How to Connect With Your Heroes in 3 Short Steps
Take a short moment to think about the people you admire from afar; the people who inspire you and whom you’d like to connect with. Do they seem unapproachable to you?
Most people think their “heroes” are out of their reach; that there’s no way they would ever give a minute of their time to them. For the most part, it’s not true. People are more approachable than they seem. You just need the right approach to get their attention.
I remember when I started reading on Medium. I was looking up to the top writers and wanted to befriend them. I didn’t believe I could, so I did nothing towards that. I had pages of notes about who I wanted to connect with but kept procrastinating reaching out to them.
Today, I’m friends with every writer I wanted to connect with. For some of them, it happened through reaching out, for others, it happened using Steve Martin’s “Be so good they can’t ignore you” rule.
The 3 steps I’m about the share works way beyond the writer world. My friend Brian Pennie used it to connect with Ireland’s top CEOs, important book publishers, TV producers and stars, and more. That led him to publish a solid memoir and star on a TV show about it.
When I asked Brian about his approach over a year ago, he told me:
“Danny, it’s simple, really. I just sent them an email and they replied.”
You think this is overly simple? Think again!
The majority of people don’t reach out to people ahead of them because they think they’re unreachable. If you reach out, you’re the exception. Legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky said it best:
“You miss every shot you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky
I used the same process to connect with the CEO of Upwork. You’d think he’d want nothing to do with a “regular” guy like me, but you’d be wrong.
So, is it really only just about reaching out? No, but it’s one of the steps. Here are the three steps:
Step 1. Do your research
This is borderline stalking, but it’s much easier to connect with someone you have something in common with. Find common ground. Don’t be needy. Find ways to help them, ideally in a win-win deal. Always give first.
If the person you’re trying to get in touch with is at the top of their game, chances are they’re used to praise and fake feedback. Offer them something useful instead.
If, in your research, you find an error in something they previously did, take note of it. Just make sure that error is a fact and not an opinion though. Like, a typo in a text, for example.
Understand what their preferences are and what they stand for. It will be useful for when you craft your message to them.
Find the casual stuff, not just the professional stuff. Listen to or watch interviews featuring them. That way you get a real glimpse of their personality.
Fill notebook pages with all kinds of random information you can find about them. It’s time-consuming, yes, but that’s exactly what 99 percent of people don’t do. That makes you remarkable, and it will catch their attention.
Step 2. Craft a custom message
Now that you’ve got all your research done, you can more easily write a solid custom message that stands out. First, you need to try to find a balance of formal versus informal. For most people, and depending on the context, slightly more informal works best. But again, you’ve done your research, so you should know best.
If you want to reach out to me, you should know by doing your research that my preferred approach is more informal. Actually, fully informal is completely fine by me. I think, in general, the younger the person you want to reach out to, the more they prefer the informal approach.
Your message should be as short as possible while including the following things: a greeting, why you're reaching out, how you can help them, and a well-meaning and not over-the-top praise.
A general rule would be about 3 paragraphs of up to 50 words each. That means you don’t have time for your bio. You could summarize why they should care about you in a single sentence, however.
When I reached out to important people in the education section, I mentioned that I had been the top writer for 2 years about education on Medium. That gave credibility to the way I proposed to help after. Only use your “bio” to help with how you can help them.
Never ask them for anything. This includes a prompt to reply to you, asking for 15 minutes of their time, looking over something you did, etc. Always build the relationship first.
I’ve had people email me asking me to review their Medium stories. And for some of them, I did. You know why? Because we’ve interacted before, through private notes, comments, on LinkedIn, etc.
Step 3. Find their contact information and send your message
Finding contact information isn’t as hard as it seems. A lot of people have at least a few easy channels they use, like social media accounts or a LinkedIn profile. Some have a personal website where they tell you exactly how to reach out to them.
For people who work at companies, you can often guess their email address by knowing another person’s email at the company, since the pattern repeats. If it looks like firstname.lastname@example.org, for example, then you can guess it. It’s not always obvious, but you can figure it out most of the time.
Once you know how to reach out, re-read your message, take a deep breath, and press “send”. Congratulations, you did what 99 percent of people don’t do. You’re already remarkable for your hero.
Never expect a reply. And if you do get a reply, don’t be bummed out if it’s not what you’re expecting. You’ll get tons of rejection in the process. This could be due to bad timing, a rule the recipient has, ineffective research, or a bad message.
I remember Tim Ferriss mentioning having a strict rule of not replying to external messages for a month. Other “busy” people adopt similar measures to catch up on their work. There’s really nothing you can do about that.
With most people, I’d advise not being too persistent. This can be annoying. Try again a few months later if it’s still relevant. If not, simply learn from the experience and try with another hero. This is a skill you can get better at.
Connecting with your heroes is the first step towards building a relationship. Sometimes, you’ll end up working together, sometimes you’ll become friends, and sometimes you’ll build other types of relationships.
This all starts with having the courage to reach out. Once you have that courage, you make sure to know the person well enough to craft the right message and send it using the best platform of their choice.
This is how you connect with your heroes.
You can do this!
For more inspiration, check out dannyforest.com.