The Secret Weapon for Building Relationships With Thought Leaders

by Scott - 9 Comments

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You may think that building relationships with awesome and accomplished people is about having amazing interpersonal skills…

But actually, to get close the best and brightest, there’s something else that’s far more powerful…and the reason why this is the case might be hard to hear.

relationship building

REALITY: Most people that have already “made it” probably have enough friends and people to hang out with. In fact, at the highest levels, probably the last thing these people want is another person trying to get a piece of their time…coffee date request anyone?

That’s not to say that you’re not unique or don’t have the capacity to add value to their lives, but at a certain point, being socially-skilled just doesn’t cut it in the bigs.

What Does An Ambitious Go-Getter Do?

If learning and engaging with the best is the fastest way to achieve progress, how the heck do you go about building relationships with these people?

The answer: Develop a very specific, high-leverage skill

If you become an expert at something that can help the individuals you’re trying to reach, you can leverage this to fight through and noise and get on their radar.

Storytime (real-life style)

Let me tell you 2 stories of people I’ve watched pull this off successfully from a distance.

Derek Halpern, Founder of Social Triggers

High Leverage Skillset: Website Conversion Optimization

Derek Halpern

Derek has grown his blog social triggers faster than anyone I have ever seen. In 11 months he reportedly went from 0-17,000 subscribers (interview here). Now he’s over 100,000 subscribers.The crazy thing is, he’s done it without running on the content hamster wheel. Since I’ve been following him, it seems like he posts once a week or less. BTW all his stuff is amazing.

Here’s what Derek did that I thought was brilliant.

From his experience starting a few successful entertainment blogs, he became an expert at conversion optimization. For you marketing newbs, that means increasing the percentage of people who opt-in for something on a web page, like email updates.

After launching Social Triggers he approached the top online bloggers and offered to do a free conversion analysis of their site if they would display it on their blog.

…wait, you’re going to tell me how to get more people to join me email list for free? The likes of Chris Brogan, Pat Flynn, and Lewis Howes amongst others agreed.

Each blogger posted a video of Derek giving them conversion tips and it resulted in a TON of exposure and visibility for Derek. BUT probably even more important, this activity created or strengthened Derek’s relationships with some of the biggest thought leaders in the space. I’m not him so I can’t say for sure, but I imagine these relationships have and will continue to play an immense role in his continued success.

You can read more about Derek’s conversion optimization interviews here.

Charlie Hoehn, Writer and marketing strategist for best-selling authors and startups

High Leverage Skillset – Video editing/production

*Note this dude is talented as hell, way beyond video stuff, but I’m isolating this particular skill for this example.

Charlie Hoehn

Charlie Hoehn probably has the coolest work experience ever. He’s worked with some of the best marketers and best-selling authors like Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, Ramit Sethi, and Tucker Max.

From what I was able to gather from this interview on, Charlie had a background in video editing/production. After doing a virtual internship program with Seth Godin, he discovered Ramit Sethi and approached him, offering to help put together a demo video reel that he could give to venues that he wanted to speak at (listen at 24:20 in the podcast above).

Since Ramit wasn’t doing much with video at the time, he was all over it. This initiated a more substantive work arrangement where Charlie helped Ramit execute the marketing strategy for his personal finance book I Will Teach You to Be Rich which hit #1 on Amazon.

Beyond building a relationship with Ramit, one of the most talented marketers out there, Charlie was able to leverage this experience to become Tim Ferris’ first employee…(more on that here)

Not too shabby.

The High Leverage Skill-set Formula for Building Relationships

The two stories above clearly demonstrate how you can leverage specific expertise to begin building relationships with the best and brightest.

If you find yourself sitting there thinking you might want to employ this strategy, here is how I would approach it:

1. Identify 10-20 people you want to build a relationship with in the next 1-2 years (and maybe even work with). I’m not talking about the cool, local entrepreneur – aim fricken big.

2. Determine whether there are ubiquitous elements of these peoples’ business or life that they aren’t currently optimizing.

When picking skill-sets, ideally you want to pick a discipline where there is limited effort required from them for you to deliver them something useful similar to conversion optimization.

Also, the more specific the skill you build, the better. I.E. You’re better served becoming a YouTube marketing savant than a “digital marketer.” For short term engagements or relationship building exercises, the best are more likely to initially work with someone exceptional rather than a generalist…they already have enough of those in their lives.

3. Of all the skills you could potentially acquire, identify which ones would you enjoy improving consistently? Be realistic. If you don’t consistently enjoy doing something, you’ll give up and fall way short of becoming an exceptional.

4. Once you pick the skill you want to acquire, begin sharpening your arrow. The fastest way to become good at something is to calibrate with an expert. See if you can find someone who is really good at what you want to get good at and do whatever it takes to work with them…yes, even work for free. For most people, one month working with someone who knows what they’re doing will get you further than 3 months of self-directed toiling.

5. Once you’re confident in your ability, go back to the list of 10-20 people you want relationships with and begin looking for shortcomings you can optimize with your new-fangled skill-set. Identify which people most glaringly need your help and approach them first. Ideally, you can later use this work as a case study to “level-up” and approach even more badass people on your list once you have a win under your belt.

6. Approach time! The best way to initiate a dialogue with these people is to give them something insanely valuable before they even consent that they want it. I.E. instead of proposing to run an SEO optimization analysis (assuming that’s your skill), just do one and give it to them in the initial email.

“Actually delivering value always exceeds the promise of value”

Developing and putting to work a high leverage skill-set just might be the sharpest arrow in the relationship building quiver besides gift-bagging lamborghinis.

relationship building

Here are some high leverage skill-sets you could develop:

Copywriting, conversion optimization, videography, graphic design, animation, wordpress development, inside sales mastery (Singleplatform!), youtube marketing, facebook marketing, book marketing, app development…you get the picture


What do you say we get some chatter in the comments –  Which high leverage skill-set would you want to build and why? If you already have one, what is it and have you used it outside the confines of you day job to begin building relationships with awesome people?

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9 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. Shir

    Great post Scott! I’ve been on both sides before (asking for advice, and being asked to give advice) and I can say firsthand that this method works wonders.

    Right now my skill is Excel and even more specifically, creating fully automated key metrics dashboards (Google Analytics and other services). Speaking of which…I’d be more than happy to set that up for you in the coming months (spinning one too many plates at the moment). Let me know if you’re interested! 🙂


    1. Scott Britton

      Great to hear this has worked for you. I have no doubt, if there’s one person who can do wonders with excel – it is you my friend!

      Let’s sync soon on this and other stuff. Hope all is well bud


  2. Zion Kim

    This is some very valuable advice, great post. In the past I have always looked over people’s social media posts to see how they can optimize for engagement and built some great relationships along the way.


  3. Lynn Higgin

    I loved this article sooooo much! Lightbulbs are going off in my head like a blinking Christmas tree! Awesome!! Such great advice!


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