12 Lessons I Learned From Interviewing 30 People

12 lessons I learned from interviewing 30 people

Last March, I attended Pioneer Nation, Chris Guillebeau’s new conference for small business owners. It was my first conference, and I could barely sleep the night before. On the first night, I was wearing a nice white dress and felt totally out of place among all of the other attendees, who were all, wisely, wearing jeans. I walked from conversation to conversation, feeling nervous and very much alone.

As the conference went on, I realized that most people were really friendly and genuinely wanted to meet me. My comfort level grew. But it was a talk by Shenee Howard that sparked most of the relationships I’ve grown from the conference.

She told us that 2 years before, she could barely afford to buy contact solution, and that she hid out, eating chips for various meals at World Domination Summit.

But all that changed after she talked to 100 people and then created a product based on what they told her. She sold out her initial launch, and made more money with each subsequent one.

As I sat in the audience listening to this, I felt uncomfortable. Oops, I thought. I don’t do enough of that. I don’t spend enough time figuring out what people want to buy.

So when I got home, I decided I would do a 100 People Project myself. Only I would publish all of my conversations online and bring people along on my journey.

Since my friend Danielle and I had just started a new Meetup group, I decided to ask people what they were looking for in a networking group. (Which now seems weird, because the group we started wasn’t really a networking group anyway.)

But something strange happened: Most people I talked to said they hated networking events. So I asked them how they build relationships outside of networking events. And everyone shared something different.

Somehow, my attempt at learning from potential clients morphed into a project where I was learning from mentors. Lots and lots of them.

If you’re thinking about interviewing a bunch of people about a topic, here’s what I’ve learned from interviewing 30 people (so far).

So far, I’ve interviewed about 30 people about building business relationships. I’ve published 24 interviews, and am planning to publish one a week in 2015. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find it here.

On getting people to talk to you:

1. People want to be interviewed.

Pretty much every person I approached was interested in talking to me.  So if you’re afraid that no one will want to be a part of your project, don’t be.

2. Make it really easy for people to sign up for a time slot.

I started out using ScheduleOnce, a $20/month easy appointment scheduling service. But now I just suggest a few times for people to sign up and they usually pick one pretty quickly.

3. Approaching people individually is more effective than blasting out a group message.

When I first posted about my project in the Pioneer Nation Facebook group, about 6 people signed up. But everyone else I approached individually, either through a Facebook message, email, or LinkedIn note. I found that people are much more likely to respond when you make it clear that you want to talk to them personally.

On asking the right questions:

1. Start with something broad.

I start every interview by asking the interviewee how they got into their current business and how relationship building has played a part in their success.This is a great jumping off point for learning about them and their particular experience with relationship building.

2. Don’t be too rigid in your questions.

Only for one interview did I try to stick to specific questions. That was the most awkward interview, because the conversation didn’t flow as smoothly as the other ones. Everyone’s experience is totally different, and asking the same questions every time (aside from the opening one) would have prevented me from really getting to the meat of their experience.

3. Give them a chance to add more at the end of the conversation.

I’ve recently been asking each person if they have anything to add that we haven’t had a chance to cover. Sometimes the most valuable nuggets come out at the end.

On the technical details:

1. Record the conversations.

About halfway through my conversations, I talked to Michael Cavitt, who has done his own project interviewing successful business people about following up. He suggested I call people via Skype and then record the conversations. Doing that has allowed me to be more focused in the conversations, and then when I go to write them up, I can really capture the important moments in the interviews.

2. Have a plan for the writing, reviewing, and publishing process, and if you’re trying to publish consistently, don’t expect to interview someone and then publish it the next week.

When I started 101 Conversations, I literally got the idea, asked a friend I was meeting for coffee if I could interview her, and then put up the website that night. I had no plan in place. And while I’m glad I jumped into it with both feet, I think I lost momentum because I wasn’t prepared for events like moving across the country and occasionally waning interest in the project.

I even asked my accountability partner, Josh (who I met because of this project), if he thought I should relaunch the project. After discussing it with him for awhile, I decided not to relaunch, but to get a backlog of 8 conversations before 2015 so that I could publish one conversation a week and not be rushed to get approval from the interviewee every time.

3. It takes a long time and dedication to publish a bunch of interviews.

This goes with the previous point. For each conversation, I go through the following steps:

1. Identify who I want to interview.

2. Set up the interview.

3. Conduct and record the interview.

4. Listen to the interview and take notes.

5. Go over the notes and make them into a blog post.

6. Send the post to the interviewee for approval/changes.

7. Make the changes they request.

8. Schedule for publication.

9. Publish and promote the post.

10. Ask the interviewee to share the interview as well.

If you’re thinking of doing something like this, be warned: It takes a lot of time and energy.

On what I’ve gotten out of doing the project (so far):

1. Unexpected relationships with awesome people.

Probably the best thing that’s come from doing this project is the relationships with amazing people. It’s given me a legitimate reason to ask people to talk me for half an hour, and it’s really incredible how much of a connection you can build in that time. Josh Kalsbeek, the 11th person I interviewed, has become a real friend and an accountability partner I talk to every single week.

I’ve joined a Mastermind group with a few of the other people I interviewed. And others have become business collaborators and clients. This project has helped me grow my community like nothing else has.

2. Lots of insight into different ways of building relationships, as well as characteristics that great relationship-builders share.

I now never have to go to another networking event again, because I’ve learned that most people build their relationships in a myriad of other ways. And I’ve learned that the most important building blocks of relationships are integrity, trust, openness, and generosity (big surprise, right?). To learn more, read the conversations.

3. A blog that’s still going after 9 months.

I’ve started other blogs, but none of them have persisted this long, because I haven’t had the participation of other people. That’s made a huge difference.

To boil it down, here’s what you need to know if you want to interview a bunch of people: don’t be afraid to reach out to people, have a plan, be prepared for a lot of work, know what you really want to learn, and be prepared for expected and unexpected rewards.