We live in the digital age. Everything is online and you can find almost anything online. We have more friends on Facebook than we talk to in real life and people constantly know what you are doing because of social sharing. The power of social is real and not only are millennials on social networks, but so are the generations older than us.
Lucky enough, I have been able to connect with VPs, CEOs, CMOs, COOs and plenty of other powerful leaders that lead Fortune 500 companies, as well as their own businesses. I’m not going to lie – there were plenty of messages that were sent that didn’t even get read by some of these leaders, but making that first connection is key to opening up the door to a network you never thought you could get into.
Finding a personal connection with someone is the first way to get them to open their message. Take a step back and think about it. If you were to receive a message from someone you had never met before, wouldn’t you open it if it said, “Hi Chase, I saw you went to Stetson University, so did I…Go Hatters!” There’s an immediate connection just because of the school you went to (whether it be high school, college or grad school). I’ve come to find that having a city or college to tie the connection is the first thing.
So, use the search tool at the top of LinkedIn and search alumni from your high school or college. Can’t find any alumni that you want to network with? Then search for clubs and activities that you are/were involved in. I was in a fraternity (Sigma Phi Epsilon) and connected with the CEO of a capital venture company. Did I have any real interest in a capital venture? No. But I sent him a message anyway talking about the fraternity and how I would love his guidance in helping me throughout college. Without a hesitation, he messaged me back within days and set up time for a phone call. In speaking with him, he is now a close mentor of mine who was willing to open up his network to me. Long story short, I can now go to NYC at any moment in time and not only have dinner with him (the CEO), but I can also have dinner with many other people I’ve met through him because he saw my drive and ambition and was willing to make introductions for me.
Don’t Make The Message About Yourself
Yes, being personal will get leaders to open your message, but it will not be enough to get them to message you back. This took a lot of practice for me, as I was asking how they could help me and how they could benefit me. The fact is – people don’t like being asked for favors especially by people they don’t know. So, what you need to do is be polite, courteous and understanding that this person you are trying to connect with is doing you a favor.
What I have found to be successful is making that initial personal connection. After you make the personal connection in the first line, I would then introduce myself and what I did.
“Hi ___, I saw that you are from Atlanta and went to UGA. I grew up in Atlanta my whole life. Go Dawgs!
My name is Chase Coleman, (at the time) a junior at Stetson University, I currently play Division 1 football and am pursuing my bachelor’s in marketing.”
After this introduction, you need to make an action item.
Leaders don’t have a lot of time in the day, but they love being able to help young, ambitious individuals. Like you! They want to help, so allow them to help by not ranting and saving their time. Next, I would lead with –
“Understanding that you are a leader in the marketing industry and have spent x amount of years at x company, I would love if you could spare 10 minutes on the phone or even an email conversation for any advice. I would love to learn about your journey on how you got to where you are!”
Think about this – when someone asks you about your day or asks about you (in general), you probably love talking about yourself. Not only do you love talking about yourself, but you love giving tips and advice from what you’ve learned in your past. These leaders are no different.
The Waiting Game
From there, you need to end it. Always let the leader know that you are very grateful for them and anxious to receive their response! The waiting game is the hardest game to play as some leaders check their LinkedIn regularly and some don’t. It’s just the truth, but the more personal messages you send, the more chances you have to receive a message back. Give them a nice ending line and keep the message clear and concise. The longer you rant on, the more the message seems like a sales pitch and leaders will not even read it if they see paragraph after paragraph. Less is more!
It’s not easy waiting, but be patient. DO NOT DOUBLE MESSAGE!
Keep the message short. Make the personal connection, introduce yourself and ask for their guidance. You can do it and remember that it’s just a conversation. You are talking person to person with someone who was once in your shoes and remembers what it was like to be in your shoes.
This is the first part of a two-part post. The second part, “Sustaining your Network”, will be published later on this week. This post is interactive as well! Please feel free to comment tips or advice in the comments section.