Srini Rao is a master connector and community builder. I wish I could put my finger on his special brand of relationship-building but I think it’s just who he is. He’s a dreamer, an explorer, and an action-taker and that makes him very attractive to influencers and aspiring creatives alike.
Over 500 interviews ago, Srini created BlogCastFM, a podcast that hosted top bloggers and digital entrepreneurs to explore their stories, process, and strategies for success. He’s since rebranded the podcast to The Unmistakeable Creative and is exploring the world of creative movers and shakers through multimedia.
I’m fascinated by Srini’s story and his community because they demonstrate the extreme value of connection in a corner of the economy that generally prioritizes creators over connectors. And while all of his connection and community building has led him to become a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, a guest on Glenn Beck’s show, and a traditional publishing contract, I believe that the greatest value of his work is the people, ideas, and themes he brings together in unusual combinations.
Srini and I also discussed one of—what I believe is—the most pressing issues of creative entrepreneurship today: the myth of solo entrepreneurship. Srini has been actively growing his team, involving mentors and influencers, and co-creating with him community for years. He recognizes how much more he is able to accomplish because of the brilliant people around him.
Take special heed of this episode if you find yourself a connector in a creator’s world. You have something unique to deliver to your community and Srini Rao’s story should be an inspiration for how to do just that.
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You grab a name tag, a glass of white wine (thank goodness for wine), and scan the room for someone you know. It’s filled with women in smart dresses and men in layered sweater-shirt combos. The light is manageable but low.
Really, the fact that you turned up at this shindig without a fallback buddy is kind of crazy. All you can see in the room is small huddles of people vacillating between laughing politely and furrowing their brows, well, politely.
Finally, you spot another lone wolf. You slowly start walking toward her and nervously ask her a question. You make polite smalltalk until one of the initiated invades your little duo of sanctuary.
You try to move on to another group, another conversation, another opportunity. Each time you make your approach the butterflies in your tummy turn into bees. They buzz up to your head. Your brain is overcome by the swarm. Sooner than later, you bail.
You just put yourself through something akin to hell and don’t even have a business card to show for it, let alone a real connection with someone knew who can help you book a new client or land a new account.
Maybe this isn’t your worst-case business-building scenario (it is mine). Maybe yours is sales calls or speaking gigs or email marketing. Maybe you love being funny but hate the expectation to perform. Maybe you love diving deep but hate holding someone’s hand.
Business tends to create opportunities to take action that make you feel uncomfortable, disquieted.
Worse, business can put you in a position where you think you need to do things that are painful, unprincipled, or sleazy.
Even when you reject the worst of those things (really, don’t do anything that makes you feel sleazy), you succumb to good advice, solid plans, and tried-and-true formulas that just don’t sit right with you.
Case in point: “If high-powered entrepreneurs go to networking events, surely I should to. That’s just a good plan.”
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag early: you don’t need to do anything in your business that isn’t aligned with your personal values or guiding principles.
But you knew that.
You’re not one to compromise your beliefs, your values, or your principles. It’s part of what got you into business in the first place.
What you probably don’t know is that there is a strategic way to develop a plan of action that is aligned with your personal values and guiding principles. There’s a strategic way to allow what makes you most effective and compelling turn into tactics and then results.
In other words, when you’re clear on the strategy, you can reverse engineer the tactics that are going to work best for you. Better, you can innovate new ones that put you light years ahead of the rest of the market. It’s not a matter of finding the right guru, formula, or expert; it’s a matter of becoming your own expert.
Let’s go back to the example of the networking event. This is a nightmare scenario for me. It’s not as bad as it used to be but it’s still really bad.
I want to connect with people. I love finding kindred spirits and people who want to help me fulfill my vision. But walking up to people at a networking event is not a condition for success for me.
I’ve had to ask myself whether I needed to push myself to accomplish this “should” of business or whether I could find a different way to connect with people.
This is a core question on Quiet Power Strategy™: How do you want to connect with others?
Too often, we focus on how we should connect with others. Or we fixate on what will work best to connect with others based on what’s working for other people.
All the shoulds and best practices in the world aren’t helpful if they’re not helpful, effective, efficient, and fulfilling to you and your business.
When I coach clients through developing their business strategy, I ask them:
- How have you best connected with others in the past?
- What conditions do you need to really create a connection with someone?
- What kinds of conversations lead to lasting relationships?
- What kinds of people are you looking to meet?
- When do you feel most persuasive or compelling?
Then, we create a plan that creates those conditions, sets them up to meet those kind of people, and helps the feel more persuasive and compelling.
For me, that means space to think about how to approach someone, time to consider my responses, the ability to research people first, and clear expectations for behavior. I’m an introvert, can you tell? That means that I’ve relied heavily on Twitter to connect with others. That’s lead to speaking engagements at Etsy headquarters, CreativeLive, and Pioneer Nation, among others. It’s also lead to relationships with bestselling authors like Chris Guillebeau, Sally Hogshead, and Nilofer Merchant. I can say with confidence that trying to networking-event my way to those connections would have failed miserably. I’m just not suited for it. And that’s okay.
This kind of strategic workaround works for any area of your business that’s feeling especially uncomfortable (or, worse, sleazy). Step back and look for way around. It doesn’t mean you’re copping out if you don’t take the hard road, it means you’re smart.
That said, you can’t just ignore the hard road; you need a strategic plan to get the results you want without having to do the things you don’t want to do.
That’s what my new book is all about. It’s coming out on February 10 but in the meantime, you can pick up a special sneak preview by clicking here.
The greatest asset your business has isn’t its products, your experience, the equipment in your studio, or the technology that makes it all go ’round. The greatest asset you have is your ability to connect people.
Business has a unique power to bring people together. We have the sense that we have more than a little in common with the person at Starbucks who orders the same drink that we do. And we may strike up conversations with other regulars at the neighborhood bar & grill. Main street businesses band together to create community activities that bring together whole towns. A simple ebook can spark an ongoing discussion on Twitter.
These person-to-person, customer-to-customer interactions are important.
No matter how trusted the business, no matter how respected the brand, a business-to-customer relationship will always have an air of quid pro quo about it.
I experience this firsthand all the time. I’ll be having a drink with someone at a conference or lunch with a friend I’ve met on Twitter. The conversation inevitably winds its way towards business. Once the other person realizes what’s happened, they often apologize and explain that they value my take on things but don’t want to take advantage of the situation. Take advantage? I love this stuff! No one needs to goad me into talking about business and I’m happy to lend a fresh perspective at any time.
But there it is, that sneaking suspicion that our personal connection may require a greater investment down the line. Not so, but it’s something I’m always aware of.
Instead, facilitate conversations within your tribe. These are genuine, peer-to-peer, incredibly enriching connections that help you do your job better.
How can I create conversations within my tribe?
First, look for opportunities for external connections. These conversations & relationships happen in the public sphere. They happen on social media, main street, book clubs, community events, conferences, etc… anywhere people are gathering is fair game for people talking to each about what you do.
Your aim here is for your customers or potential customers to be talking about your ideas or product, not the business itself. It’s not that that’s bad, it just doesn’t make for as meaningful of conversations.
How can you encourage external connections?
- Make an extraordinary product. Products that change people’s lives – even in small ways – give people a reason to talk to each other. Yes, this is classic word of mouth advertising. But it’s also spreading special tricks & techniques or creating a product culture (look at the conversation around Apple’s press conference this week).
- Offer up a symbol. Paul Tillich defined a symbol as something that “points beyond itself” to something mysterious or unknown. My iPhone is a symbol of Apple brand culture but it also points to an unbound sense of creativity & love of design. The #youeconomy hashtag is a symbol of my philosophy of the New Economy but also points to a sense of hope in the future.
- Deliver an innovative idea. Your rallying cry, manifesto, or great ambition is nothing if it can’t spark conversation & connection. Almost every day, I spot a conversation on The Art of Earning on Twitter or Facebook. The idea that “making money is beautiful” is fresh for many people and it’s a reason to celebrate, talk, laugh, and share.
Once you’ve nailed some opportunities for external connections, take a look at how you can foster internal connections. These conversations & relationships form within your tribe in secret or private places. If your business was a tree fort, these connections would be on the other side of the secret handshake.
Internal connections work because there’s a sense of exclusivity. Not everyone is in on these connections and the people that are feel a sense of shared purpose.
While this has always been a part of the way I craft offerings, never have I seen this come together more beautifully than in the program I’m running with Adam King, Make Your Mark. It’s a fairly small group and weighty material so everyone in the group is helping to each other accountable, witnessed, loved, and moving forward. It’s downright inspiring to watch. I feel privileged to be able to witness the conversations & connections happen every week.
The Make Your Mark participants will each be more successful in what they produce from the program because they are now a tight-knit community.
That’s the beauty of internal connections: they amplify the work you’re already doing.
Facebook groups, forums, in-person meet-ups, phone calls, Skype groups… you can create these opportunities in a multitude of ways. Experiment and find out what works best for your tribe.
Never underestimate the power of your ability to connect.
Connection is one of the major touch points of the You Economy. Moving forward, connecting with others through business will be a non-negotiable. In your business, you have no room to ignore the power you have to facilitate meaningful, positive connections between the people who use your services or buy your products.