Working to build an author platform often feels like a long, slow climb. (And much of the work is more of a marathon than a short sprint.) You create quality content to increase your traffic, engage to grow followers on social media, and do the work of building an email list. Then hit repeat.
Another tool in platform-building is to leverage the power of someone else’s audience. This allows you to get in front of new people, gain authority in your space, grow your audience, and also build relationships with other authors or influencers in your space. This might look like guest posts on that person’s blog, a joint venture (like a workshop or promotion together), an interview on their blog or podcast, or interviewing them on your blog or podcast.
The challenge is that, if you approach people in the wrong way, it can be at best ineffective and at worst burn bridges. This post will help give general best practices for reaching out; Jane has written a post specifically about asking people to promote your book at IngramSpark.
How to Maintain the Correct Mindset
Though we are talking about leveraging another person’s platform, this should not be mistaken for using someone else or climbing over another person’s back to land on top. Instead, the goal should be to make lasting connections with other people in a way that can benefit you both. Consider what you are bringing to the table. What do you have to offer the other person? Think in terms of a long-term partnership rather than a one-off favor.
It becomes clear very quickly when people try use others solely for their own benefit. My favorite word for this distasteful practice is smarmy. You don’t want to establish a reputation as someone who is self-centered or uses others. Be helpful and generous with other people and do not simply look for what you can get out of a collaboration.
What to Look for in Partnerships
Leveraging other platforms is not simply about looking vertically, or reaching up to those people with a larger following. You can also connect horizontally, working with people at or close to your current station. And you can also reach out to people who may have a smaller following or be newer in their journey. Each kind of partnership can have benefits.
Typically people want to reach up, thinking that those big platforms are the key to growth. But the number of pageviews or followers someone else has does not always indicate the return on investment (ROI) for your efforts. I have written guest posts for blogs that have two million pageviews a month without seeing more than five or ten referral visits to my own site. I’ve also had someone with fewer followers than I have tag me in a single tweet that resulted in shares and follows.
A good metric to consider is engagement: How does this person’s audience engage with content? Are there blog comments? Retweets? Facebook shares?
You can also consider how this person generally treats partnerships. Are they generous in promoting guest posts on social media? Do they reply or retweet shares on Twitter? Are they engaging in comments on the blog or on Facebook posts?
The more present and engaged someone is, the more engaged their audience tends to be. Look past the numbers to see interaction.
How to Lay the Foundation for a Warm Ask
The worst kind of request for collaboration is a cold ask. This is when the very first contact with someone is a request. I constantly receive and delete form emails from people who I’ve never connected with and who are clearly not familiar with my blog or my work. It takes a considerable benefit to me to respond to a cold pitch.
Do some groundwork to lay a foundation for a warm ask so there is some level of interaction leading up to an ask. I tend to keep a list of people that I would like to work with at some point, perhaps as a guest poster or a guest on a podcast. Or perhaps I’d like to team up on a project.
I created a private list in Hootsuite (see more on how I use Twitter) called Radar. (Note: Be aware that public lists will send a notification with the name of your list to each person you add. If you set your list to public, don’t choose a name like “People I Want to Leverage.” Or keep the list private.) On a weekly basis I share relevant content from my Radar list or reply to their tweets.
You can also comment on a person’s blogs, subscribe to their email newsletter, or follow that person and interact on their social platforms. Don’t be creepy, but do try to get on that person’s radar before sending an email proposing some kind of partnership.
Share genuinely and not just the week before you plan to send an email with an ask. If you follow someone on Twitter an hour before you email to ask something, it doesn’t seem genuine, especially if you claim to follow their work or be a fan.
When and How to Ask
Before you approach your dream person with a proposal, try to work with someone at the horizontal level or even someone a few steps behind you. Get a feel for how these partnerships can work before you approach a person with a larger following. When you do reach out, here are some tips for writing an effective email. Your pitch should:
- follow that person’s guidelines (if applicable)
- be succinct
- be personal
- include a clear and concise pitch for collaboration
- demonstrate the value for that person
Some people have information about how to contact them or pitch them on their About page or a Work with Me page. Do check before you send an email. If you send an email when you should have instead emailed a different address or filled out a contact form, it shows that you did not do your homework. Pay attention also to the person’s latest tweets or social shares. Sometimes I have been on the verge of sending an email when I checked Twitter to realize that the person I wanted to contact was taking a blogging break and would not be checking email for a month.
Be succinct. My biggest pet peeve is other people wasting my time. A very small way to show respect to someone else is to value their time. A short email will also likely return better results than a long one. Get to the point. Be clear and concise.
Don’t mistake succinct for dry. You should be personal and personable. Talk briefly about that blog post you loved, or share a quick anecdote about how that person has impacted you. If you have previously interacted on another platform, mention that. (Especially if your Twitter handle is different from your email address.) Have a friendly, personable tone.
State exactly what kind of collaboration you are proposing. Be specific in the requirements and what you think it might cost in terms of time. This is a good time to consider (if you haven’t already) the scope of what you are asking.
I’ve had people request something from me with a lot of extra bits baked into the pitch. I may be asked to speak at an event, but I’m not paid and have requirements for social sharing. This requires way more than, say, a twenty-minute podcast interview I can do from home in my pajamas. The more you ask, the less you are likely to get a yes. Depending on the level of relationship you have with that person, you may be able to ask for more. But be aware and don’t ask for too much or make an open-ended pitch.
Demonstrate value. Be up front about why your proposal would benefit them. Why should they allow you to guest post? What do you bring to the table that is a win for them? Why might they want to get in front of your audience? What’s in it for them? Don’t over-promise, but do be as tangible as you can get with why this is a good fit.
Crowded inboxes may mean that you do not get an immediate response. This is not necessarily a no. Wait a week, search in your sent folder for that email you originally sent, and hit reply to it. This will send another email to that person with a RE: in the subject, containing your original pitch as a reminder of what you asked. Make this follow-up short and to the point. Some people will continue to follow up, but, typically after one follow-up, I will not pursue further.
If you do get a yes, be sure that after a successful partnership, you continue to give. Don’t stop sharing that person’s content on Twitter once you’ve scored that interview. Write an email (or even a written note) to say thanks for partnering. Be gracious and continue to give generously after the collaboration.
It is also a good practice (where applicable) to make promotion easy if that person chooses to share. When I interview people on my podcast, I send an email with links to the show notes and the various platforms where the podcast is hosted. I even send a custom image for their episode. I also tag that person in social shares.
The biggest requirement to partner with someone is to make the ask. Sounds simple, right? But I talk to so many people who are scared to email their dream writer to ask for an interview or guest post.
You will never get a yes if you never ask. You may not get a yes if you ask, but you will never hear yes without taking that leap.
When people ask me how I got some bigger names (like Darren Rowse from ProBlogger) in my first twenty podcasts, I can honestly say that I simply took a risk and asked. After, of course, making connections, sharing content generously, doing my homework, and asking for something that was an easy win. I’ve had a few rejections, but for the most part have had a lot of success with sticking to these best practices.
You won’t always get a yes. If you get a lot of negative responses or non-responses, step back and ask why. You may need to rework your pitch or what you are asking. You may be asking the wrong kinds of people or reaching too high vertically. Ask an honest friend to read the emails you are sending and give you feedback.
Seeking ways to leverage someone else’s platform is a great way to grow your own. Don’t be afraid to ask. But be sure that you are asking genuinely and offering value in return.
Visit Kirsten at CreateIfWriting.com.
Kirsten Oliphant has an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is the creator of the Free Email Course to help de-mystify email lists for bloggers & writers. She writes about authentic platform building at Create If Writing and interviews writers, bloggers, and other creatives on the Create If Writing Podcast. You can find her tweeting as @kikimojo or sign up for free monthly workshops on list-building, image creation, or other helpful training.