The Art Of The Penguin – 10 Lessons From 1,000 Influencers

Influencer Marketing Lessons

When I was a kid, I grew up doing a youth program that had a lot of fun games and races.

One race in particular I found intriguing was the penguin race.

As we lined up at the starting point, each contestant was given a bowling pin which had to be carried with their feet across the finish line, thus forcing us to waddle like a penguin.

What do penguins and working with influencers have in common, you ask?

Very little. At least in terms of their appearance.

But if you get the privilege to connect with someone who is influential, you may realize the game can be quite similar. Although your mind tells you to spring, more often than not, it’s better to take things in slow strides.

Consider the speed of the penguins in this clip:

I’ve had the privilege of connecting with over 1,000 influencers over the last several months, everyone from Ramit Sethi and Dan Pink to the CMO of GE.

If I were to boil everything down to 10 concise lessons I’ve learned, these are the 10 I’d share:

10. Be a giver, not a taker

Who would you rather work with:

  1. Someone who proactively strives to help you grow your business?
  2. Someone who only focuses on themselves and what they can get out of the relationship?

This may sound like an obvious answer (and from experience, this is even more obvious to influencers). Yet I still see more people in the blogosphere make requests towards the latter rather than the former.

Another problem: There are some who craftily disguise themselves as givers, only to show their true colors down the road.

Kenneth Lay was the founder of a company that employed some 20,000 staff and was one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies.

Then, on December 2, 2001, Enron collapsed. The accounting scandal broke and they declared bankruptcy.

What’s fascinating is that something as simple as a person’s picture could have prevented this demise.

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, dug up an old report from Enron and compared it to one from a company led by Jon Huntsman, Sr., a famously charitable CEO. Check out the difference for yourself:

If you could not guess, John Huntsman is on the left, Ken Lay is on the right. Even in something as simple as a business report, the focus of a taker is on themselves.

Then there’s the time issue…

Even though I’ve barely grown my blog, I’ve still received more than a fair share of requests. While I do enjoy helping people when I can, frankly there isn’t enough time to do the work required of me and help every single person who asks.

Yet as I watch others, time isn’t always the problem.

William Harris, Aaron Orendorff, and Andy Crestodina are stalwart examples I’ve seen who are huge givers and indirectly have motivated me to do the same.

You may think each of these givers has a lot of time on their hands. But each of them are some of the craziest workers I know:

  • Andy is the co-founder and the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, an award-winning 38-person web design company in Chicago. He speaks at many conferences and even won Content Marketing World’s prestigious speaker-of-the-year award.
  • Then there’s Will, the VP of Marketing at DollarHobbyz and founder of the marketing agency Elumynt. When putting in 60-80 hours growing DollarHobbyz or taking care of his family, he’s cranking out articles for Search Engine Journal.
  • Finally is Aaron. This guy runs the show at iconiContent. But more than that, he’s written for Entrepreneur Magazine, Business Insider, SalesForce, Success Magazine, Unbounce, and The Next Web (with another article for Smashing Magazine soon to come).

All that to say, when it comes to giving, it’s not usually a time issue. It’s about where you place your priorities.

Influencers get hundreds of messages a day everyday. Speaking from experience, whatever your objectives are in building a blogging empire, you’ll always get farther as a giver than a taker.

9. Keep your asks small

In Nir Eyal’s book Hooked, Nir gives a simple, 4-step process product marketers use to create habit-forming products:

  1. Trigger – This is the event that can cause someone to take…
  2. Action – What’s the simplest behavior in anticipation of a reward?
  3. Reward – Is the reward fulfilling enough to take action yet leaves them wanting more?
  4. Investment – What work can you get them to do to be invested to take action the next time a trigger occurs?

Why do I say all this?

Even if you aren’t building habit a forming product, you want to create a habit that the influencer will act in whatever way you ask.

Want someone to open your email every time? Consider putting them through the hook:

Trigger Action Reward Investment

Trigger – Sees new email
Action – Opens email
Reward – Information provided in your email
Investment – Responds to email

If a part of the loop fails, you won’t get a response. Conversely, a successful pass in each of those four stages helps begin the relationship.

Not only that, but it makes future outreach significantly easier.

If the reward from emailing you was worth their investment, the anticipation of a future reward will get them to more likely open your email.

Conversely, if the interaction wasn’t positive, they’ll be less likely to want to spend the time connecting with someone they feel is worth the time.

This goes back to my main premise – if you keep your asks small, you are more likely to get a response. Each pass through the loop increases your chance of success of a bigger ask.

8. One email, one purpose

There’s a saying in the conversion optimization industry that every page on your website should focus one objective at a time.

Interestingly enough, I’ve found this to equally apply to emails I send to influencers.

Whenever I send an email, even if I may have multiple things to discuss I try to keep my emails to a single purpose. I say try because sometimes I get too excited and put too much into it.

(Note, this goes hand-and-hand with knowing your objective and the hooked model).

What happens when I make multiple requests?

Either they put it off for several days or, more likely, ignore it altogether.

Of course, you can choose to experiment and find out what works for you. All I want to do is teach you to learn from my mistakes in connecting with influencers.

7. Decipher what a “no” means (and how to move forward)

Didn’t get a response from someone? Or perhaps you got the classic, “I’m too busy” line.

Whatever the case, I try to dig into why I got a no (or conversely, no response). Not only will this help me in future outreach, but it will give me an understanding how to best continue building the relationship with that influencer.

Here are a few things I think through when faced with rejection:

Did they open my email?

Assuming you gave them enough time to respond, if they did not open my email, this could be because:

  1. My subject line wasn’t enticing enough.
  2. Previous failed attempts killed the habit loop.
  3. They use an email service that cloaks when they open an email.Knowing they did not open my email means it wasn’t as much what I wrote in the email as much as what was written in the subject line.

Pro tip: Use the first words in your body carefully. Many mail clients include next to the subject line, giving you a greater chance for them to open your email.

If they opened my email but did not respond…

I try to examine the copy in the email.

Was it too long? Too many requests? Maybe I’ve been asking them too much?

Even though I cannot read someone’s mind, making an educated guess enables me to keep improving and, if possible, recover from the situation.

If they opened my email, responded in the past, but did not respond to future follow-up

Usually in this situation, I assume one of two things:

  1. The email had too many requests.
  2. They are busy. Rarely do I do any kind of follow-up, especially if I consider them a friend.

Building these relationships through email has been one of the best ways to increase my bottom line.

Check out this article on outreach tools to find out which tools can help you manage your campaign more effectively.

6. Get outside of your circle

Sol Orwell is an entrepreneur founded, a leading source of independent analysis on supplements and nutrition (not to be confused with In a Facebook post, he shared that entrepreneurs and marketers cannot make a significant impact without leaving their circle.

When I began to work for Sujan Patel, he invited me into two of his inner circles. I quickly realized that most in that circle knew each other and shared similar perspectives and advice.

But most of the blog marketers I knew prior to working for Sujan had a different set of beliefs because they kept within a different circle.

Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle explains:

“…We should spend a little energy cultivating a large number of people who are in worlds as different as ours…. The best way is to cultivate these very weak links routinely, to build a network of people who just might come up with a great idea or contact for us, which we can activate when the need arises.

And the crucial point is that these people should be as unlike us as possible.  Most of us prefer to hob-nob, if at all, with PLU, people like us. That is exactly the wrong thing to do if we want to put a spurt on in our careers and lives.”

Where’s the gold in your network? On the far edge. Which is why you should…

5. Start small and build concentric circles out

This may sound contrary to the last bit, but hold on.

If you have never built relationships with influencers in your field, you may need to do a lot of cold emails before you can begin those relationships. As you begin making connections with influencers in your industry, you’ll start noticing some overlap.

Instead of doing a cold email everytime, you should build off of the relationships from your existing network.

Take a look at this Venn diagram:

Venn Diagram

People who are closest to the points of the arrow often have the best way of adding value to your network (being on the edge) with the least amount of effort.


  1. You can ask the influencer for an introduction.
  2. They often have a different group of people they know.
  3. Alternatively, you can use the names of the influencers to make the cold email almost a warm introduction.

Here’s a template I used to connect with influencers in the big data space on LinkedIn:


I’m the evangelist for and I’ve connected w/ several data experts (such as Kirk Borne, Gregory Piatetsky, and Jeremy Waite) and helped them to increase their marketing and brand.

Just wanted to reach out to see if there’s any way I can help you too :).

~ Jason

In doing so, I was able to quickly begin to build connections with another 12 experts in the data field.

Though you may not be familiar with the names, if you notice, I’m using the brand of 3 influencers and 2 companies. So even though I don’t know where the expert fits on the above Venn diagram, my odds that they recognize at least one name goes up significantly.

While you may not have the ability to leverage companies in your field, this template can still be tweaked to your situation.

If you want to grow your network, the most effective way is to build connections.

4. Give specifics how you can help

Failure we can do alone, but success requires the help of other people. – Simon Sinek

When people tell me, “Love to help you any way I can,” even if we could help each other out, I have no clue in what way.

Think about this:

Even if I knew someone was a marketer, I don’t know where their expertise lies (are they an email automation wizard, a social media legend, a link building strategist, or something entirely different?).

Instead, I try to give specifics or proactively make the magic happen.

When I first began to guest blog, one of the most effective things I discovered was asking for opportunities rather than digging for them on my own. In fact, Adam connected me to Ashley, which lead to writing an article on the MadLemmings blog, one of Ashley’s most shared hits of 2015.

This saved me time Googling around and doing a completely cold pitch and built my relationship with another awesome marketer.

3. Keep it simple, silly

In the last four months, I’ve been working with Johnathan Dane at and Sujan Patel, helping him promote and grow,,, and (not to mention occasionally promoting his personal site).

Frankly, keeping all of that organized is a pain in the BUTT.

One of the best pieces of advice Sujan gave me was a mentality change I needed to make: keep it simple and stop overthinking.

Let me give you a practical example:

When I first started out, I was given the task to promote the crap out of this article. I knew the promotion strategy I wanted to execute with. Using BuzSumo, my plan was to find everyone who shared similar articles to my own and get them to share our article.

Then I started thinking about things too much:

  1. How do I know they are worth the time finding their email, drafting up a pitch, and sending it to them?
  2. How do I know they are really influencers and not bots?
  3. How many Twitter followers is it worth to start connecting with them? Did they buy their Twitter followers?

I’ll be honest – God was with me on this first project as I ended up getting an additional 200 shares (509 on the 2nd one I promoted in this way. Full details of the case study here).

Here is what I now (try) to do when starting a new process:

  1. Get the basics. What is the simplest way to get maximum results?
  2. Just do it.
  3. What failed? Why? What did you expect to fail but didn’t?
  4. Move on. If it worked, great. Figure out why, repeat, consider adding a level of complexity, move on. If it didn’t – figure out why, decide if it is worth repeating, and move on.

By combining the 80/20 mindset to my marketing and keeping things simple, I was able to drive some gnarly traffic promoting the PPC Food Pyramid and 31 Brilliant Landing Page Examples With 71 Takeaways with only 45 minutes of work each.

Social Media Arrow

Note: this only shows the social media traffic. In case, you were wondering, the arrow shows when I started working with Johnathan.

Wish you could do that when accomplishing your goals? You can.

That’s why I always want to…

2. Know the objective

Whenever you are connecting with someone, you need to know what your first objective will be.

If I’m not in a rush, I always begin by being friendly and building a relationship (goes back to the whole being a giver bit above).

Here are four things most bloggers I know tend to focus on:

  1. Links
  3. Guest posts
  4. Build a relationship, perhaps for a future ask down the road.

Each of those will look very different in how you approach whomever you’d like to connect with.

1. The best place to win friends and work with influencers…

There are many ways to build relationships with influencers and get on their radar. You can:

  1. Comment on their blogs
  2. Share their posts and tag them
  3. Interact with them on social media.

Personally, I rarely do those things.

Not because they aren’t helpful, but because I’ve discovered other tactics that work just as well in creating awareness and building a relationship with them in a fraction of the time.

Get this:

If you want to really get on their radar, you need to get in their inbox.

“Isn’t their inbox crowded? What’s the value of trying to fight for attention where I’m competing against a lot of people?”

Good question.

More than likely, they do get a ton of email.

On the other hand, I’ve found this is the best way to begin to develop a personal relationship. And like any skill, once you’ve learned how to master it, it will get easier and easier.

Notice what I didn’t say:

Your goal isn’t to develop a casual connection. At times, I attempt to make the relationship to be more than just about business. How do I do this?

Simple. By getting to know them as a person. Things like finding out about their family, their goals in life, their hobbies… ya know, like you would a friend.

That’s dang tough to do through a blog comment. But once you are in the inbox, you can begin that personal, 1-on-1 relationship.

(BTW, if you aren’t sure how to find an influencer’s email, you can snag my list of the 5 best tools I use to get someone’s email in my author box below).

Have fun!

At the end of the day, what’s the worst that will happen? You email someone, they throw it into the trash can. You learn from the experience and costs you nothing for a very valuable lesson.

Don’t put more pressure on yourself than you need to.

While it’s great to make a good first impression, you’ve got two things going for you if you do accidentally drop the ball:

  1. Most people are forgiving.
  2. When they see a bad pitch, they often forget who you are after a couple weeks later. For them, the point of deleting emails quickly is to not take up more mental energy.

So, when it is all said and done, just have fun!

Related Reading: 34 Latest Influencer Marketing Statistics & Benchmarks.