seven more questions, and don’t start bothering them with pointless emails just because you feel like you need to stay in touch.
Sethi says that he’s found that refined networking skills separate the mediocre from the truly successful, and that the best $US100 you can spend in a year will be on grabbing coffee with those who can help you advance your career.
“I think the ability to write a great email and connect with someone is a huge differentiator,” he says.
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