Who’s your half-step stranger?

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

half-step stranger and the power of connectionIf you’ve ever found yourself looking around your professional circle and thinking, “I seem to be cycling back through the same people again and again”, you are not alone. This is a huge challenge for most professionals. It’s why so many chase to and fro in the networking maze. If you are tired of running, and are ready for a more personal approach that garners better results, this is a brief how-to guide to create meaningful connections with people you haven’t even met, but are right there, waiting to know about what you do. I call them the ‘half-step’ stranger.

What is a half-step stranger?

The ‘half-step stranger’ is someone connected to someone you know. Someone you know who knows, likes and trusts you. 

For example:  If you are an executive searching for a new position, it’s typically not your direct colleagues who will refer you to a job. It’s someone they know. Someone more intimately connected with your choice industry or skill set. If you do web branding, it’s often not your colleagues who get you work, but rather people they know who are specifically focusing on that arena of expertise.

Figuring out how to connect with these folks can sound very intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple.

Here are 10 steps that will help you get ready, make the call and make the connection.
For this next part, start by writing. It will take the spinning out of your head and help you create a clear plan of action. You’ll cull later. Plus, when you do talk to your ‘half-step stranger’ you’ll have everything you need to demonstrate your skills and ability. 

1:  Write down specifically what you are looking for.
Example:  Speaking events for moms seeking simple, low cost meals to prepare in less than 30 minutes.

2:  Describe specifically what “it” will look like.
Example:  Small group, one-hour long, interactive presentation (15 -20 women) about nutrient rich meals on-the-go that are cheap and easy to prepare. The presentation will include recipes, quick tips and shopping guide. Include as much detail as you can.

3:  Make a list of the types of people/organizations whom you’d like to connect with.
I like doing it in a list format that I can quickly scan later.

  • Community Colleges
  • Health food stores
  • Gluten-free conferences
  • Community oriented doctors
  • Etc.

4:  Name people you know who might know those types of folks, and who they might know.
These are folks you already have a professional/personal relationship with. Most often your professional relationships will be the most productive.

  • Kathy:  She knows lots of moms who are overworked and under-supported.
  • Keith:  As a highly respected doctor he knows a lot of folks within the medical community.
  • Tara:  She knows all the folks who plan curriculum at Mt. Hood Health.
  • Ann:  She doctors tons of moms and knows the most noteworthy groups in town.

I’d suggest listing about 10 – 15 people.  That way you can then assess who might be the best resource.

5: Now you’re ready to reach out, ALMOST. 

Double check your list:  Is your relationship reciprocal?
If you are just calling people to ask for things it can feel very uncomfortable for both people. Choose people who know, like and trust you (and you them).

Make this easy for them.
People want to help and they are very busy. Make sure you have answered the questions above so you are very clear about what you’re asking for. 

Consider the best way to ask.
Some folks will be best to ask individually, others will be great in a group email.

Create a ‘script’ for yourself. 
If you are calling someone, you might write out your introduction and your specific “ask”.  When you get nervous it’s easy to get tongue-tied. This will help you navigate the jitters.

6:  You’re now ready to ask.
For some people, calling is perfect. I’m finding these days that for others emails are best. If you send a note, personalize it without being saccharine. Here’s a sample letter. Keep in mind this is NOT a pitch letter so make sure you personalize it.

Dear _______,

I wanted to connect with you about a cool project I’m calling ___(name the title) ___  that’s been evolving.

I’ve been working with ___(name the group)____ giving talks on ___(name the topic)___ .   It’s been really incredible to witness how it’s impacted __(name the people)___ to help them __ (name the outcome)__.

I’ve been thinking about other places who could benefit from this type of ___ (name the ‘thing’- ie. Workshop, performance, etc.)__ , and thought of you and your work with ___ (name the type people or the group)__.   I’m wondering if there’s any group or person you might suggest I talk to. 

Thanks, 

Betty.

When you ask, be totally open to ‘yes I do’, ‘no I don’t, or ‘something else’. I love the ‘something else’ – that other suggestion people offer that I had no idea even existed before the call or email. If the person sends you the name of someone, you might ask them if you can mention their name. And, if the person offers to make a ‘letter of introduction’ make sure you give them extra thanks! That’s gold.

7: Now it’s time for the ‘half-step’ stranger.
As you can see, this takes a bit of time and thought. Recently, I worked with a client to create a plan.  About ½ way through she said, “Oh wow, this is so much different than what I did in my previous life. I was just throwing darts seeing what stuck. This make me think about what I want.” She is so right.

One last suggestion, before you make the call do a bit of research to find out about your ‘half-step stranger’ and their work. Never before has it been so easy to find out about folks. Look them up online, Google them, and find them on LinkedIn. Before you call, ask yourself, “Why would this program be a ‘fit’ for them?”

8: Make the call.
Yes. It may be awkward for the first minute. That’s normal. Take a minute in the beginning to create connection before moving on to business.

9. Take a breath and acknowledge that you did it.
Congratulate yourself on making the call and savor the moments of connection. In sales training they often teach you to make a list of folks and call one after the other. This is not that.  This is about building relationships. So, take a moment, then go to step 10.

10.  Write a thank you.
Never forget what a powerful “thank you” can do.