How To Build Relationships With Thought Leaders
One of the most surprising facts I have found is how easy it can be to contact thought leaders on the internet. There are a number of successful business people and bloggers who make themselves very accessible. I remember the first time I emailed a blogger with over 200,000 monthly readers and received an email back the same day. In fact, one week later I was asked if I wanted to guest post.
Tim Ferris has a great article on this, but what I have found to work best is to email with a brief message that includes an introduction and a positive comment and/or a short question. (You should not ask for the opportunity to speak over the phone and the question should be able to be answered quickly.) Understand that these individuals are busy and receive a number of emails. The message you send depends on what you are looking for.
As a note, if you are looking to ask a question, the worst thing you can do is ask a vague open ended question. You are essentially guaranteeing that the individual will not respond. It’s not because they want to be rude, but rather that with a busy schedule, the last thing someone would want to do is answer an open ended question.
If you have a connection to the individual (a mutual friend, a common interest), make sure to note this at the beginning of your email. Provide as much social proof as possible (only use 1 sentence) without sounding arrogant.
The best way to contact a thought leader is when they are either starting a company and still in an early stage or when they are out of the limelight. This is when they are least likely to be receiving a ton of emails. With early stage companies, even sending an email introducing yourself and saying that you like what they are doing is helpful. Be supportive; all companies need this.
As an example, a few weeks ago I emailed a Y combinator company founded by two ex-Google employees called Optimizely (http://www.optimizely.com). I sent them the following email:
Hi Dan and Pete,
My name is Conrad Egusa. I’m the founder of an angel investor backed startup and I just wanted to say that I love the idea behind Optimizely. I’m about to implement it for my startups.
Keep up the great work; I think you two are both onto something really special.
One of the founders and I then exchanged several emails and connected on LinkedIn. I encourage everyone to reach out to those you respect, even if only to write a positive comment. You never know where the relationship or connection can lead to down the road.