How to Get Gutsy & Make the Big Ask to Influential People

That was a fun chat with Huffington & Kawasaki.

That was a fun chat with Huffington & Kawasaki.


“Exposure? You can die from exposure.”

This phrase always gets thrown around whenever someone brings up their desire to get exposure from writing for Huffington Post. I grit my teeth each time I read it.

Of course, it takes guts to ask for what you want from people you aspire to become. But, honestly, you really have to #GetGutsy to talk about HuffPo. I never thought defending an unpaid writing gig would be harder than landing it.

Last summer Arianna Huffington, the site’s creator, had a sit-down with entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki at the BlogHer convention in San Jose. The interview was funny and honest. At one point, she said to contact her and gave out her e-mail address.

“Really?” I thought. She must not care about inbox zero.

After the chat, she signed copies of her new book, “Thrive.” I already had a digital copy of the book, so I figured I’d just say hi and get to know the folks in line with me.

I suppose that’s the first moment I decided to get gutsy.

When it was my turn to meet her, I shook her hand and said I have an e-copy of the book.

“Here, I’ll sign my card.” She had a stack of them on the table, so she quickly signed her name, and that was that.

Lesson learned: talking photos are awkward.
Lesson learned: talking photos are awkward.

Sweet. I’ve got her autograph. Into the bag it goes with dozens of other business cards I’d collected.

It was my goal to contact at least five people I met, so I rifled through some of the business cards of people and brands I’d met.

I emailed Arianna. Why not? I’d more than likely get no response or a form response but, shoot, she gave everyone her email. I’m probably not the only one doing this. Gutsy moment number two. I told her I was glad she spoke at BlogHer and wanted to contribute to HuffPo. Check it out:

email arianna huffington post
OMG she wrote me back! #swoon

Yep, she replied two hours later and said I’d get a login. In fact, Arianna was the first of only a couple of folks to ever respond. I’d emailed at least a dozen people I met at BlogHer.

That was it. I was a Huffington Post blogger.

To keep from freaking out, I told myself and my husband that was just some assistant responding. Right?

Didn’t matter. I was in. (Freaking out commenced.)

When I shared the good news in a BlogHer forum, I was stunned to realize no one else had done this. All these years I thought you needed some epic connection. Turns out, it was great timing. The day she replied, HuffPo launched a new section on mental illness called “Stronger Together.” The whole nation was grieving Williams’ death, including Arianna.

I realized getting the post published wasn’t tough. The new section was calling for reader stories. But I also received the go-ahead to be a recurring blogger. (Getting published once would have been cool, but holy crap!)

Of course, since I’m addicted to Facebook, I posted this and in my little world, the internet went crazy. Tons of likes and congratulatory comments. Those get me through when I tell another writer I got into HuffPo and I can feel them rolling their eyes through the screen.

So, last time we talked about how to create or find a good multi-author blog. I mentioned Huffington Post doesn’t really count, because it’s a huge media organization with dozens of topics and hundreds of contributors. So if multi-author blogs and other influential sites don’t pay for posting, why’s there so much vitriol from writers specifically towards the Huffington Post?

I suppose it’s a number of factors. Huffington Post is an internet media company that often covers tabloid-like news. Arianna is an extraordinarily wealthy, straight-to-the-point lady who used to be married to a politician. Many people just don’t seem to like her very much. I get that. Now that I’ve seen her speak and read her book, I really don’t agree, but it’s understandable.

The negativity and downright hatred some writers have for this site seems misguided. Someone said by accepting a gig at Huffington Post, you’re ruining the lives of all other writers who want to be paid to write.

Okay, seriously? My heartfelt post about depression means every other writer out there won’t be able to feed their families?

Let me be clear. (*in my best Pres. Obama voice*) Writing useless, crappy articles for free or for pennies a word devalues the online writing community. Writing that educates, inspires or changes the reader are invaluable.

Sometimes it reminds me of folks who review a movie before seeing it. (Not so) strangely enough, a majority of the people I’ve encountered who hate HuffPo have never blogged on the site.

And there’s so much more to the site. The Stronger Together section is a huge example of the power they hold to educate others on mental illness. So I’m proud to say I’m a part of it (even if some of my colleagues don’t like it.)

Do I have some epic book deal or thousands of followers as a result of this one blog post? Nah. It got 236 social media shares and two comments. Is that enough for me? Abso-friggin-lutely.

Am I going to write for them every week and forgo paid gigs? Um, yeah, no. I love writing, but writing is also my job. I like getting paid. That never changed.

So getting gutsy enough to make the “Big Ask” to influential people (including those others don’t like) consists of three steps:
1) Be brief.
2) Be timely.
3) Be impactful.

That’s really it. I swear if you Google “How to network with influential people” you’ll get maybe a slightly longer version of those three steps. The internet just makes it infinitely easier to connect with people who were once unreachable.

Okay, I know you’re thinking, “Well, one and two are a snap, but how can I make an impact?”

That third step can be tough. For me, connecting meant commenting on their blogs, pitching guest posts, promoting their work, following them on social media. I didn’t do it because I wanted to rub e-noses with cool people. Often it was because I couldn’t afford to pay for mentoring sessions or online classes.

Here’s my #humblebrag moment: I’m really good at what I do, and I make it a point to have people remember me.

Sure, after I got to know some of them, being “impactful” also meant constant fawning over how awesome they are and how thankful I am to have them in my corner. (Carol, Linda and Sophie, I’m looking at you!)

But, yeah, you don’t have to do that. I’m sorta weird.

I want to hear about some of the people you’ve connected with that you admire. Tell me in the comments.

Special thanks to Dana Sitar for turning me on to this contest and for being one of those influential peeps who made a difference in my writing life (and happily writes for HuffPo, I might add.)

Photos:  Danielle Tsi Photography and Artistic Shutter Photography

23 thoughts on “How to Get Gutsy & Make the Big Ask to Influential People

  1. Thanks for the s.o., Willi! Glad you joined the contest, and kudos on getting gutsy in a big way! I agree with your experience writing for HuffPost, and I’m happy to see you defending it 🙂

  2. Congratulations, Willi – on making the connection with Arianna, blogging for HuffPo because it works for YOU, and sharing your gutsy-ness with us!

    You’ve definitely encouraged me to write a post for Get Gutsy as well. Last year, sometimes it seemed I had to be pretty gutsy just to get out of bed 😉

    Keep being true to yourself, Willi and let the eye-rollers do their own thing. I’d rather listen to a gutsy go-getter than an eye-roller any day 🙂

  3. Congrats, Williesha! That whole episode with Ariana at Blogher took guts! So you’re not getting paid but it takes stepping stones to help you climb.


      1. Hey, Willi ~
        Yeah! Congratulations on all that!
        And yaknow, even *if* not a single new person connects with you because of HuffPo (which already isn’t true) “I write for HuffPo” is what I call “terrific resume fodder” – lends credibility to what you say (and believe) about yourself as a thinker, a do-er and a writer.

  4. I’m a proud regular blogger for HuffPo. It was my first “big break” and has been a tremendous sample for my portfolio. I write for them on a monthly basis and love telling prospects that I blog for them. Continue to be proud (very cool story I might add)!

  5. Congrats, fellow HuffPo blogger! So happy for you. 🙂

    You’re right, timing is everything. Your post reminded me of my own story of how I became a HuffPo blogger myself.

    After 2 years of failing to get any response to my pitches to HuffPo Blog Team, Arianna organized the first women conference on redefining success beyond money and power. On this occasion, she also had launched a new Huffington Post section called The Third Metric to keep the conversation going.

    Since she asked readers to email posts on this topic directly to her, I gave it a shot. I wrote an article and emailed it to Arianna on a Friday night. She (or her assistant, ha!) replied to me on Sunday and on Monday my piece was live.

    So, kudos to you for being gutsy!

    1. That’s a really great story! I love the Third Metric concept. I appeared on Huff Post Live’s series about that and tried to get in that way but it didn’t work. You’re very gutsy!

  6. What an incredible story! 🙂 I absolutely love that you had the guts to email Arianna…and I think the bigger lesson here is actually doing it! Like you said, I would have assumed so many people would be emailing her, as well, but most people don’t have the guts to actually do it. Love the outcome of this story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Great inspiring story Williesha. Following your gut in achieving what you want is crucial.
    There are always going to be haters. If they don´t have a reason, then just for the sake of it. So, good for you for not listening to them. In my experience, only envious unsuccessful people act like that. Someone who loves what he/she is doing, does not listen to others, does not complain about others success. Au contraire: they get inspired by others success.
    Good luck in your journey and enjoy every step!

    1. Thank you Corina! You are absolutely right! I never thought of them as a “hater” LOL In some cases, I think people were envious, but in many cases these were successful writers in an FB group who just loathed HP.

  8. Excellent and inspiring story. So all you have to do is ask, huh? I’ll have to remember that. The fear of rejection is a ridiculous fear, but one I know most writers fight on a daily basis. It is inspiring to read about someone who despite any fear was able to make strides in her writing life. Congrats.

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