Try a quick thought exercise: Grab a piece of paper and a pen and jot down at least 3 or 4 ideas of the best possible way you could help your business and/or your career with $500.
I want to compare those ideas against a process that costs me ~$500 and has, historically, produced incredible returns for SEOmoz and (as a direct result) my career. Once you’re done, click play on the video below. You deserve a reward for all that thinking and writing 🙂
OK, let’s compare ideas:
Step 1: Go to LinkedIn and find 11 people who are first or second degree connections in your geographic region
Step 2: Browse the list for individuals that fill two qualities A) you’re fairly sure you can help them in some way and B) you think they could be helpful to you today or in the future.
Step 3: Send out an email to the group via BCC that looks something like this:
Subject: The Help Me Help You Dinner
Hey gang – I’m putting together dinner for a dozen of us <professional types> in <cityname> and I’d really love to have you come join. There’s no obligation, no sales pitch, no requirement beyond asking that we have a great meal together, talk about what’s working and not in our professional lives and at one point in the night, go around the table to each individual and do these three things:
#1) Share something you need help with
#2) Offer advice and assistance if you can help someone else at the dinner
#3) Share one way you can help others
The meal is my treat, and we’ll try to do it at <restaurant X> on <night Y>. The group will be mostly other <professional types>, some of whom you’ll probably know. If you have someone you think I should definitely invite, let me know, and please do RSVP so I can get a head count.
Hope all is going well with you and hope to see you there!
It’s important to get the details right here – the restaurant needs to have a private room or a reasonably quiet section. You want to make it fairly central, and probably on a Tuesday/Wednesday night (my experience is that most professionals can open these nights up more easily than others). 8 or 8:30pm is ideal so those with kids can do the family thing first if need be. Specify a time/date, rather than trying to sort out 12 people’s schedules; you can always fill in for those who can’t make it. And, of course, the group mix itself matters, too, though if you get a few folks wrong, it’s not the end of the world (the outgoing, friendly ones will usually make up for it).
Oh, and don’t aim for many more than 12 people or fewer than 9-10. You want the group dynamic to have a lot of conversation opportunity but never get too clique-ish or overwhelming.
I’ve done this with three different types of folks – CEOs specifically, those generally involved in the startup world, and professional marketers. All three have been very different but amazingly fun and helpful.
Step 4: Work way harder on helping everyone with their items than on getting help with your item. The future favors and positive karma you’ll earn are what matters here. The dinner is not actually about getting 11 other people’s help. It’s about helping 11 other people and, in return, seeing amazing serendipity develop.
Step 5 (optional): If the group has an amazing dynamic and at the end of the night, no one wants to leave, propose the creation of an email list where folks can email occasionally for things they need help with and things they can offer. These email lists can become incredible resources, particularly as everyone from the group’s careers grow and take new, interesting trajectories.
The dinner might cost ~$500, which is pricey, but in my experience, very few expenditures of this kind will have a greater ROI long term. I urge you to give it a shot, and if folks need convincing, send them to this post. I can say without hyperbole that many of the small, meaningful contributions (e.g. employee referrals, testimonials, bizdev stuff, press, introductions, etc) that have helped SEOmoz get where it is today have come through dinners like this.
p.s. If your brainstorm list of ideas contained a few that are better than what I’ve got here, please do share!
p.p.s. There’s now a website – The Help Me Help You Dinner – that offers some great tools to get this going.