Content-Based Networking by James Carbary: Summary & Review

content based networking book cover

Content-Based Networking is a four-part book that makes the case that networking events are prone to randomness and content-based networking allows you to take a more focused approach to connecting with anyone, at any time, and from anywhere in the world.

Exec Summary

  • Create content to connect with others: create a platform and invite the people you want to meet onto it for interviews.
  • Follow up after the content collaboration: to deepen the relationship after the interview.
  • Stick with it: eventually, you’ll begin to receive opportunities as you continue creating these relationships through these interviews.

FULL SUMMARY

About the Author
James Carbary is an author and host of the podcast, B2B Growth, a top-ranked podcast according to Forbes. He’s also the owner of Sweet Fish Media, a company that specializes in helping podcasters produce their content. Carbary has been a contributor to Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and Business Insider.

The Foundation: Relationships Are Everything

Can We Plan Serendipity?

Here, the author shares a brief story about being invited on a trip with his friends after one of them won a sweepstakes. 

It included a trip to an NFL football game of their choice—including transportation to the game in a private jet, a tour of the city in a chartered limo bus, and their own catered private suite to watch the game.

Early in the day of the trip, he noticed that they’d picked up an extra passenger for their tour of New York City: a guy named Jeff.

Upon striking up a conversation with him, Carbary discovered he was actually the CEO of the company that had arranged their transportation, and his business was actually a large global logistics firm.

By the end of the night, they swapped email addresses, and after a year of keeping in touch, Jeff asked him if he wanted to move to Orlando and run the helicopter division of his company.

The end of the chapter ends with this reflection from the author (that points back to the chapter’s title):

Carbary: “…eventually I began to wonder, was there a way to create life-changing relationships on-demand? Was it possible to purposely engineer relationships, like the one Jeff and I had developed, to help someone get closer to their goals and dreams in life? And was it possible to put myself in a situation where I could meet another person like Jeff, without relying on a one-in-a-million circumstance? The more I asked myself these questions, the more I realized that what happened with Jeff could happen again. And I wouldn’t need to win a sweepstakes to make it happen.”

Relationships Aren’t the Side Dish. They’re the Whole Buffet

See the author’s words on the chapter’s main idea here:

Carbary: “Life starts with, ends with, and revolves around, relationships. [And] Whatever you’re looking to achieve, someone out there has the tools, the know-how, and the connections to help you do it.”

The other half of this chapter’s main idea is that one shouldn’t spend their time hoping to meet the right people who could transform their life, career, or business.

The author continues here:

Carbary: “We hope that we meet our next customer at the local chamber of commerce meeting. We hope that one of our LinkedIn connections can introduce us to someone with deep pockets that wants to help fund our nonprofit. We hope we know someone who works at the same company where we want to work, so they can move our resume to the top of the stack. But, should we really live our lives waiting for that chance encounter to change our course? …You actually can bypass serendipity and go straight to the CEO’s office, the investor’s table, or the meeting with Jeff. That’s why I wrote this book. I’ve found a way to take chance out of the equation. I call it Content-Based Networking.”

So, What Is Content-Based Networking?

Content-based networking is a “content collaboration” approach to building relationships:

Carbary: “Content-Based Networking is networking based on…wait for it…CONTENT. It’s figuring out, like I did with Marie, who you need to connect with (what we’ll call goals), then reaching out to them (which we talk about in the people section), and then collaboration (creating content with the people you want to know—this is the important part).”

Why does this work?

Because it’s a WIIFT win:

Carbary: “The content is the difference between selflessly asking the other person for something they can do for you and offering something for them. When I asked Marie to be on our show, I talked about what I had to offer her. I gave her a chance to share her story, and to talk about herself. Instead of asking Marie for something, I offered her a chance to promote herself and the company she works for…”

Here are some more examples (provided by the author) of how one can go about content-based networking:

  • Jamie is a musician who wants to be signed to a record label. So she collaborates with music producers by filming them in their day-to-day work (audio engineering, scouting talent, developing songs with artists, etc.). Then she edits the footage and posts the videos to her YouTube channel.
  • Kamal wants to be a chef, so he collaborates with top-rated chefs to create content about their food. He snaps pictures of the chefs in the kitchen and of their final dishes. He then publishes all of the content on Instagram, tagging all the chefs and highlighting their recipes.
  • Emily wants to sell marketing software to the airline industry, so she starts a podcast that features interviews with marketing managers at different airlines. During the interviews, Emily asks the marketing managers about their career journey, the challenges of being an airline marketer, and the marketing tactics they’ve tested in the last six months.

The content could be anything—a series of photographs, blog posts, podcasts, videos, virtual summits, industry reports, documentaries, music, you name it. According to the author, with his approach, all types of collaborative content can be the launching point of a genuine and meaningful relationship.

Step 1: Goals

Don’t Drive to the Wrong Coffee Shop

The author says here that we tend to confuse goals with our high-level dreams. We may dream of owning our own company, and make that our goal. 

But that’s not a productive approach with Content-Based Networking because it’s important to narrow your goal down to be as specific as possible. 

Namely, and in this context, you want to craft your goal to refer to the specific relationships you need to create. (Boil your high-level dream down to a relationship you need to build.)

To design your goal, follow this formula: 

  • Goal = Target Contacts + Where They Congregate

Using the Kamal example above, let’s say he wants to be a three-star Michelin chef.

Rather than just applying for internships like everyone else in his culinary arts program, he makes this his networking goal:

  • Create relationships with head chefs at top-tier restaurants.

See how it fits the formula?

Be Like Oprah

By this, the author means to shine a light on your guest (and their dreams and passions), don’t make it about yourself).

Give them a chance to share their story.

Step 2: People

The Spotlight Effect

To get started, first, by having a platform (whether it’s something seemingly small such as having just created a blog), you have value to give because you have a spotlight you can shine on any new guest, even if you don’t have any content for that platform yet.

So, if, for example, you want to start interviewing casting directors for your blog, (1) simply say you have a blog that features casting directors, and then (2) start interviewing casting directors for your brand-new blog.

Also, make sure to conduct thorough research on them and any of their current content (social media can be key to learning about someone’s work and passions).

More pro tips from the author:

  • Research their industry (and how most people in their profession view it): so you can know how the industry plays out for them from their perspective (not yours).
  • Find where they like to hang out: everyone has a favorite hangout. And people with similar experiences within the same industry usually have the same favorite hangout. (This can be an online or physical hangout space).

Master the Art of Cold Emails

Remember, you’re not trying to sell anything. You’re trying to connect and offer a spotlight (value).

Here are the author’s seven rules of an effective cold email reach-out:

  1. Keep it simple: for example, say, “Hey Paul, we’re doing a series of videos about your industry, and we’d love to feature you. Any interest?” That’s it. Then, as you grow, you can pick one or two quick facts that make it clear that you’re adding value to them. (For example, if you’ve had 30,000 downloads of your content last month, say that.)
  2. Make it easy: your initial goal is not to get your recipient to commit to collaborating with you it’s only to get them to respond. (That’s why it’s OK to keep the message so simple.)
  3. Personalize it: for example, you can weave in a specific mention of a recent accomplishment of theirs or mention that you saw their talk at a conference that year.
  4. Write how you talk: don’t try to sound overly professional.
  5. Prove you’re not a scam: by placing links to your social media in your email signature.
  6. Take a multichannel approach: try different mediums for outreach and see which one your target guests respond to most/best.
  7. Follow up: be respectfully persistent.

All the Other Stuff Oprah Did Really Well

More main points:

  • The people you really want to connect with will always have a network of other people…that you’ll probably also want to connect with.
  • When people see you hanging around experts, they assume you’re one too.
  • Since you’re interviewing them on your platform, you can ask them anything you want—including questions that directly pertain to your specific goals

How to Make Sure You’re Finding the Right People

If you’re a business, you may want to consider making sure the people you target to be your guests are the ones who make the buying decisions for what you sell.

A couple more considerations:

  • Target experts, not celebrities: influencers will only get you so far, experts tend to be the ones who provide practical, actionable advice—and as Carbary puts it himself, “…the best place to get that advice is from practitioners who are in the trenches with them [your audience], not from big names who have tons of Instagram followers.”
  • Don’t make your platform about you: your show’s branding should be built around appealing to your guests and audience first and foremost, not around yourself.

Step 3: Content

Here’s What You Talk About

You can start by talking to your guest about what they did in their career and their background. And then ask about the challenges and opportunities that they think about every day. 

Then, as you speak to them and gain a clearer picture of their world, learning the things they struggle with, what they care about, what information is helpful to them, things they don’t care about, etc., you can start to leverage that new knowledge in the next interview.

If there’s anything they mention that you’re unfamiliar with, it’s OK to simply say something like, “For our listeners who aren’t as familiar with this concept, could you walk us through exactly what [blank] means?”

This way, with each interview, you get better and better at having fruitful discussions and crafting better questions to ask.

The Three Phases of Collaboration

  1. Plan
  2. Create
  3. Share

For planning, make scheduling easy with software like Calendly, and plan the content around the overall theme of the content you want to create and the tangible takeaways you want your audience to walk away with. (Use an outline.)

For the content phase, don’t try to sell anything or promote yourself when you’re creating content with your guests. Simply be curious about your guest, have fun, and whenever possible learn from other interviewers in your space to conduct better interviews yourself.

And, lastly, for the share phase, start by finalizing and publishing the work. Then, post it on social media.

Produce, Reuse, Recycle (How 1=3)

Every time you do an interview or collaborate with someone, that collaboration could become at least three pieces of content by repurposing it to be published on more platforms (e.g. a YouTube video that’s edited to be published on Instagram and TikTok).

The Relationship Snowball

Once you create content with someone you can continue investing in the relationship by doing things like this:

  • Grabbing a bite to eat together
  • Make it Facebook official (add each other as friends)
  • Give them a gift
  • Do another collab

Step 4: You’re Done

So, After I’ve Created All This Content, Do My Dreams Just Magically Come True?

The author has an answer to this you may not expect:

Carbary: “Do all your dreams suddenly become true? Often, yes, actually: they will start to come true. By the time you’ve repurposed some content, created strategic relationships, and learned more about your industry than you could ever imagine, you’ll likely be seeing results. Maybe you were offered more than one job. Maybe you sold more than you hoped for. Maybe you realized something interesting about your field. Maybe you even developed a new interest or discovered a new ambition. Often, your objectives happen just like that—organically—simply because you put yourself in a position to win. You surrounded yourself with the people you needed to connect with, and great things happened.”

A pro tip to making things happen for yourself though is to make sure your guests know what business you’re in (or what your expertise is) as early in the process as possible.

You don’t want people to only see you as a blogger, podcaster, etc. because most people would be happy to hear that you have a solution to their problem (in the form of a service) or could be a great candidate for an opportunity they need filled.

Common Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)

  • Don’t target influencers: especially when you’re new, it’s going to be very difficult to land them on your show, and even if you do get them to say yes, they have no reason to share your content. 
  • Don’t focus on downloads: focus on your guests and on creating solid relationships, those relationships are where your opportunities come from.
  • Don’t think you need an audience before you can start: the audience says that, in his experience, audience size rarely comes up in his conversations.
  • Don’t overfocus on the quality of the content: getting it done and creating a great relationship with your guest are more important.
  • Don’t make the content all about you
  • Don’t make “pie in the sky” content: do your best to make great, actionable content (asking for real-life examples from your guest can help).

MORE WISDOM

  • Life is relationships

See the author’s words here:

Carbary: “Relationships are more than a nice side dish in life. They’re the entrée, the appetizer, the side dish, and really, the whole buffet. Gary Smalley put it this way: ‘Life is relationships; the rest is just details.’”

And we believe the same here at TPM:

TPM: “Hell is other people. And heaven is other people.” – The Power Mvoes

And whether your life is more of a heaven or hell on earth is largely up to you.

QUOTES

“…a simple truth, which, when expressed, goes something like this: “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.’”

Albeit we know it wasn’t Carbary who first said this, it’s still a true quote that emphasizes the importance of sticking with it in any endeavor worth pursuing—including creating and building a platform to reach and build relationships with others.

Real-Life Tips

  • Done is better than perfect

And, of course, this expands well beyond only networking, creating content, or doing business.

Generally speaking, when you have a goal, it’s better to focus more on getting it done than accomplishing it perfectly.

Cons

  • Some reach-outs maybe could’ve been better written

For example, the author shares the example of Jeremy, an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to connect with purchasing managers at chain retailers to grow his clothing brand.

Jeremy decides to do a blog series and emails Sally, the purchasing manager for a big-name chain store, by saying something like this:

Jeremy: “Hey Sally, I’m writing a blog series on retail analytics, and I saw the article you wrote on LinkedIn about the topic. I thought you’d be a great person to highlight in the series. Any interest in doing a 15-minute interview?”

More could’ve been done with this reach-out, such as complimenting their article (emotional value-giving), sharing a little more about the blog series (to avoid putting the onus on the receiver to find out), and so on.

For more, check out, “How To Write Cold Emails That Get Responses (Steal This Script!).”

  • Other forms of networking can be strategic too

The author comments on other forms of networking relying on chance encounters and random in-person events and presents content-based networking as the only strategic option for networkers.

However, there are other options, including hosting your own cocktail parties and overseeing the guest list to ensure you meet the people you want to meet.

Pros

  • Short, to the point, and full of value

I rented this book from the library, and despite Amazon saying it’s 196 pages, it turned out to only be about 64 pages long inside my copy (which I double-checked was the right edition and it was).

So, I actually found myself wishing the book was longer but, in the end, I was happy that there was no fluff.

Review

Due to the low page count, this book feels like more of a handbook.

But, it’s still one of the best books I’ve read on networking compared to the other resources out there, and made for a great read. 

Plus, even if a more power-aware approach would serve the author’s approaches sometimes, the overall strategy is sound. (And I only give this book an 8.5 because I wish he would’ve added more strategies than only content-based networking, as good as this book was :).

Get the book here.

Or, check out the best books on social skills.

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