How to sell without a network or connections

In 2016, I was given an amazing opportunity to take ownership of a global community called

After running my first ever business event early in the year, I decided to create my first business conference, Responsive Conference, 9 months later.

I’m a circus performer. I had never attended a business conference, not to mention produced one, so that first year of selling tickets to Responsive Conference was a madhouse.

That was also the same year that I started Robin’s Cafe, so any moments that were not spent behind the counter, or hiring and firing baristas, I was on the phone with everybody I could think of asking for advice.

This distinction is key: I wasn’t trying to sell tickets to the conference at first. Instead, I asked for advice.

Ask for advice

I brought 275 people to Responsive Conference 2016 by asking people for advice. It is really that simple. I turned to the founders of, everybody who had come to my free event earlier in the year, and everyone else I could think of.

When you ask for advice, you create the opportunity for excitement and support from people who might not otherwise be open to purchasing. People get enthusiastic about your cause, regardless of whether they’re interested in spending money – or attend my conference.

By asking for advice, you create advocates who want to see you succeed.

Practice telling your story

One of the things that making those hundreds, even thousands, of calls in the first months of Responsive Conference gave me was practice telling my story.

I was new to By luck and good timing, I was able to bring together 150 people for a free event at the start of the year and there was a lot of interest in our topics. But I was no expert!

By asking everyone I could think of for advice, I got a lot of practice telling the story of the ecosystem and why I wanted to create Responsive Conference.

Build a network

When you are beginning to sell something new, you probably don’t have a network or a reputation. But what you lack in network you can make up for in short calls with strangers.

Ask everyone you talk to refer you to three other people. Quite quickly, the size of your network grows!

It takes time and effort to take calls with so many people, but you’ll also go from no contacts to hundreds of potential prospects in a very short time.

The final step is to ask

The final phase of this saga, once you have enough experience telling your story and have built out a network, is to begin selling. Change your pitch from “Will you give me advice?” to “Would you be interested in purchasing a ticket?”

Several months into asking for advice, I’d talked with hundreds of people and generated a list of prospects in the thousands.

It takes courage to ask people to purchase. You can’t hide behind the “I’m just learning how to do this” anymore.

The final step is to muster up the courage and ask, “Would you like to buy?”

A word on authenticity

This approach to learning how to sell something new only works if you are sincerely interested in what people have to say.

If you go into an “advice call” with the desire to sell, the other party will know and be turned off by the experience.

Be humble, stay curious, and look to learn.


If you don’t need to, I don’t recommend spending hundreds of hours on the phone with strangers asking for advice. That said, the practice of building a network is incredibly valuable. This is the same process I use anytime I’m starting a new business or exploring a new opportunity.

Your homework is to call one person in the next two days and ask them for advice. The rules are simple:

And just like that, you’ve landed your first advocate.

Until next week,

Beyond Fear

Earlier this week I signed up for an Ultra Marathon. I’ve never run a marathon before, or anything more than ten miles. And while I’m a strong runner, 50 kilometers is a big step. I’m afraid. And I’ve been reflecting that when I’ve been afraid, and taken action anyway, are the times I’ve experienced the most growth and joy in my life.

Beginning something new never gets easy. But most good things come on the other side of fear.

Fear is an Indicator

My car indicates if there is something in my blind spot. It also indicates if my tire pressure is low or I’m out of gas. Fear should be treated like the indicator: neither good nor bad, but warranting further attention. 

Fear is always an indicator that something merits further consideration. It can be a good guide of the direction you want to go. 

Notice What You Are Avoiding

Pay attention to what you are avoiding.

There are always things in business that I would just as soon ignore and opening my mail is high among them. As I discussed in How to Reframe Failure, the reason behind my reluctance to open mail was fear of failure. By noticing the avoidance, I was able to identify the fear.

There’s often a hint of something that you are not wanting to start, or that you are afraid of in the tasks that you are putting off.

Get Curious

We treat fear as something to be avoided.

Whether the thing you are afraid of is asking for a promotion, starting a new business, a first date, or running an ultramarathon – get curious. That is a form of courage.

Curiosity is a way to channel your attention and take a small step. Though it doesn’t feel like action, bringing your attention to focus on what you are afraid of moving towards your fear. 

“Fear Setting” Exercise

Tim Ferriss popularized the idea of “fear setting” through this TED talk and the article Why You Should Define Your Fears. The purpose is to identify the worst case scenarios, which usually turns out to not be quite so bad.

The simplest version of this exercise is to repeatedly ask the question “What am I afraid of?” 

What are you afraid of?
Not being able to do an ultramarathon

What about this are you afraid of?
That I’ll try to run the ultra and get injured.

What about this are you afraid of?
That I’ll feel like a fool.

What about this are you afraid of?
Even if I don’t run it or don’t finish, signing up gives me an objective and six months to train.

And I recognize that my fear isn’t as big as I’d made it out to be.

Take a small action today

The final step towards accomplishing a big audacious goal is to take one incremental step. 

No one who has done something you admire got there in one big step. Unfortunately, we usually see the endpoint and not the journey along the way. 

Notice what you are afraid of, get curious, and then take some tiny action towards your fear.

Signing up for an ultramarathon when I’ve never run more than 10 miles might sound crazy. It is, as they say, “jumping into the deep end.” But I like to run. I’ve wanted to run a marathon. And the worst case scenario isn’t that bad. I’m excited to discover who I am as I go towards this thing that I am afraid of.

Do the thing you are afraid of. Take action. Fear is a good indication that there’s something there for you to learn.