Years ago, when I was manager with Starbucks, my boss would encourage me to “reach out to” or “connect with” somebody over a particular topic. Those phrases always bugged me – they sounded like corporate speak for “pick up the phone” or “send an email.”
Why dress up mundane tasks in fancy words? If you need to know something and know who’s got the answer, pick up the phone (or keyboard) and just ask.
Done done. Right?
But there’s more to it.
Every time you reach out to someone, you create a tiny thread of connection. Maybe a one-time deal, insignificant in the scheme of things (and that’s okay).
But what about repeated connections? You may get more than you bargained for…you may find work, inspiration, or even a friend.
An Accidental Example
Earlier this summer I was prepping my slides for WordCamp San Francisco. Part of the process involved scouring through a lot of images to find just the right ones to communicate my message. I came across this photo (sans the slide):
I thought it was a great visual representation of consumer choice, which was the point of the slide. But there was a problem. I didn’t own the photo.
So you know what I did?
I reached out.
I shot off an email to Will Pattison, the photographer owning the image. I explained how/why I wanted to use the photo and asked for permission. I received this incredibly gracious response:
no problem on the photo, but you may need one that’s larger. if so, just ping me.
i’m curious…how did you find it?
btw, as you’re in fort worth, i may have a lead for you in austin if you’re interested.
Not only did he offer me the use of his photo (and a higher res version, if needed), but he also offered me a lead on a WordPress project in Austin. Talk about referrals from unexpected places! I’ll tell you more on that in a bit.
The moral of the story? I could have been lazy and ripped the photo from Google without permission. I doubt Will would ever be the wiser. But I would have missed out on a valuable connection.
Reaching Out = Scary
Asking a question is scary. You might get a NO, a HELL-TO-THE-NO, or even the proverbial door slammed in your face. In my experience, though, people want to say YES.
Think about it. You come to me and ask something. Even if I don’t like the request, odds are I’m flattered you asked me, that of ALL THE PEOPLE you sought me out. If it’s easily in my power to answer your question, I’ll say yes.
Colleague and mastermind buddy Curtis McHale recently launched a book in which he interviewed 10 business owners and freelancers. Before he could interview those people, guess what he had to do? That’s right – he had to reach out and ask.
Was there vulnerability in the ask? Yep. Did he open himself up for rejection? Sure. But by asking those 10 people to participate, they validated his project and increased the value of his work.
The moral of the story? Even if you’re scared or nervous, reach out anyway.
Turns out the gig in Austin didn’t amount to anything, but last week Will reached out to me. He needed help with a WordPress site for one of his photography customers. Over the course of an hour-long call, I helped him solve his problem and – unexpectedly – learned about his incredible recovery from a spinal cord injury. He’s a cool guy. He’s since referred me to another customer for WordPress work.
Even if I don’t “get any work” out of Will, it’s okay. After all, that wasn’t why I reached out to him in the first place.
The moral of the story? Connections lead to unexpected opportunities and relationships.
It takes bravery to reach out to someone, whether it’s about a personal topic or work. My encouragement to you? Be brave. Take a deep breath and hit the send button before you can talk yourself out of it.