How to Build Business Relationships & Connections Virtually (For Entrepreneurs)

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From the desk of Harsh Strongman
Subj: How to successfully network with people online

One thing running an online business has taught me over the past few years is that most people do not know how to network or initiate business relationships properly.

For example, I will often have bloggers reach out to me via email saying, in effect, something like this:

Hey, I wrote this post that you might like. Please link my post on your website. Thank you.

Example of a bad favour request email

The same thing happens on social media, where people will send me a message along the lines of:

Hey, check out my account. If you like it please give me some retweets, a follow, and if possible, a shoutout! Thanks!

how to not ask for a favour example DM

This is less uncommon than you would think (in fact, it’s quite common).

What you’re doing wrong

There’s a few things these guys do wrong.

  1. They are usually complete strangers (I’ve never even heard of them), and instead of properly introducing themselves, they just get right into the “pitch”.
  2. They immediately ask for a favour, and they usually do so in an entitled tone (“thanks in advance”), almost as if you owe them something. Most humans will consider this disrespectful, and even if they were in a helping mood, they are unlikely to oblige the request.
  3. They offer nothing of value in return.

As you might expect, not only are these requests ignored without a second thought, but also the person who made that request loses credibility and respect and the chances of any future business collaboration taking place are significantly reduced.

5 Steps to Building a Business Relationship: How to Reach Out to People and Network with Them Online

Here is how you actually reach out to people you do not know online if you want to be taken seriously:

1) If possible, don’t be a total stranger

The lowest success rate for any new networking attempt is when that person has never heard of you and doesn’t even know you exist.

Whenever possible, try getting their attention to let them know you exist.

To give you some examples of this:

  • If you’re trying to reach out to a blogger, comment on their blog posts for a bit so that they notice who you are (everyone knows the names of frequent commenters, especially when the comments are valuable and interesting)
  • If you’re trying to reach out to an active social media personality (YouTubers, twitter accounts, etc.), interact with their content, leave some replies – so they have at least seen your account before.
  • If they run a SaaS company, become a customer and send them some product improvement suggestions.

This is not “scalable” but building business connections is inherently scalable (outside of building your own brand to be well recognized and credible).

If you’re a total stranger, there’s a 99% chance that your attempts at establishing personal contact with business owners and influencers will be completely ignored.

If they have at least heard or seen your name before (even if you’re not nearly as big), your email/message will at least be read and considered.

2) Tell them how their work has helped you (and make sure you follow them)

Start your communication with 1 line about who you are and what you’re doing, and then proceed to tell the person you’re trying to connect with about how much their work has helped you out and that you like them.

This is essentially flattery, but it works. It establishes goodwill and everyone wants to help people who like and respect them.

Remember that all important people get some “hatemail” and you letting them know you’re a fan makes them like you.

If they have products for sale, and you bought them, let them know. Tell them “I bought your book/software and it helped me [insert what you gained here] so I thought I should reach out”.

And it goes without saying, if you are reaching out to them via something like Twitter or Instagram, make sure you follow them.

If you reach out to someone on social media and you don’t follow them, you’re not going to get a response.

3) Do not ask for free things, and don’t ask people to promote you

This is some real dumb stuff people try to pull – reaching out to you just to ask you for something (like a backlink, retweet, a review, or whatever), almost like you lack the intelligence to know what they’re trying to do and have infinite amounts of free time to comply with their requests.

Polite people will ignore you and most people will just block you and mark you as spam.

If you must ask for something, make sure you mention some kind of compensation in your message – like an acceptable sum of money. You have to offer some kind of compensation if you want your request to be considered.

You cannot ask people you have no prior relationship with to give you free things – which especially include promoting you in any way, shape, or form.

Remember, the people you’re reaching out to do not know you and nor do they owe you anything. They are busy and have a million other things to do than do favors for someone they do not know.

Imagine if someone off the street who you did not know came up to you and said “hey, can you co-sign my lease?” – what will you say? You will laugh and think they are crazy.

By asking people to promote you, you are doing the exact same thing.

When you ask someone to promote you, you are asking, “hey, I know you do not know me, but can you risk your reputation and vouch for me? Thanks!”

You are not only going to get laughed at, the person will also mentally blacklist you as “crazy”. So if you ever reach out to them with a serious proposal in the future, they are unlikely to even grant you an audience.

4) Offer something of value

Instead of asking for something, offer something of value. This makes people take you seriously and makes them inclined to want to work with you in the future.

There are many forms of doing this, but the simplest one is to notice something they are doing wrong or inefficiently, and let them know what they’re doing wrong and how they can do it better.

Here are some examples of “offering something of value” that I came across with LMM:

1) I was not using headers for some of my Twitter bots. A graphic designer reached out to me, and offered to do the headers for free. Not only did I hire him, I also, of course, paid him for his work. You can hire him here.

2) Instead of asking me for a review, Jon Anthony noticed that the SEO on LMM could use some work (I didn’t know much about SEO back then) and gave me a free copy of his then upcoming course on blogging and SEO. I liked his course a lot, and not only did I give him a review, but I also sent out some tweets promoting it when it was officially released.

3) A guy reached out to me and pointed out various typos in my older articles. I fixed those typos and I paid him. If that guy ever asks me for a favour in the future, I am far more likely to say yes.

The short version is that when you offer something of value, you set yourself apart from 99% other people and let your recipient know that you’re a valuable person too.

Only valuable people can offer something of value, so offer something to let them know that you’re not a leech.

You can even offer guidance in something that’s your area of expertise. This assumes that your area of expertise is relevant to the person you’re reaching out to.

For example, if you are very knowledgeable about crypto, and you know the other person is trying to learn more about crypto, you can let them know you will be happy to answer any questions or queries that they might have on that subject.

At the very least, you can say something like “I would love to be of help in any way! Please let me know if there is some way that I can be of use!” when you truly have nothing to give.

Special note for SaaS salespeople: Offer people an “extended trial” and a discount.

5) Build a relationship and THEN ask for what you wanted

After you’ve built a decent connection with them and a few instances of “back and forth” communication, you can ask them for a favour (ideally you should offer something in return).

Whatever you were looking for – backlinks, a retweet, a podcast appearance – ask for it AFTER you have a relationship with that person.

You are far more likely to get it.

Hope this helps!

Your man,

Harsh Strongman

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