Build Connections That Last

When meeting new friends and colleagues, there are two types of people: those who are hustling to make their next “connection,” and those who begin building a foundation for relationships that last. Which are you? With that in mind, I’d like to share the experience I’ve had from doing the latter of these two.

It all started with Mark Schaefer's blog, Businesses {grow}. As an avid blog reader, I did what most people do: I'd leave my commentary on the blog and add feedback on other people's comments, share the posts when I felt it appropriate, and tried to be part of the blogging community (as a blogger myself). In February 2013, Mark ran an email contest surrounding his upcoming book release with Stanford Smith, Born to Blog. These two authors were among my favorite bloggers, so I felt compelled to at least try and win the book. I sent the email laying out why I'd love a free copy of the book, and shared my interest in the topic.

To my surprise, I received a personal response from Mark that very day. This led to an exchange in which we ended up discussing SXSW, because I live in Austin and SXSW was just around the corner, and that perhaps we'd run into each other while he was in town. I figured the exchange would end there.

About a week later, again to my surprise, I received another email from Mark, inviting me to join him and a group of friends and visitors for dinner and drinks while he was in town for SXSW. After completely geeking out for a few minutes, I responded that I'd love to meet them.

When I got to the restaurant later that week, I met Mark in person for the first time, as well as Stephanie Carls and Kerry O'Shea Gorgone, among others. We had a blast, and it was an interesting night full of marketing and social media talk, and sharing nerdy stories. We all started following each other on all the important social sites (as you do), and went our separate ways. I figured it would be a one-time thing and that would be that, but I was thrilled to have taken Mark up on his offer.

I kept up with everyone online because I genuinely enjoyed talking to them, and great conversations continued throughout the year. Now, fast forward to the next year; Mark announces that he'll be speaking at SXSW 2014 on the topic that had recently become very hot: Content Shock. I congratulated him and told him he'd have to let me know how the talk went, as I couldn't afford a SXSW ticket this year. Mark then reached out to me via email to let me know that he received a free day pass as a speaker, and asked if I'd like to use it so I could attend his talk. Who could say no to such an offer? I attended, and the talk was fascinating. If you haven't seen Mark speak, I highly recommend it (he spoke at B2B Marketing Forum 2015, too!).

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone was there again, too. Afterward, we started talking and Kerry invited me to hang out with her and a few others as they hit up some other discussions and the trade show floor. I decided to forego my previous plans and hang out with these cool kids instead. This was a key decision in what would later happen, plus I had a complete blast. Kerry knew a lot of people, and I took every opportunity to shake hands, chat up, and geek out with everyone that came my way. I didn’t just ask people what they did. I asked what they were doing, what interested them, what had they seen that excited them at SXSW. That enthusiasm for getting to know people seemed to be a welcome change of pace to the card-swapping, business-opportunity-pitching that ran rampant on the trade show floor at SXSW. There were smiles, there were hugs, and there were belly laughs. And it made all the difference in the world.

A few weeks later, I received a Facebook message from Kerry. She told me that a position had opened up at MarketingProfs (where she runs the Marketing Smarts podcast and Professional Development seminars) and that she immediately thought of me for it. She asked me if I'd like her to put me in contact with the proper person. As a fan of MarketingProfs vast resources for marketers professionals, I knew that simply interviewing with the people there would be a huge opportunity to get to know some of them (I wasn't actively looking for a new job at all), so I took the chance and said yes. What followed was the most fun series of interviews I've ever had, including a fantastic conversation with Ann Handley. The entire time I figured they would never hire me. Surely, they wouldn't hire me. Maybe they'll hire me. They might just hire me. They offered me the position.

To sum it up, two years worth of making real connections with people turned into a huge opportunity. I wasn't trying to get anything out of Mark or Kerry. I genuinely respected both of them and simply enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) having conversations with them, both personal and about marketing.

And the moral of the story is to take those chances, utilize those opportunities to get to know people by being personable. Don’t focus on the hustle and how you can turn that moment into an opportunity. Focus on being a genuine human enjoying the company of other humans, which sets the foundation for both personal and professional endeavors, and creates memorable moments that will last.  At minimum, you'll make great friends. At most, it may alter your course.

Rob Zaleski, Marketing Manager | MarketingProfs