355: The Dream 100: Stop Building Links and Start Building Friendships

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If you have an online business, chances are you’ve tried your hand at outreach.

If you want to expand and grow your business, especially from an SEO standpoint, you need good quality links pointing to your site from other websites.

The problem is that getting other sites to link to you is not easy, as I’m sure you’ve found it. The “traditional” method is to send out dozens, even hundreds of emails to other site owners trying to land a guest post.

But, as today’s guest Brendan Hufford explains, this takes an awful lot of work, has a low chance of success, and the links you do get might not actually be doing much for your site’s SEO.

Brendan is an SEO master, a long-time entrepreneur, and a master at building win-win relationships. His approach to SEO and link building is a little different.

“Build friends first, not links,” is Brendan’s motto when it comes to outreach. He’s come up with his own Dream 100 Strategy for SEO, and he’s seen it work wonders with his own businesses and for his students.

Tune in to hear Brendan explain how you can create your own Dream 100 list of the sites you’d like to work with to grow your business.

He explains why most outreach is awful, how you should be reaching out to people, why there is long-term value in building friendships, and how you can improve your SEO and grow your online business.

What Is the Dream 100 Strategy?

If you’re not familiar, the Dream 100 strategy was coined (or at least popularized) by Chet Holmes in the book The Ultimate Selling Machine.

The premise is this: instead of trying to market to everyone, what if you allocated ALL your attention, energy, and resources to making a real connection and impact with the 100 people with the greatest potential to move your business forward?

“You gotta have a great website, it’s got to be fast and have a great user experience, good copy, all of those sorts of things. Also, the content has to be solid and match what people are actually searching for. Outside of that, the thing that really shows Google you’re an authority is links from other sites,” Brendan said.

That’s SEO in a nutshell. Most people reading this will be familiar with all of these elements if they have a website. It’s the building links part that Brendan approaches differently to most site owners.

“My theory, my manifesto on it is that you don’t need a million links from other websites, you just need the right links,” Brendan told me.

Brendan said you’ll see much better results from an SEO perspective if you spend your time pursuing the best 100 sites on the Internet for you, rather than sending out hundreds of outreach emails trying to get any links you can.

How can you do this?

“Build friends first, not links,” Brendan said.

Brendan used Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income as an example. He looked at the sites Pat links out to most:

  • 125+ times – Social Triggers.com, run by Derek Halpern
  • 125+ times – Chris Ducker.com, run by Chris Ducker
  • Numerous times – Amy Porterfield, Darren Rowse, John Lee Dumas, and other well-known people in the blogging world.

Brendan said the trend here is that all the sites/people Pat links out to most is, “just a list of Pat’s friends.”

That’s what the Dream 100 is about.

Building friendships with other people in your space, then they’ll link to you and promote your stuff over and over when it’s relevant. That’s a lot more powerful than building random one-off links.

How Do You Build Relationships with Your Dream 100?

Brendan said a lot of people think it’s difficult to approach people and build relationships with them. And it can be.

A tactic he’s been using for years, and one that he says works for anyone is to reach out and be sincere. Show that you have a genuine interest in the person, and offer them some real value instead of just reaching out for a link.

An example Brendan shared is how he got to know Pat Flynn. Back in 2011, Brendan was reading Pat’s blog and on his mailing list. He replied to one of Pat’s emails, saying:

I know your time is valuable, so I’ll make this fast.

I have an awesome success story, I want to share it with you, what’s the best way to let you know how you’ve helped me?

Pat replied and told him to share his story with him. So, Brendan wrote an email explaining how he applied 10 things Pat talks about on his blog in his own business, and how it’s helped him. Brendan put this together as a blog post with images, header tags, and all other bits of formatting so it was ready to publish.

Pat interviewed him for his podcast. This was the start of a friendship that wouldn’t have been possible had Brendan used generic outreach templates.

“There’s nothing that impresses somebody more than showing them you’ve listened to them, taken action on what they said, and gotten results,” Brendan told me.

Beyond the case study and some other examples, Brendan said your focus really needs to come down to a few things:

  • What is your reason? Why are you doing what you’re doing?
  • What is your “why”? Why are you starting your website, podcast, whatever you’re promoting?
  • What do they want? What does the person you’re reaching out to want? How are you giving them something they want?

When answering these questions, Brendan said to keep in mind two things most people care about; getting results for their audience, and making money. If you can help with that, that’s their “why”.

Brendan shared another example of how he got Michael Hyatt as one of the first guests on his podcast. Brendan reached out to Michael’s team, and sent an email along these lines;

I know you’re getting ready to launch Best Year Ever.

I’ve listened to like 30 podcasts where you’ve talked about it from previous launches. Here’s what I know is really important (list things).

Here are some things I think would be really cool to talk about that you haven’t talked about before that would help people feel like it’s a fit for them (list things).

I’d love to talk about those things on my podcast, here’s what I’m going to do to promote Best Year Ever (list reasons).

Here are some people I know are mutual friends (a little social proof helps).

This outreach email was 100% about Michael and how Brendan wanted to help promote his launch. Michael’s team saw the benefit in working with Brendan, and Michael appeared on his podcast to talk about his new launch.

Generating Your Dream 100 List

If you want to build your own Dream 100 list, Brendan suggested starting out by splitting the list into thirds. He labels these as tiers, and suggests you base them on where you’re at in your business as follows:

  1. Tier 1 – People who are at the same level as you. If you’re just getting started, build a list of 33 people who are also just getting started.
  2. Tier 2 – People a couple of years ahead of you. Look for people a few steps ahead of where you’re at right now.
  3. Tier 3 – Leaders in the industry. These are the people that you know if you connect with them, it’s going to change everything for you.

A tip Brendan shared to help you find some tier 3 people in your industry is to join an affiliate marketplace like ClickBank or JV Zoo, then try to find out the top people promoting products in your industry. These are the kinds of people you want to reach out to and form relationships with.

How Do You Avoid Being Seen as a Competitor?

When reaching out to people in the same niche as you, it’s easy to be seen as a competitor or someone trying to steal a piece of the same audience. To avoid this, Brendan said it comes down to that first email. “If you ask for something you’re a competitor,” Brendan said.

If you explain that you have similar goals and objectives and want to help promote their stuff, they’re going to see this as a mutual friendship, not a competition.

How Do You Follow Up If You’re Not Getting Replies?

It’s hard to keep following up with people when you aren’t getting replies to your emails, it feels demoralizing. If you’re not getting many responses, Brendan said, “You have to be honest with yourself, did my first emails kinda suck?”

If you can do better, then do better with the next email. Don’t just send a “Hi, just wondering if you got my last email”. Send a new story, some new information on how you can help the person, add more value. Brendan said if you’ve done this several times and still not received a response, chances are they’re just too busy and nothing you can send will work.

How to Do Outreach If You Want to Be Anonymous?

Not everyone is or wants to be the face of their business or website, some people want to stay anonymous. If this is you, you can’t use the personal kind of touch Brendan has been talking about. But there are still ways you can build friendships and get authoritative links back to your site.

Brendan has some niche sites himself, so he understands this stance. PhotoMBA is one of them; it’s a blog helping photographers build a business using their photography skills. He’s removed himself from the site and uses a pen name when doing outreach.

You can use a pen name and build an online persona if you want to stay anonymous, just as he has with his niche sites. Brendan also said you can keep yourself anonymous on the site, but connect with people in the industry as yourself when doing outreach if that feels comfortable.

Brendan’s #1 tip for Side Hustle Nation

“You don’t have to quit your day job.”


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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

2 thoughts on “355: The Dream 100: Stop Building Links and Start Building Friendships”

  1. Mr Loper,
    This podcast has a unique take on networking. I enjoyed listening and learning on this episode.
    I was wondering if you can share the google sheet template you have for the list of friends/links in different tiers.
    Thanks so much

  2. You make a great case here for forming relationships with other bloggers. Reaching out, cold emailing strangers, really seems intimidating. It seems so awkward. But the benefits are clearly there. I’ll have to get out of my comfort zone and build my Dream 100!


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