Podcast

Episode: 57 |
David Topus:
Talking to Strangers:
Episode
57

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

David Topus

Talking to Strangers

Show Notes

Our guest today is David Topus, who helps his clients turn reputation into revenue.

I think that’s a pretty great positioning, encapsulating what David does in four words. And that’s what you’d expect from a professional who has been running a strategic sales messaging firm for over twenty-eight years.

In the first half of our discussion, we cover personal branding, with a focus on how to enhance your LinkedIn profile.

In the second half of the episode, we discuss David’s most recent book, Talk to Strangers, which is a guidebook on how to initiate conversations with strangers and includes dozens of examples of how David and those whom he has coached have turned conversations with strangers into business opportunities.

I’m a bit of an introvert, and normally the last thing I’d do is to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But after my talk with David, and reading his book, I said, OK, I’ll test this out. Over a few days of skiing I went outside my own comfort zone and initiated conversations with strangers on the ski lift.

Now, I never went so far as to actually ask for contact info – I was just taking some baby steps.  But I did end up having over a dozen fascinating discussions.  I met a woman who works as a ski instructor during the winter and during the spring and summer produces car commercials. Met the owner of a gas refinery, at attorney at Bank of America who works on credit derivatives, a woman in college who is studying to become a dentist and who plans to join the family’s 110-year old dental practice – she was helping with bite wings when she was eight years old. I met a professional rock climber, a woman who runs a business that checks on Park City condos while the owners are out of town, and the sales manager for the Western U.S. for one of the two leading printing companies.

I hope you find this discussion valuable, and I hope you’ll test out David’s suggestion and strike up a conversation with a stranger today.

Visit David’s website: http://www.topus.com/

David’s book: Talk to Strangers: How Everyday, Random Encounters Can Expand Your Business, Career, Income, and Life

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Will Bachman: Welcome to Unleashed, the podcast that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host, Will Bachman. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, the world’s first global community connecting top tier independent management consultants with one another. If you visit Umbrex.com/Unleashed, you can sign up for the weekly Unleashed email, in which you’ll get the show notes delivered straight to your inbox, as well as a transcript of that week’s episode, and other bonus features available only to subscribers.
Our guest today is David Topus, who helps his clients turn reputation into revenue. I think that’s a pretty great positioning, encapsulating what David does in four words, and that’s what you’d expect from a professional who has been running a strategic sales messaging firm for over 28 years. In the first half of our discussion, we cover personal branding with a focus on how to enhance your LinkedIn profile. In the second half of the episode, we discuss David’s most recent book, “Talk to Strangers”, which is a guidebook on how to initiate conversations with strangers, and includes dozens of examples of how David and those whom he has coached have turned conversations with strangers into business opportunities.
Now, I am a bit of an introvert, and normally, the last thing that I would do is to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But after my talk with David and reading his book, I said okay, I will test this out. So over a few days of skiing, I went outside my own comfort zone, and I initiated conversations with strangers on the ski lift. Now, I never went so far as to actually ask for contact info and try to build a long term business relationship. I was just taking some baby steps, but I did end up having over a dozen fascinating conversations.
I met a woman who works as a ski instructor during the winter, and during the spring and summer, she produces car commercials of all things. I met the owner of a gas refinery, and an attorney at Bank of America who works on credit derivatives, a woman in college who is studying to become a dentist and plans to take over the family’s 100 year old dental practice. She said that she was helping with bitewings when she was eight years old. I also met a professional rock climber, a woman who runs a business that checks on Park City Condominiums while the owners are out of town, and the sales manager for the Western United States for one of the two leading printing companies in the country. So a lot of cool conversations.
I hope you’ll find this discussion with David valuable. And I hope you’ll test out David’s suggestion, and strike up a conversation with a stranger today.
Hello, David. It is great having you on the show today.
David Topus: A pleasure to be here, Will. Happy to be here.
Will Bachman: So personal branding, talk to me about what you do.
David Topus: Well you know, consultants and anybody who is out there in the marketplace wanting to provide a professional service of some type or another to either companies or to individuals needs to have a presence. These are the days of personal branding, and today with all the social media outlets and opportunities, it really comes down to, in many ways, who you are online is who you are. So you want to optimize your presence, and you want to optimize your capabilities and so on.
So I work with companies, and I work with individuals in helping to define and articulate, communicate those things about either the company or the individual that make them valuable to their customers. It’s about identifying and communicating a value proposition. When you’re working with a company, or products, or services, it’s one thing. But when you’re working with an individual, you use many of the same principles, but you are marketing, and positioning, and branding an individual rather than a product. So the principles apply, but the subject is a little different.
Will Bachman: So walk me through kind of the elements of an engagement where you’re working with an individual. What are the different things that you would work with that person on? And I think LinkedIn profile might be one of them, but just one element. We’re going to get into that in some more detail. But what is sort of the range of the other things that you would work with somebody on?
David Topus: Right. Well, I work very collaboratively, of course. So it depends on what the individual wants to accomplish. Consultants understand that, fundamentally, that when you’re working with a client, you want to start with what do you want to accomplish? What are your goals? What are your outcomes? So with that in mind, it could include anything from optimizing the LinkedIn profile because LinkedIn is really social media/personal branding 101. You’ve got to have a LinkedIn profile. While LinkedIn has typically been perceived and used as a job transition kind of a platform, more and more, we’re all realizing that it’s where business people vet other business people. So you’ve got to have a good LinkedIn profile.
From there, depending on, again, what you want to accomplish and who your target audience is, it could expand out to include a Facebook page for your company or for yourself, professionally speaking. It could include social media blogging and posting. It could include a YouTube interview, depending again on the topic. So there are many different ways to go with that. Certainly, it starts with a good profile, a good description of your capabilities, and your value proposition, how you create value for your clients. From there, it’s simply a matter of pushing out more content in social media avenues.
Will Bachman: This YouTube video, interviewed by whom?
David Topus: By anyone. I mean, you can have anybody you know can interview you. You can create an environment and a context where you’re sitting and answering questions that anyone can present to you. I mean, you see many videos and interviews where you don’t even see the interviewer necessarily. So there’s a way to create the interview, and it’s really about finding ways to build your subject matter credibility, and to raise the perceived value of what you do and what you know, and how you do it.
Will Bachman: And beyond online, would you work with folks on designing their business cards, or their letterhead, or advising them on other kinds of collateral, or even their email signature, or their … Just the whole range of other aspects?
David Topus: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily work on the level of a business card design or a logo. That’s really more of a graphic design issue. I would work on the level of content, and work on the level of positioning and the messaging itself. Now when it comes to an email signature, that gets much more interesting, and gets closer to the kind of work that I do, which is to help an individual define what would be a tagline for them and their business, or their services.
So once you have crafted a meaningful tagline that captures the essence of your value proposition and what you deliver, you can use that in a number of different ways. You can put that on your LinkedIn profile under your name. You can put that in your email signature. I mean, I have in my email signature and my tagline is, “Turning Reputations into Revenue”. That’s what I do. Everything I do, in one way or another, comes down to that. So I have that in the heading of my LinkedIn profile. I actually have it on my outgoing voicemail. And I have it in my email signature. That is what makes a good positioning tagline or statement is when you can use it universally. And you should so it’s consistent.
Will Bachman: Let’s talk about the Social Media 101, the LinkedIn profile. Let’s go through the different elements of that in some detail, and it’s not just the profile, but I think you also pointed out earlier it’s what are you doing on LinkedIn. So let’s talk about both pieces, but the profile first.
David Topus: Yeah. Well, so when it comes to a LinkedIn profile, you have two main sections, that is the summary section right under your name. That’s where you describe what you do, and how you do it, and the kind of results that you create. It’s just as it says, it’s a summary. Typically, it would be two or three paragraphs of maybe three or four, maybe five sentences each. There’s a space limitation there. You can only put 2,000 characters with spaces. So you are limited. But it’s a summary of your capabilities, and deliverables, and outcomes, and your value proposition.
From there, it drops down to the job history. You know, there are different ways to approach that as to how much detail you put there. I am more and more moving toward … I write a lot of LinkedIn profiles for a lot of very accomplished people. Depending on, again, what they want to accomplish, that job history section will go either to a lot of detail or not.
But at the very least, and probably for this audience, a great way to optimize the job experience section is for each role that you’ve had throughout your career, to describe why you were brought into the role and what kind of an impact you’ve made. But the important part about that is to position yourself as a solution provider, that you were brought in to accomplish a very specific thing. Typically, when you do get hired into a job, you are being brought in, recruited in, to accomplish a certain thing. Whether it’s to expand market share in a certain segment. Whether it’s to expand the company geographically. Whether it’s to turn a business unit around, or whether it’s to optimize or maximize a profitability. Whatever the case may be. So a great way to populate that content section is with a sentence or two about why you were brought in the role.
Will Bachman: Yeah, I’d say for some listeners of this who were consultants at top tier consulting firms, let’s say, that might be a little bit less relevant. I mean, they were brought in the role because the firm needs raw meat. I mean, they just need associates coming out of business school, right? So it wasn’t like you’re just a generic … I came into McKinsey, or Bain, or BCG, or whatever as just the generic-
David Topus: Well, yes and no. I mean, you’re brought in based on a certain expertise. There’s a reason you were brought in. You have a certain background, a certain expertise. So I was brought in based on my analytical skills and prior expertise in turning around underperforming businesses to, and then dot, dot, dot. To do what? To work with clients on a particular area, or to help the practice build its capability around such and such. So there’s always a strategic reason. First, why you were chosen for the role, even if it’s as a consultant. And a strategic reason for what you were there to do, either for the firm or the firm’s clients. You know, it’s not I was brought in to the role because a prior colleague really liked me and thought I’d be a good fit. You want to be more strategic than that.
Will Bachman: Interesting, okay. I guess I normally find for people’s experience sections when they were at a consulting firm less focus about why they were brought in, but more about the client sectors that they served. So if I just see someone who was McKinsey and they were an engagement manager, that doesn’t really tell you much. But if it says I was in the operations practice, and I developed and led the firm’s effort to apply lean operations to insurance companies, and we served these three. So it’s less about why they were brought in, but more about what was your focus in terms of industry, in terms of function? Did you lead any firm initiatives in that area? What was the impact of those on your clients?
David Topus: Yeah, I would think all those things.
Will Bachman: Okay, so let’s go back and start up at the top of LinkedIn profile. What are your thoughts just about the title itself? I see different approaches around that.
David Topus: So, we can look at your profile, and make that a case in point, right? So you have your name, which of course, is the first thing. Then you have a place to put a headline. The headline could be your current title or your current role, your current position, or it could be your areas of expertise. It could be your areas of expertise along with a tagline.
Will Bachman: Yeah, so what’s your advice on what works well? Some people might just put independent management consultant. Someone might put more of a kind of what do I do, like I help insurance companies drive revenue by focusing on segments, or something. Some people just put like president of the Bachman Group, more of their title, which is a little bit less informative. What are your thoughts about what works really well for an independent professional in the title section?
David Topus: Right. Well again, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re looking to LinkedIn as a place to be found by prospects, and if you’re looking for LinkedIn as a search engine, then you would probably want to populate the headline section with keywords that somebody would be searching for. If you’re wanting to use LinkedIn as a place to be vetted, not necessarily found, but if you want to use it as a place where a prospect would look to check you out, then you would be less toward keywords and more toward outcomes.
The other, it’s a little trick, it’s not really a trick, but it’s something to know is that if you want to be found, the best way to optimize search results is to use vertical lines in between the words.
Will Bachman: Is that right?
David Topus: So, yeah.
Will Bachman: How do even put in one of those little vertical lines?
David Topus: It’s on the keyboard. It’s typically underneath the backspace button, upper right part of the keyboard.
Will Bachman: Oh, okay.
David Topus: And it’s a straight line. You’ll see it there on most keyboards. And you want have whatever the word is and a space, the vertical line, a space, and then the next word. I’m told that that will optimize search results.
Will Bachman: That’s interesting.
David Topus: Just a little trick. And again, if you want LinkedIn to be used as a place to be found, and search is the key, then you would want to fill that headline section chock full of keywords. You know, insurance, straight line strategy, straight line commercial, straight line, maybe consulting, maybe straight line, what would be another good keyword for there? So insurance strategy-
Will Bachman: Oh, I don’t know.
David Topus: Consulting.
Will Bachman: Change management, or-
David Topus: Yeah, that could be a good outcome.
Will Bachman: If you’re like Six Sigma [crosstalk 00:16:43] or something.
David Topus: Six Sigma could be a good keyword. Transformation could be a good keyword.
Will Bachman: So just throw in a bunch of keywords in there. Whereas if you’re actually not expecting someone to find you, but maybe you have your email, your LinkedIn URL and your email signature, and you’re expecting other clients to just check you out before they talk to you, then it’d be more of a [crosstalk 00:17:06] outcome based. Like, what would an example be of an outcome based good title?
David Topus: You mean like a tagline?
Will Bachman: Well, I don’t know. You said like an outcome, like what would a good outcome based title-
David Topus: Yeah. I mean, and we can look at mine is “Turning Reputations into Revenue”. I worked this morning with a client who is a very successful investment, venture capital, private equity person, and his tagline is “Actualizing the Potential of People and Companies to Drive Performance”. I mean, there are lots of those kinds of phrases and sentences. They’re really branding statements. You can call them a tagline, or call them a branding statement, but it’s essentially a high level description of the kinds of outcomes that you create.
Will Bachman: All right. So let’s talk about the photo. Any thoughts about the photo?
David Topus: Yeah.
Will Bachman: Some people don’t put much thought into it. Some people get a nice, professional headshot.
David Topus: Right.
Will Bachman: What are your thoughts?
David Topus: The first thing is that it is a definite best practice to put a photo in LinkedIn. No one should have a LinkedIn profile without a photo. It’s a must have. From there, it’s a matter of having a photograph that you feel reflects you, and that presents you the way you want to be presented. I wouldn’t grab a photo from the last vacation on the beach necessarily, although you do see that from time to time. It really becomes a reflection of how you want to be positioned, how you want to present yourself. But clearly, a more professional look would be advisable.
Will Bachman: In the summary section, there’s a bit of a tension. What’s your thought around including some personal stuff about yourself to make you kind of feel a little bit more human-
David Topus: Yeah.
Will Bachman: Versus straight up, very, very dry and serious about the services you provide, or your skill set?
David Topus: Right. Well, I think there is a general movement toward people wanting to know more about who is this person? Not just what they do and what they’re work entails, but who are they? You’re seeing that more and more on websites where you see profiles of key people and so on. So I think that there’s more room for that, and it’s probably more and more acceptable. But it comes down to a personal choice. It really is about whether you want to present yourself with that level of personal information or personal insight, or not. It can go either way. There is no hard and fast rule on that.
Now, I write LinkedIn profiles for clients in the first person, especially the summary sections. So I would write those few paragraphs in the summary in the “I”, you know, I do this and I do that, and throughout my career I have. That, I think, warms it up a little bit and personalizes it a little bit rather than a third person style, where it seems a little more colder, a little more distant. I think that for an independent consultant, clients are buying you. So when you put a summary that is in the third person, and a little sort of cool and a little more stark and clinical, I think that it makes it seem like you’re some big executive, and the publicity/public relations department wrote the profile for you. I just think you’re better off with something a little more personal.
Will Bachman: Okay. Yeah, I mean, when people have a third person for their summary, I’m like give me a break. You know, it’s like Will Bachman is a well recognized expert according to two of his friends. You know, it’s like-
David Topus: Yeah, yeah, right.
Will Bachman: Give me a break, you know? So, okay, so we talked-
David Topus: I think, you know, I think a word that goes along with this is authenticity. I think authenticity is a desirable trait, and I think clients and people in general want to work with people who are authentic. So the more authentic you can be in your profile, in every respect, the better off you are.
Will Bachman: So we talked about the job history section. What about some of those sections down further below? The education section. So some people put the dates, some people don’t put the dates. I guess they’re trying to hide how old they are, or they don’t want to make that an issue.
David Topus: Right.
Will Bachman: And then some people will kind of give some content about what they did in grad school or college. Some people just put the degree. What’s your thought about the education section?
David Topus: Well, I mean, look, LinkedIn and anywhere else where you present yourself, it’s the place to tell your best story. So you do want to go with the best parts of your capabilities, and the best parts of your backgrounds. So if that includes certifications, then of course, you should include them. If it includes courses and trainings that you’ve had, absolutely include them. Education, absolutely. Every formal educational achievement, absolutely include it. Now as for dates, you know, that really gets down to a matter of are you in the job market, or otherwise? If you’re in the job market, and you’re older, you know, age bias is a reality out there. So it would not be advisable to put that you graduated college in 1976, you know? I basically never put anything prior to 1980 on anything about anybody.
Now, consultants, the rules may be a little different because I think consultants, part of a consultant’s value is their age and experience, and their professional gravitas. That’s going to come with age. So I think it’s less of an issue, but still something to consider and be cognizant of. You don’t want to put yourself out there at 90 years old. That just doesn’t make any sense.
Will Bachman: What about the detail around what you studied in school, or any kind of activities?
David Topus: Yeah, I think very important for consultants, absolutely. Yep.
Will Bachman: Okay. And then there’s some of those sections down further below that a lot of people might just skip over, but I’ll see some people putting some effort into, and I can’t even list them all. I think there’s project, you can add individual projects now.
David Topus: Yeah, sure. You can add projects.
Will Bachman: Publications maybe?
David Topus: Publications, and you can also add volunteer, community service. That’s valued. People like to know that you’re doing more than just working for your own sake. So volunteer services is valued and appreciated.
Will Bachman: Although, I’d say that, and tell me if you disagree because I’m not the expert, you are. The volunteer thing, I’d say, is great if it’s sort of recent, or if it’s continuous.
David Topus: Yeah.
Will Bachman: But if you put like oh, I volunteered for a blood drive in 1996, and that’s the only volunteer thing you have-
David Topus: Yeah, yeah of course.
Will Bachman: It might be better just leaving it off.
David Topus: Yeah, yeah. Well, you could potentially put prior volunteer services. You don’t have to put a date for every single community activity that you were involved in. You do have to put a date, or at least associate courses with certain job time periods. So yeah, but not for community. By the way, speaking of personal things, it’s funny because this client I was working with this morning, he was a Navy pilot for five years after he came out of the Naval Academy.
Will Bachman: Great.
David Topus: So he told me this morning that it’s just amazing how often people are fascinated by that tidbit, and that’s where the conversation starts. They want to know where did he fly? What kind of aircraft did he fly? What kind of missions was he on? And you know, interested in that whole experience. So I think if you have an interesting early experience that’s a little bit unusual, it would be advisable to include that.
Will Bachman: Yeah, well I was a submarine officer. I get a lot more questions about what it was like being a submarine officer than what was it like being a business analyst at McKinsey?
David Topus: Absolutely. And you know what would be really cool is to tie your submarine experience into how that has informed your consulting capabilities. If there was a way to use it as a metaphor in some way, that could be interesting, too. Then you get the best of both.
Will Bachman: Good suggestion. And then what about groups? That’s kind of died away, it seems, on LinkedIn. It used to be the bigger thing, joining groups.
David Topus: Yeah, well, you know, that gets to the bigger or broader issue of sort of content and social media overload. I think it’s harder and harder to break through and make those kinds of affiliations meaningful because the last statistic I saw, there were how many? 350, 250 million LinkedIn users, you know? I don’t know specifically about groups becoming less influential. I think it’s advisable to join groups so that you at least show that you’re participating actively in various groups. And I think that the groups that you are in speak to the interests that you have and the capabilities that you have. But I’m not sure being in a group necessarily is going to help you generate business. Although, some folks listening may have a different experience, and may have been very successful with that.
I think that as far as using LinkedIn to build your business, one of the most important things are the endorsements.
Will Bachman: Is that right?
David Topus: And the recommendations, yeah.
Will Bachman: If there’s those endorsement for your skills and there’s recommendations. Now, let’s talk about those separately because the endorsement for skills seems to, at least to me, to have been kind of devalued, almost as if people just recommended you for a strategy, and people who don’t even maybe know me, right? I’m like give me a break.
David Topus: Yeah.
Will Bachman: And then they’re just hoping that I’m going to recommend them in return. It just seems to be a pretty cheap currency. But tell me if I’m wrong.
David Topus: Well, firstly, I mean, if you didn’t have any, I think that would be problematic. The other part of it is the skills that you’re endorsed for can also influence the search results. So those skills, venture capital startups, strategic partnering, and so on, they become keywords.
Will Bachman: I see.
David Topus: So it would be to one’s advantage to have those skills brought out, called out by others. And then recommendations, obviously. I think that there’s testimonial, you call it a currency, I think it’s been devalued a little bit, but I still think, from what I’m told by the experts, people who are in a position to know, that recommendations are really important.
Will Bachman: No, I think the recommendations are great. I mean, those are from a real person, and you can look at them and say they got recommendations from five CEOs. That’s fantastic. But I was more referring to the endorsements, where people endorsed you for the skill of PowerPoint, or some like strategy consulting.
David Topus: Well, you’ve got venture capital startups, strategic partners, corporate development, M & A, growth capital. I would not encourage you to remove those, or reduce the number.
Will Bachman: Yeah, that’s pretty much the profile, I guess. Let’s talk about using LinkedIn. So not just your profile, but how do you engage with it on a regular basis? Should you be posting stuff on there? Should you be liking other people’s things? Commenting on it? Does it make a difference? How do you advise your clients to engage?
David Topus: Well, once you have an optimized profile, and optimized meaning your content is meaningful, content rich in all the ways we’ve just been talking about, both your summary section and your headline, and your job history, and your join the groups you want to join, and you’ve got some good skill endorsements, and some good recommendations, then it’s a matter of building your contacts and your connections. So you look around LinkedIn and you see names of people, or you put in company names in the search field, and you come up with people that you want to connect with, and you put out a connection request. So the first thing to do is to build your connection base, your network.
Will Bachman: Yeah, so let’s say that we’ve done that. So once you’ve already kind of connected with everybody that you know, in terms of like engaging with the platform, and just I see some people posting … I mean, so you post stuff, but does it make a difference?
David Topus: Well, again, there’s so much content out there, I think that it’s hard to have that make a big difference for your practice, for building your practice. I think it’s a good thing to do, but I wouldn’t spend an enormous amount of time writing and posting because it’s just like a spit in the ocean. It just gets lost. I think it’s good for your credibility so that when someone does go to your profile, it shows that you’re active and that you’re involved, and you’re participating in the industry, and you’re participating in your area of subject matter expertise. But I’m not a huge proponent of spending a lot of time writing and posting new content. Again, you’ve got to put all this stuff in relative terms. I wouldn’t not do it, but I wouldn’t spend a huge amount of time doing it. I think reposting is a little bit more efficient, a little easier, and it can’t really hurt to repost because again, it shows that you reposted things, and it keeps you active.
Will Bachman: Now, reposting, you mean if you wrote a blog post, posting it on LinkedIn is what you mean?
David Topus: Yes. Yes. In many places today, there is a link in whatever the content is, there’s a place where you can share. You can share it through LinkedIn, depending on where the original post appears. So yeah, I mean, if it’s a matter of being active, it’s a matter of being a proactive, and you know, in all the different ways that you can. But I wouldn’t use LinkedIn as the place to build my consulting practice. I think it’s a tool, and it’s a component to that. There’s nothing really like identifying potential companies that you could work for, or reaching out directly to your network, people you know or have a reason to know, and cultivating relationships that way.
Will Bachman: All right.
David Topus: That really, that’s the real way to build a practice. And you can do it through LinkedIn. You can do it through your connections. You can look at your connections and reach out to people directly, and start a conversation. There’s a little bit of a science to how you initiate the connection with that person. You know, there’s nothing worse, nothing worse than getting a request to connect. I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn. No personal message, no reason they want to connect. It’s just I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn. And you know that you’re one of 1,200 connections, and you don’t know the person, you have no reason to know the person, but they want to add you to their connection base. That, to me, is inexcusable. I basically don’t respond to those.
Will Bachman: Yeah, another very tactical, just sort of practical thing, LinkedIn kind of, when they’re suggesting these people that you might know, it kind of only offers you that choice of saying yes, connect. So if you want to send that personal note, you really need to go to the person’s individual profile, hit connect, and then it gives you an option to add a note where you can add a customized note to the person.
David Topus: Yeah, exactly. And so if you send an in-mail or a connection request, try and personalize it to some degree.
Will Bachman: Yeah. Now, this idea of reaching out to strangers is probably a good place for us to transition to your book, “Talk to Strangers: How Everyday Random Encounters Can Expand Your Business, Career, Income, and Life”. Talk to me about this book.
David Topus: Well, that was a book that I wrote a few years ago that was published by John Wiley. It’s essentially a field guide to how we can turn everyday random encounters into productive, mutually rewarding relationships. This is about chatting up a conversation with people you meet, or a person you meet at Starbucks, or standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting to share a taxi, or in an elevator, or at the gas station, or, or, or. I mean, every day, assuming you leave your house, you are interacting, or at least exposed to, lots and lots of people. In these people, there is tremendous opportunity if you are aware of it. You know, opportunities come along for everyone. It’s just a matter of seeing it and being aware of it. So this book is about that.
Will Bachman: Let’s say that I’m at a Starbucks in the airport waiting for my flight. So I totally get the idea because that’s probably a relatively target rich audience, business travelers, you never know who’s who. But it’s a little awkward just reaching out to a random stranger and saying, you know, striking up a conversation. What are some tips that you have to do that first, it’s not exactly a pick up line, you’re not looking for a date, but what’s sort of the equivalent pick up line to introduce yourself and say hello?
David Topus: Well, there are so many things that you can say. Often, they have to do with whatever is going on in the moment. You know, I’ve often said to someone who is working on their laptop or something like that, wow, looks like you’re getting a lot of work done. And they’ll look up, and they’ll go yeah, you know? I’ll say wow, that’s terrific. You know, what line of work are you in, or something like that, and I’ll get right into the conversation. You will find that most people are willing to engage in a conversation. That’s just the fact. Not everybody, but most people. And over my career, I have made hundreds of connections, and I have literally built hundreds of thousands, it might even get into the seven figures if I really sat down and made a list, of consulting and training fees with people I’ve met in random encounters. I continue to do it today. I see the everyday world as one big opportunity to build a network, and it’s just a matter of whether you approach your day to day life inclusively or exclusively.
Will Bachman: Yeah-
David Topus: Some people go through life exclusively. They exclude people out of it. So that’s going to limit your opportunities. Other people go through life inclusively, where their arms are open to others metaphorically. You know, somebody who lives exclusively, when they get on an elevator, and hear people coming down the hallway, they’ll hit door close because they don’t want anybody else in. But somebody who lives their life inclusively, and welcomes others will hit door open because hey, you know, somebody very interesting might just get on that elevator with me. And I just, you never know who you’re going to be standing next to. So people who live exclusively, they’ll, again, sharing a taxi. I mean, I’ve just met so many people in taxis, sharing, just simply saying hey, you’re going downtown. Do you want to share a taxi? Are you going to Midtown? Do you want to share a taxi? And 9 out of 10 times the person will say sure. And there you are for 30, 45 minutes in a conversation. You can make tremendous connections. But somebody who lives exclusively would never think about sharing a taxi. And the same goes for you go in Starbucks. I mean, Starbucks has tables that are for one or two, and they have community tables. I sit at the community table.
Will Bachman: So what do you do if you hop in the taxi, and there’s someone there, or you go to Starbucks and someone is on the computer … Let’s say you hop in the taxi and you’re ready to talk to strangers, right? You wrote the book on it. And the other person is on their phone, and you’re like hey, terrible weather we’re having. And they’re like yep, and then they’re on their phone. At what point do you say okay, I’m not going to keep-
David Topus: Well, I mean, yeah. That’s a matter of using your judgment at the time. I mean, for the most part, my experience has been that a person is not going to be on the phone for the whole time. But if they are, oh well, you know? You got yourself a dud. I mean, that’s like I used to fly around the world with no particular destination to meet people, and meet clients and prospects. I have flown to Tokyo numerous times. I’ve flown to Southern California. I’ve flown to Seattle. I’ve flown all around the country, and I’ve flown to Europe often with no particular destination. But I come back with clients because I’ll sit next to somebody and I’ll make tremendously high yield connections and relationships. Every once in a while you’ll sit next to somebody who’s not a potential candidate for business. But I’ve made a lot of friends, too. Some of my best friends I’ve met in random encounters.
Will Bachman: That’s amazing. So in your book, you talk a lot about how do you manage this flow. So you make the introduction, you break the ice, and then this interaction isn’t going last forever. You know, you’re at Starbucks for half an hour, or in a taxi, how do you, what’s the arc of the conversation? Are you seeking opportunities to help this person and make a connection, or what’s the arc of the conversation? How do you wrap it up?
David Topus: Well, that’s a great question. It actually, it has a lot to do with curiosity. I’m a very curious person, and I’m always fascinated by other people, and I love to hear people’s stories, and I love to know what people do with their life and with their work. So I’m able to very quickly get to that information, to that data point, early in the conversation. Then I know if there’s something there worth pursuing, or not. I’m able to get to that point in a very nonthreatening kind of a way, in a very natural way.
So I ask a lot of questions. You know, so what line of work are you in? And you know, once they tell you, you might have a comment about that, you might know something about that industry, you might ask them how long they’ve been doing that, or a number of different question paths to go. Then you find yourself into a conversation about what they do, and maybe about what you do as well. You’re having a relationship, which is a skill that seems to be disappearing very quickly.
But you’re in a conversation, and an important point here, Will, is that many people say oh, I’ve never met a stranger. You know, I talk to everybody. The difference here is what you talk about, and whether you keep in touch. As I look back on my success as a random connector, you know, I realize that I, throughout my whole life, my whole adult life, I haven’t just met people. I’ll circle back afterwards. And you have to get contact information in the conversation, but that’s a matter of-
Will Bachman: Now, how do you do that?
David Topus: Well, you just ask. You know, I’d love to keep in touch. Or I’d love to send you something. Or would it be okay if I stayed in touch with you? Do you have a card? But it’s about circling back, and it’s about, you know, it was great to meet you. I really enjoyed the conversation. We talked about the possibility of me taking a closer look at such and such a thing that we talked about. Would that be possible?
I’ll tell you right now, I met somebody at Hal’s Steakhouse in Atlanta about two months ago, sitting there having dinner. We started a conversation. He was in town from Alabama. He was in town for the Alabama-Georgia game as a matter of fact. So we got into a conversation, why are you in town? What brought you to town? It’s great. You live in Birmingham, okay great. You know, what line of work are you in? We got to that somehow. He explained that he owned a couple of healthcare companies, healthcare related companies. And he said what do you do? I said well, I’m a branding and messaging and marketing consultant. He said oh wow, that’s interesting. He said I’d love to have your contact information because I actually, one of my new companies, we could really use some help with that. So of course, that’s a perfect grand slam.
So we exchanged contact information after a little more conversation, building a rapport and so on, adding some value on my part to the conversation, sharing some insights about marketing, and positioning, and branding. So I was building my credibility and so on. And we parted ways. I sent him a note four or five days later. I said Austin, great meeting you. I really enjoyed the conversation. I’d be happy to continue the conversation around the marketing and branding, so please feel free to reach back.
I didn’t hear from him. I thought oh well, you know, that happens. No big deal. And then about two weeks later, I get an email from him saying hi David, this is Austin from Hal’s. I hope you remember meeting me. I was wondering if we could get a 30 minute conversation. So I realized he had never gotten my email. But to fast forward, I met with those guys, let’s see, on Wednesday. I’ve got myself a very, very nice opportunity to do a very significant branding, marketing, and positioning engagement with those guys.
Will Bachman: That’s amazing.
David Topus: And just from a random encounter at Hal’s Steakhouse in Atlanta.
Will Bachman: What tools do you use to keep track of the conversation? Do you have a kind of CRM system, where you take notes, okay, I met this guy at Hal’s. We talked about his XYZ company. Or is it all in your head? Do you remind yourself-
David Topus: Yeah, you know, it’s really all in my head. I don’t have that many. I mean, at any given time, I have three or four. I might have 8 or 10 prospects at any given time, but as far as people I’ve met in random ways, at any given time I have one or two. I just keep it in my head because I listen really, really intently. I’m able somehow to inventory the conversation.
Will Bachman: Then do you suggest any kind of follow up? You know, so you send the person the note, hey we met five days ago. Nice seeing you. And then maybe they reply yeah, it was great. Do you have any kind of once a year you’ll ping them and say hey, we met a year ago at Starbucks in the Atlanta Airport, and we were-
David Topus: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s, sure, all that. Keeping in touch, sending along some information, keeping them updated on something that you might have talked about. I always seem to have something relevant to circle back with after the conversation. But it all depends on getting into a worthwhile conversation in the first place. You know, if you have a worthwhile, meaningful conversation and you build the rapport, there’s always something worthwhile to follow up about.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well, David, one question I like to ask all the guests is are there two or three books that you have gifted often? Or alternatively, are there two or three books that have really shaped your thinking?
David Topus: Well, let’s see, I just got Daniel Pink’s book called “When”.
Will Bachman: Yeah.
David Topus: You may be familiar with Daniel Pink. He’s really prolific, and very well regarded. He just published a book called “When”, and that’s very interesting. So I would say most currently, that is a book that I have been enjoying. He has figured out the importance of timing in all things in life. He’s put a lot of research and a lot of science into, or he has uncovered a lot of science related to timing. Beyond that, I would say I keep up with industry news and information as best I can.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well, David Topus, where can people find you online?
David Topus: Well, dtopus@topus.com is my email. The book, of course, “Talk to Strangers” and the website for the book is talktostrangersthebook.com. And I have a website, topus.com, T-O-P-U-S. So I’m pretty findable. You know, you put my name in Google, and it’ll show up pretty well. And that’s what happens, also, after a number of years. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a great kind of, to circle back to the earlier part of the conversation is, you know, the more you’re out there, the more that you’re participating, the more presence you create for yourself in the marketplace. Eventually, that will show up in Google.
Will Bachman: Well, David Topus, thank you for joining. This has been a really fun conversation for me, and I am going to make a commitment that I will talk to a stranger within the next few days, and strike up a conversation.
David Topus: People are really hungry for that social interaction, Will. You know, with everybody having their head buried in their computers, when you go to Starbucks, you know, most of those people who are sitting at Starbucks working on their laptops, they could stay home. They didn’t have to come out. But people, we are social creatures. So there’s, you know, people are generally receptive. You just never know who you’re going to meet and what it could lead to unless you open up a conversation and build a rapport.
Will Bachman: And that’s a good place to wrap. Build a rapport. David Topus, thank you so much for joining.
David Topus: You bet. Happy to be with you, Will. Take care.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned, and collaborate.
I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com. That’s U-M-B-R-E-X.com.
If you found anything on this show helpful, it would be a real gift if you would let a friend know about the show, and take a minute to leave a review on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. And if you subscribe, our show will get delivered to your device every Monday.
Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson. Our theme song was composed by Gary Negbauer, and I’m your host, Will Bachman. Thanks for listening.

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