In this episode, Sweet Fish Media founder and podcaster James Carbary talks about his new book, Content-Based Networking: How to Instantly Connect with Anyone You Want to Know. To be clear, what James is really talking about here is intentionally creating and cultivating relationships in which everyone wins.

James calls this reverse engineering relationship and he shares his philosophy about and strategy for doing this with us today. He also shares his thoughts about candy, which in my opinion are spot on.

Nikki Van Noy: James, thank you for joining us today.

James Carbary: I am really excited to be here, Nikki. Thank you so much for having me.

Nikki Van Noy: We’re going to spend most of our time talking about your new book, Content-Based Marketing. But, very important question at the top, actually more of a statement. I would like you to explain to listeners why Red Vines and Twizzlers are not the same thing.

James Carbary: One of my biggest pet peeves of all time is when someone sees a bag of red vines on my desk or in my living room and they say, “You have Twizzlers.” I mean, there’s nothing more that makes my soul want to die than people confusing the two because clearly, Red Vines licorice are the superior licorice that taste a gazillion times better than Twizzlers ever dreamed of tasting, that’s really the rationale there. The supreme licorice is Red Vines.

Nikki Van Noy: Obviously, thank you. I feel like for all the bipartisan debates going on right now, this is really the one that matters the most and I feel great we’re on the same side here. It makes me feel comfortable with you.

James Carbary: I don’t know the last time somebody could actually use a Twizzler as a straw. And Red Vines clearly, you can drink your Cherry Coke Zero with a Red Vine, which is just that much more reason why it’s the ultimate licorice.

Nikki Van Noy: You just really get it. I mean, I would slightly tweak that to Diet Cherry 7-Up but more or less, we’re close enough that we can bridge this divide.

James Carbary: Yup, I’m into it.

The Power of Relationships

Nikki Van Noy: All right James, aside from your great taste, let’s share with listeners a little bit about your background and what brought you here today?

James Carbary: I did a very brief stint in corporate America, worked at a really big company and realized that was not what I was cut out to do. I ended up very serendipitously stumbling into a sweepstakes that my roommate’s brother-in-law won and through the course of getting to take a private jet to New York City, hang out with Barry Sanders, take a private limo bus all over New York City, sit in a box for the Giant’s/Cowboy’s game right next to the box that Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys was in, we got to do all this crazy stuff.

Through the course of that, I ended up meeting a guy named Jeff, and the relationship with that one guy, because he owned a global logistics company, changed the trajectory of my entire life. I meet Jeff, and a year or so later, I’m at an oil and gas company, kind of doing the corporate thing and he calls and asks me if I want to move across the country to Orlando to help him run the helicopter division of his business. The rest is history.

I moved across the country, and ended up meeting my wife in Orlando, and worked for his company for about three years. He mentored me and really showed me what it looked like to be an entrepreneur. Then I got the bug to go and start my own thing. That’s ultimately what led me to start Sweet Fish and writing this book and doing all the things we’re doing now.

Nikki Van Noy: I mean, talk about kismet, that is amazing.

James Carbary: It’s crazy.

Nikki Van Noy: Wow. Okay, it’s no wonder that you are so focused on relationships and the power of them. That explains that right off the bat.

James Carbary: Yup, exactly. I’m just convinced that a single relationship can change the trajectory of somebody’s entire life because it’s done that for me.

Nikki Van Noy: Yeah. In this profound example, this relationship just sort of happened I’m assuming because of this series of circumstances. You have come to think and write about reverse engineering relationships. Talk to me about what that means and looks like?

James Carbary: Everybody says, you know, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I don’t see anybody talking about, well, how do you actually create relationships on demand? Everyone always just seems to talk about it in a very serendipitous way. But people talk about it like you know, “I hope I end up meeting somebody at this conference.” or, “I hope that I get to connect with somebody at this industry event.” You hope for this serendipity to meet somebody that can end up changing your life. For the single folks listening, you hope that you meet your spouse at a New Year’s Eve party that you go to.

I actually don’t think we think about it much, Nikki. I think we just let relationships happen. I don’t even think there are proactive thoughts and thinking, “I just want serendipity to run its course.” We literally don’t think about it, we approach relationships, which I believe are the most life-changing thing that can happen to us in our lives, and instead of trying to make them happen and reverse engineering, actually the creation of those relationships, we just kind of stumble through life and allow them to happen.

I think that is just really bad thinking and I think it’s a poor approach because if you think strategically about, “What are my goals and dreams, what do I want to accomplish, what’s the dent that I want to leave in the universe when it’s all said and done?”

Then start to think, “Okay, if I want to do this, whether it’s run for office or start a business or sell my software to a specific type of buyer, what are the relationships that I need to actually get me there?” Because I’ve been talking about this stuff for a really long time and it’s hard to come up with an example of any sort of achievement of a goal that doesn’t somehow involve relationships in some way, shape, or form because they’re so critical to success.

We’ve even created this systematic process for going about reverse engineering those relationships and that’s what we call content-based networking.

The Importance of Intent

Nikki Van Noy: I’m so curious about this because you’re right, as you were talking, I started realizing, we do this. We just expect these relationships to sort of manifest in our lives. And then when they don’t, we wonder, “Well, what happened, why didn’t that happen?”

Now, the flip side of that seems to be to me, that it would be very difficult to cultivate meaningful relationships. I don’t know exactly how I’m trying to say this but this idea of intent, it feels like that’s something you have to be very intentional about and aware of too, so that you’re creating healthy, meaningful relationships.

James Carbary: Yeah. At least in the business community, particularly in the sales community, this approach can really move the needle for sales teams inside of companies–sales and marketing teams actually. But the reason that it falls flat in so many cases, not that this approach falls flat, but the reason that the sales function falls flat in general is that people don’t want to be sold to.

When you approach someone and your lead-off, your first email, your first phone call is, “Hey, can I get 15 minutes of your time to show you a demo of our product?” Where you might think that your product or your service is valuable, the person on the other end of that ask does not know the value of your product or service yet.

To them, it’s just an ask. It’s not actually valuable. What’s so powerful about this strategy is you’re able to lead with tangible value and that value is featuring that person in the content that you’re creating. You are a media property, whether you have a podcast, a blog, or a video series. Whatever it is that you’re doing, whatever type of content you’re creating, you’re offering a spotlight to this person, saying, “Hey, I want to talk about you, why you’re great, and things you’ve learned along your journey. I want to spotlight you.”

Because even if the show doesn’t have any audience at all, that is still valuable to someone because they can share that on LinkedIn, they can share it on other social outlets, they can use it to get exposure for the message, or the thing that they care about. So, when you lead with adding tangible value to someone’s life, like giving them a spotlight and giving them a platform to talk about what they care about, people will want to engage with you as opposed to coming out of the gate trying to sell something.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about this because it can give anyone on the planet an in with connecting with just about anyone they want to know.

Nikki Van Noy: Amazing. Talk to me about what that might look like in practice?

James Carbary: Yeah. So, for us, in our business, we were trying to connect with B2B marketing leaders. Specifically, VP’s of marketing, at B2B SaaS companies, software of service that have 50 plus employees. That’s our ideal customer.

We started the business, we said, “Okay, how can we get these VP’s of marketing to know they can trust us?” We thought, if we actually want a genuine relationship with these people, instead of trying to sell to them, we’ll start a podcast called B2B Growth. We’ll interview these VP’s of marketing about what it takes to successfully run marketing at a tech company or at a B2B tech company.

We’re not talking about ourselves, our podcast service, and how we deliver results. It wasn’t about us at all. It was about them talking about experiments they’ve run, successes they’ve had, and failures that they’ve inevitably had over the course of their career.

In doing so, we formed hundreds, and now over a thousand meaningful relationships with people that can actually buy what we do. And we did it in just a very unique and different way than you see a lot of sales teams going to market.

Nikki Van Noy: It’s also very much worth mentioning here that this podcast, B2B Growth has now been downloaded more than three million times. That’s fascinating to me that you’ve created a situation where everyone is winning, clearly. Talk to me a little bit about how you grew that, how did that come to be?

James Carbary: The thing that I’ve talked about for so long is that audience doesn’t matter. It’s all about the relationship with your guest. But the reality is, if you can grow an audience in the meantime, that is incredibly powerful. For us, with B2B Growth, we are very fortunate that we started the podcast a little over four years ago, and there was no other podcast seemingly that had the word B2B in the title of their show.

Simply by being early to the platform and calling the show B2B Growth, it allowed us to rank organically in Apple Podcast or iTunes at the time. So, anytime someone searched B2B, our show popped up and because we were doing a daily show, people found our show, and they saw that there were hundreds of episodes after a pretty short amount of time.

They subscribed and they continued to follow along with our content. And so, by being consistent, by interviewing B2B marketers, it makes sense that they want to listen to the show because all we do all day is interview other B2B marketers about what they’re learning, how they’re growing, and things they’re trying. So, the content becomes incredibly helpful to the audience because we’re not talking about us.

We’re talking about these B2B marketing practitioners and what they’re learning. It’s incredibly helpful for the guest because it’s giving them exposure to their peers, it’s giving them an asset that they can show to their boss and say, “Hey, I really do know what I’m talking about, here’s this third-party validation of the show that I was featured on.” Then it’s obviously helpful to us because we’re building relationships not just with the audience of the show but we’re building an individual relationship with each guest that we feature.

We end up doing business with a lot of those guests that are on the show, as well as a lot of the people that are listening to it.

All About Niche

Nikki Van Noy: That’s a powerful example of so many things, including a really practical example of this thing we’ve all heard about how it really is all about niche, right now. How that can really work for you. I love that story.

James Carbary: I’ve got another really good friend of mine and he just started a construction company about a year ago and his niche is senior living, he does construction projects inside of these senior living complexes and buildings.

They started a podcast called Bridge the Gap: The Senior Living Podcast and they go to all these different conferences in the senior living world and they’ve been doing this show for about a year. They go on-site, they do a bunch of videos, they interview the speakers of the conferences, and they’re interviewing people that run the senior living facilities. This guy’s business is taking off because he’s building a media empire on top of the construction company that he’s building.

What he’s doing on the media side with his podcast being on-site at all these events, he’s now seen as a celebrity in the senior living space. In the book, I call him the LeBron James of senior living. People are literally coming up to him at events and taking selfies with him because he’s made himself famous by turning himself into a media entity inside the industry that he is making his living in.

Nikki Van Noy: Wow.

James Carbary: You know, I love that example because it’s a construction company. What construction companies do you know that are building legitimate media plays within their business and he literally started it that way. The growth in his business in the first year is insane because this is how he’s decided to go to market.

Nikki Van Noy: It is just stunning to me how quickly all the principles we’ve had in terms of media have changed. I started off my career at The Boston Globe, literally cutting clips out of papers with scissors, you know, with ink. The presses would run and admittedly, it’s obviously been a while since then, but it hasn’t been that long. All the things that worked then just won’t work anymore and what you’re talking about now would have never worked then.

James Carbary: Yup. Before, there were many more gatekeepers involved because there were only a few different publications in these spaces. There were the behemoth magazines or the one or two conferences in a given space and it was just too much of a lift for the common person to be able to come in and compete in any way. It cost too much money. You had to have too many connections to be able to start your own publication.

What the Internet’s done is it democratized all of that, and so now, anybody can become a media entity because they can start a blog, they can start a YouTube series, you could start a podcast, or start doing a series of photos on Instagram.

When you look at that and you say, “Okay, I have the ability to become a media entity just by starting a YouTube series or a podcast.” And then you combine that with using this as a relationship creation mechanism and where you can say, “Hey I want to collaborate with all of these people that I want to know,” whether it is in my industry or in my community–maybe I am a financial adviser and I want to connect with affluent entrepreneurs in my area.

It is such low hanging fruit to approach affluent entrepreneurs as a financial adviser and instead of saying, “Hey, I want to sell you on working with me as your financial adviser.” Instead,  going to them and saying, “Hey, I host a podcast called The Orlando Entrepreneur Podcast, I’d love to feature you on the show.” What successful entrepreneur is not going to want to be highlighted in that publication? And it is crazy Nikki, most people don’t even ask what your audience size is.

Now some people do and so in the early days, it can be tougher to get certain types of guests, but most people don’t even care because they are not accustomed to being asked to be featured in the media. They actually hire PR firms to go find media opportunities for them. So, when you are coming to them and saying, “Hey, we want to feature you.” A lot of people say yes. I just see it work over and over and over again. It’s crazy.

Nikki Van Noy: Yeah. So cool that we have senior living construction celebrities now. It is amazing.

James Carbary: It’s insane. Well, another buddy of mine uses it in agriculture. He just started a podcast called Crop Talk and he is trying to connect with people that are in the agricultural space because he has a service that serves that. It works like crazy. So, back to your point earlier, the nicheier you are, it is much easier in those niches, because there are so few media properties that are in those spaces, and you can really stand out.

Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely, and Crop Talk is a great title, by the way, love that.

James Carbary: The name of his company is Crop Walk and so it only made sense for his show to be called Crop Talk.

Three-Part Framework

Nikki Van Noy: Genius. All right, so in your book, you talk about this three-part framework for content-based networking. Let us share with listeners an overview of what that is.

James Carbary: Yes, so the three-part framework is goals, people, and content. So, the first step is identifying what your goals are. A lot of people mistake this. They make a mistake with goals and dreams and the way we delineate between the two. When you say that my dream was to have a successful business and I thought, “Man, it would be really cool if Sweet Fish Media one day is on the Inc.’s fastest-growing companies list.” That is a really cool dream.

A lot of people would call that a goal and I would say that I would phrase it differently. I would say that yes, the dream is to become one of the fastest-growing companies according to Inc. and that was something that I have long aspired to do. But my goal was not that. My goal was actually to connect with VP’s of marketing at B2B technology companies with 50 plus employees.

When I drill down and I make my goals, which are something more tangible that is focused on a relationship, one, it just gives a lot more clarity to the goal. I know that relationships are the path to success and the more relationships I could stack up, the more likely I am to achieve what ultimately my dream is. So, the first step in the process is getting clear on your goals. So, identify what your dream is and then drill down into what the goal is that you need to set for yourself.

Even if you are an aspiring politician or you want to be a chef or an actor, figuring out, “Okay, what are the relationships that I need to actually get me to being on that stage or getting cast on that commercial?” And so, if I am an actor, my goal should be I want to connect with as many casting directors in Los Angeles that I possibly can.

That leads to the next phase or the next step in the process, which is people. Now you’ve got to figure out, “Okay, how do I actually connect with these people?” So, if I have defined my goal that I want to connect with casting directors in LA, the next step is, “Okay, I am going to reach out to them and I am going to ask them if I can feature them in some content.”

Whether that is on Instagram, YouTube, or a podcast, in the book, we talk through a lot of outreach techniques.

We talk about how to think through your email outreach and the biggest thing in that section, the feedback that I hear from folks that are getting value from it is keeping your emails really brief. Don’t drone on and on about how awesome you are. It can be a three-sentence email. “Hey so and so, I saw that you were listed as one of the best casting directors in LA and I would love to feature you on this blog series that I am starting. Any interest?” and that’s it. The goal of your email outreach is not to get them to commit to collaborating with you on content.

The goal is to actually get them to respond. So many people lead with these long emails that nobody wants to read and that they largely ignore.

That is the second phase–the nuances of actually connecting with the people that you know you need to connect with.

The third phase is content. So, it is really figuring out what the content is that you want to collaborate with people on. So, for us, it was B2B growth. It was content that is going to help marketers accelerate the growth of the businesses that they work for. If you can nail for the actor example, if you started to show, called Staffing Movies or Talent for Movies, you want to brand the show, not around your expertise, but around the expertise of the people you’re featuring on whatever content that you are choosing to create.

So those are the three phases. You have got to get clear on your goals. You have got to know how to connect with the people that you are trying to connect with and then you need to create content with those people so that you can actually build the relationships that you need.

Nikki Van Noy: That description is so pleasing to my brain. It just makes so much sense and it is so organized. The concept is something that can seem very overwhelming without that.

James Carbary: Yep. The biggest thing that I talk about and I beat this over your head in the book, is not being afraid to get started. So many people think, “Well I can’t do this because I don’t have an existing audience, or I don’t have anything to say. I don’t know much about the industry or…” All of these things are just excuses. So, getting started and learning as you go is how you are going to ultimately end up finding success here.

So, get out of your own head. Don’t think it needs to be perfect. The takeaway would be after listening to this episode, literally think about, ‘What’s my goal? What’s the type of person that I know I need to connect with?” and you don’t have to start a podcast or have your own website. Just say, “Hey, I want to interview you for a content series that I am going to be launching in the next few months. Are you interested?”

I bet if you email five people and ask them that and you personalize the message in some way, such as, “Hey, I saw you were featured in this Forbes article” or “I saw this article you wrote on LinkedIn, I would love to talk to you about it on this content series I am doing.” I bet four out of those five would tell you yes. You’ll see the power of how quickly you can actually connect with anybody you want from your own living room or wherever you can do a Zoom call. You don’t need to go and meet the person in person. If they are in the same city, that is awesome. But it is just so tangible and easy to execute this if you are willing to do it.

The other thing, Nikki, is this is not a get rich quick thing. I am four years into this. I still drive a 2008 Toyota Prius. So, I am not over here like driving Lambos and flying in private jets. I have been able to build a seven-figure business on the back of the strategy. But by no means are all of my dreams going to come true in six months.

It does take work. I like that you mentioned that, this can seem intimidating because it does take work but man, I think the most strategic work you can do is building your professional network. Professionally speaking, I don’t know of a more strategic thing that you can do than building a network of people that know, like, and trust you. This is a step-by-step process to do exactly that.

Nikki Van Noy: Well, what you have done in the past four years if I am understanding the timeline correctly though is gained access to some of today’s thought leaders, which is pretty incredible. That is a short amount of time in my mind to get yourself to that point.

James Carbary: Yeah. The thing that is so cool and I feel like I have said that a bunch of times already, Nikki, but the thing that’s so powerful is that it has so many benefits. So, not only are you building a relationship with your guest, but you can, depending on the type of people you want to bring onto the show–yes, I have connected with tons of industry influencers. They don’t necessarily move the needle as much in my business, but for example, now that I am promoting this book, I am able to reach out to a lot of influencers in the B2B marketing space, which is who I sell to.

I am able to say, “Hey, do you want to do a LinkedIn video? A one-minute LinkedIn video about the book for your LinkedIn following? I will help promote it.” And they are saying yes to me because they already know, like, and trust me because we have already done content together in the past when I featured them on our publication, our show.

Building relationships with influencers is absolutely a way to get value from this but it is also learning. Me talking to B2B marketing executives day after day after day, I am getting insights and I am seeing trends and I am learning how they talk, and because of that, I can sound like one of them, which allows me to build more trust, the more and more B2B marketers that I talk to moving forward.

We now have multiple people hosting our show. Our director of partnerships leads our sales team. He is the primary co-host of our show. I have even stepped out of hosting B2B Growth on a very regular basis. I do a few episodes a month but we’ve gotten to where we have other people building relationships on the back of the show that we’ve built and it is really cool to see.

Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, James, you just hit on one of the points that have crossed my mind several times as you have been talking. You have just opened up this access to so much knowledge for yourself. The only other way I can think of getting it is through conferences which are a different beast–they are less personal. Through approaching someone for some sort of mentorship, which while there are great mentors out there, we are all short on time so that can be easier said than done. It is a big ask.

James Carbary: It is. Some of my most trusted mentors in my life right now are people that I didn’t know three years ago who we invited them onto the show. We did an incredible episode, I learned a ton, and I just ended up staying in touch with them.

Now, if I have a question, for example, I remember a very specific circumstance in our business where cash flow was really hard a few years ago. I was able to get on the phone and he said, “Well what if you did this, this, and this?” We implemented it and it ended up saving our business because of the advice of a mentor. I would not have known him outside of our podcast. So, there is so much learning, mentorship, and business opportunities that you can create for yourself–the opportunities in life that you can create for yourself by interviewing the right people.

The benefit of building an audience, when you are a media property and you are creating content, naturally people are going to consume that content. So, people that you don’t even know are out there consuming knowledge that you are curating from your guests. It is a compounding benefit that I have seen over and over again play out in really powerful ways.

Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely. The other really cool thing here is it can be easy to get competitive in business and what you are talking about is such a different thing. I mean it sounds to me like you are bringing people together through these relationships, which I love. If everyone can win, why not do it that way?

James Carbary: A couple of years ago, I was doing a lot of traveling and so every city that I was going to, I would end up reaching out to different guests that we’d had on the show. I would do a B2B Growth lunch or a B2B Growth dinner in their city and it was just such fun. These digital relationships that I have been creating over the last few years, to be able to sit across the table and actually share a meal with somebody is just another way to deepen the relationships that you are creating in a digital atmosphere. Now, I am so much closer to those people.

So, collaborating with somebody not just once but twice is a really cool thing. And then they end up turning into friends. I don’t know, I just think we are going to be around for a while and if I am going to be in business and I am going to spend 90,000 hours of my life at work, I would really like to actually care and love the people that I am getting to work alongside. This strategy has helped me do that.

Nikki Van Noy: All right James, the book is Content-Based Networking: How to Instantly Connect with Anyone You Want to Know, which is available on Amazon now. The podcast is B2B Growth, anywhere else people can find you?

James Carbary: Yeah, so the book is also on Audible. I read the audiobook, which is super fun. A lot of the folks obviously that listen to B2B Growth and are listening to this show, probably like to listen to their books as well. So, you can find it on Audible as well as Amazon.

Nikki Van Noy: And listeners, just so you know, recording your own audiobook is hardcore. So, kudos to you for that James.

James Carbary: Thank you, Nikki. I appreciate it.