How Bilal Zaidi of “Creator Lab” Lands His Dream Podcast Guests

Zaidi knows what it takes to get the attention of his dream guests.

No matter where you are in your podcasting journey, being able to land the right podcast guest is a great way to increase your show’s visibility. A good guest can be an expert in your niche, someone who can offer unique insights to your audience. They might also have an audience of their own—one that you could get in front of with your interview.

But with over 2 million podcasts available right now and podcast hosts jockeying to get experts in their niches, it can be difficult to stand out and get your ideal guest’s attention.

Bilal Zaidi, host of “Creator Lab,” knows what it takes to get the attention of his dream guests. “Creator Lab” is an interview-based show with experts in business, technology, and entrepreneurship. Over the last six years, Zaidi has been able to sit down with some of the biggest names in these fields.

In this article, we’ll dive into Zaidi’s strategies to stand out to his prospective guests, build relationships with them, and finally bring them on his show.

1. Leverage your personal network effectively

When you’re starting out, tapping into your personal network can be a useful way to connect with high-profile guests quickly.

When Zaidi was lining up his first round of podcast guests for “Creator Lab,” he contacted Daire Hickey, co-founder of Web Summit and a personal friend. Since Web Summit is a large technology conference, Hickey could connect Zaidi with several tech entrepreneurs that Zaidi was able to bring onto his show.

Not sure if your personal network can connect you with your dream guests? Social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can be useful to see where your personal network can help you. You might have a mutual connection with a guest on LinkedIn, or you and your guest might share a mutual follower on Twitter. You can then ask for an introduction to your guest with your mutual connection and start a conversation from there!

2. Get a warm introduction through a previous guest

Zaidi typically asks his guests whether they would be interested in making an introduction after he’s recorded his interview with them. 
Source: Bilal Zaidi
Zaidi typically asks his guests whether they would be interested in making an introduction after he’s recorded his interview with them. Source: Bilal Zaidi

Introductions are a reliable way to land your dream podcast guests because they give you and your show instant credibility.

Zaidi doesn’t ask all his guests for introductions or referrals. He gauges which guests to ask for one based on their interview experience with him.

One signal Zaidi uses to determine this is his guest’s enthusiasm during their interview. An example he shared was when one of his guests said things like, “This is the best interview I’ve ever done,” and, in response to a piece of obscure trivia about the guest that Zaidi shared with them, “Oh my God. How did you find this?”

Zaidi says he earns that enthusiasm and respect from his guests through deep preparation and research. “It sounds quite obvious, but you need to do the work upfront, and then you can make that request,” says Zaidi. He also makes sure that his guests don’t feel pressured to provide an introduction to another guest and makes it easy for them to say no if they aren’t interested.

3. Pitch potential guests at events

Events are an excellent opportunity to get in front of your dream guest, establish a relationship with them and their network, and start the conversation to bring them on your show.

Zaidi landed his first interview with Cenk Uygur, founder of the YouTube channel “The Young Turks,” at VidCon, an industry event for video creators. To establish rapport with potential podcast guests at events, Zaidi recommends that you:

1. Speak with a member of your guest’s circle
One quick way to stand out from a crowd at an event is to be introduced to your potential guest. By speaking with someone in their circle, you can get that introduction easily.

2. Try to break the ice with your potential guest
Events don’t give you a lot of time to build rapport with a prospective guest, so it’s important that you make your pitch count. By making a joke or establishing common ground with them, you’ll be able to break the ice and earn their attention to make your pitch.

While much of the world continues to be socially distanced, virtual events can be just as useful as in-person ones. For example, if you attended a talk given by your potential guest, you can mention this detail in an outreach email or LinkedIn message. An even better approach would be to mention a key detail of their talk that resonated with you to show you were actively listening to what they had to say.

4. Connect with several “one-to-many” channels

With “one-to-many” channels, like publicists, PR firms, and publishers, you’ll have access to your dream guests without doing too much to get them on your show.

For example, publishers often reach out to podcasters to schedule author interviews in time for their book’s release. This was how Zaidi landed his interview with Square co-founder Jim McKelvey. McKelvey’s publisher contacted Zaidi for the interview when McKelvey was promoting his new book.

Zaidi didn’t make an active effort to reach out to publishers to be considered for promotional interviews. He says it happened organically since his podcast guests had connected him with their PR team or agency, and he got added to multiple PR outreach lists over time.

One actionable takeaway he recommends is to find similar one-to-many channels to connect with potential guests. For example, a one-to-many channel that has worked well for landing business executives has been investors because they meet with startup founders and CEOs regularly.

5. Send cold emails and DMs that get noticed

Cold emails and direct messages (DMs) can be the quickest way to get in front of your dream guest, but they’re also the most challenging method to stand out and make an impression. It’s easier for your potential guest to say no over an email than directly to you or through a mutual connection who vouches for you.

Zaidi has a proven strategy to get the attention of his podcast guests with cold emails and DMs. He shared a screenshot of a Twitter DM he sent to Jack Butcher of Visualize Value and broke it down for us:

Image source: Bilal Zaidi
Image source: Bilal Zaidi

1. Establish a relationship first
Zaidi started chatting with Butcher over Twitter after coming across his work and sharing his appreciation for it. He didn’t immediately ask Butcher to be on “Creator Lab.” Throughout their initial chats, they established a connection as British ex-pats living in New York.

After they got to know each other and had multiple conversations over DMs, Zaidi asked Butcher whether he’d like to be a guest on “Creator Lab.”

2. Provide social proof
Zaidi added past guests that he thought Butcher would find interesting. This was Zaidi’s social proof for Butcher that “Creator Lab” had been validated by people he respected in their niche, and that his appearance would put him in the company of these former podcast guests.

3. Include an easy out
Finally, Zaidi made it easy for Butcher to say no by giving him an easy way out at the end of the message. “I never want someone to come on the show because they feel pressured to say ‘yes,’” says Zaidi. “I want someone to be there because they see the value in it.”

6. Write follow-ups that build interest over time

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get a confirmed “yes” from your dream guest the first time you ask them to come on your show. Follow-ups are crucial for building their interest and consideration to give you time in their busy schedule.

How many times should you follow up with a potential guest? It depends on how well you know them. For example, it took Zaidi at least four follow-ups to get guest Shaan Puri on “Creator Lab.” He doesn’t recommend writing follow-ups that function as additional pitches to potential guests. Instead, he recommends sharing progress and what’s new since the last conversation to build their interest in the show over time.

Here’s an example of a follow-up Zaidi used to get Puri on his podcast:

Source: Bilal Zaidi
Source: Bilal Zaidi

1. Follow up at the right time
Zaidi followed up with Puri after he’d published his episode with Butcher. This gave him something relevant to talk about in his follow-up.

2. Personalize your follow-up
Zaidi also followed up this time around after recording an episode with Puri’s podcast co-host Sam Parr. This gave him the opportunity to add another update in his follow-up.

3. Give an easy out
Similar to his cold DM style, Zaidi made sure to write, “No stress if not the right time.” It’s in line with the tone of the follow-up, which was informal and friendly.

Be prepared for no response or a delayed response to follow-ups, even when you’ve followed these steps in your messaging. Zaidi recommends not taking it personally when this happens. Puri only responded to Zaidi a month after his last follow-up.

“Everyone is busy, people miss emails all the time, and your request may not be a priority for them,” says Zaidi. “It is your job to make it a priority by consistently showing value over time.”

Use empathy to connect with your podcast guests

Regardless of the method you use to reach your dream guests, Zaidi believes you should strive to build a genuine relationship with them by being empathetic.

To facilitate that approach, Zaidi shared a takeaway he has for new podcasters who are looking to land high-profile guests—Arlan Hamilton’s maxim: “Stay hungry, not thirsty.”

Zaidi says, “What I like about that is ‘hungry’ means we’re on the ball, trying to make things happen. ‘Thirsty’ means I’m trying to get everything I can, over-eager, annoying, and in your face. Be hungry, not thirsty.”