4 Clever Ways to Connect with Powerful People

Would you like to have a famous author, prominent entrepreneur or well-heeled venture capitalist in your network?

Of course. But they almost always appear out of reach. Unless your cousin went to college with Malcolm Gladwell or your dad spent his teens spinning records with Richard Branson, it may seem like there’s no way into their inner circles.

Some people try anyway, sending industry leaders “cold call” emails with blithely optimistic requests: Can I buy you a cup of coffee? Could I pick your brain for an hour? Maybe we can schedule lunch? Those messages get ignored, and for good reason: they’re insulting to any successful, busy person.

It’s not arrogance that prompts people to decline invitations; it’s the only way they can cope. No one has an hour, a half hour or even 10 minutes to spare on a stranger who doesn’t have the sense to lead with a value proposition. The real question is, what can you offer someone who’s better-known or more famous than you are? (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

Here are four suggestions for how to get noticed:

1. Interview them

You’ve heard a million times that in the Internet era, we’re all media companies and publishers. Leverage that. Asking to interview someone is a little-used, but highly effective, strategy in connecting with A-list leaders.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any top business executives who’d agree to a half-hour coffee to share career advice with a total stranger. But thanks to the democratization of media, it can be as valuable for them to speak with a blogger as it would a member of the mainstream media.

If you want the opportunity to ask targeted questions and learn from the best, start a blog or podcast, and you can rapidly build relationships and become known as a connector and curator.

2. Write about them

In the Internet era, you can often get the attention of industry leaders without even attempting direct contact. When I mentioned “Getting Things Done” guru David Allen in a casual aside in an article, he reached out to me directly with a thank you and follow-up Skype chat.

If you consistently retweet someone’s posts, comment on their blogs or mention them in your writing, they’re likely to take notice.

3. Do them a favor

It’s only human to feel impressed when someone makes a special effort for you. Everyone knows you should “give before you get,” but too few professionals realize that with a little ingenuity, they could be cultivating lifelong fans.

If you’re following an industry leader’s Twitter feed and they ask a question where you could help — restaurant recommendations, links to relevant research or the like — take the opportunity to respond. They’ll likely be appreciative.

Think through other ways you can offer value, too. I’ve learned powerful lessons from people like Zen Yinger, a North Carolina-based social media consultant who secured a major television interview for me when I was in town on my recent book tour — without my ever having met her in person. You can bet that made an impression.

4. Make yourself interesting

Sometimes the most important part of making a connection is the personal and professional development you’ve already done. Michael Ellsberg, author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late, has written about how he made important business contacts by sharing marketing advice, as he’d developed an expertise in copywriting and direct marketing. He writes:

If you know a lot about vintage wine, or gourmet cooking, or fine tequila, or tango dance, or travel in Latin America or Southeast Asia, or Buddhist meditation and philosophy… or some other interesting, cool, hip, unusual, sexy hobby or interest, it’s very likely you’ll be able to share your gift among people you want to connect with.

Successful professionals like meeting compelling new people. But in a noisy world, it’s nearly impossible to stand out. These four strategies can help you connect with the powerful people you want to meet.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future(Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on Brazen Life, a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!