Why "Networking" Should Be Called "Helping Others"
Written by David Jackson
Building a robust professional network is an important part of having a successful career. Knowing and being known by key professionals in your industry makes a lot of things easier, from finding your next job to selling your product or service.
For a long time, I thought of networking as connecting to people on LinkedIn, collecting business cards at networking events, or following the right people on Twitter. But I never really got any tangible results from this approach.
It was nice to connect to people on LinkedIn, or meet someone new at a business event, but often that's where the relationship would begin and end. I might see the person occasionally or message them once in awhile on LinkedIn, but that was it.
Then a few years ago my understanding of how to network, and what networking really is, changed.
Learn From A Pro
The company I was running at the time added an advisor who was well known and respected in the business community. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. I wondered how he'd so effectively built his personal brand, so I started paying close attention to see what I could learn.
His secret weapon became clear pretty quickly. He routinely offered help and assistance to everyone, including people he'd just met and colleagues he'd known for years. If you ran into him at a cocktail party and told him you'd recently started a company, he'd ask if you needed a banker, accountant, insurance agent, or lawyer, and if you did, he'd actually follow up the next day and make the connection.
Are you building software and needing to outsource work to India? He knows a team and will be happy to put you in touch. Do you need to raise venture capital? He has an extensive rolodex of investors and will connect you with the right people. Want to sell your product to the local professional sports team? He knows the general manager and will set up a time for the two of you to chat.
By offering assistance and making connections, he ingratiated himself to both the person in need of assistance and the person he connected them with. By doing this on an ongoing basis, he continuously strengthened his existing network, and grew the size and reach of his total network.
Why did he do all of this when it wasn't his job? Why did he constantly offer help to those around him, including people he'd just met? Did he just really, really like to do favors for strangers? Maybe, but that's not the primary reason.
First You Give, Then You Get
What I began to notice over time was that he routinely asked for favors from the people he'd helped. He was happy to introduce you to investors in his network, but when the time came, he wouldn't hesitate to ask you to make intros for him to people in your network. He'd get you in touch with the decision maker at a large local business, but down the road, he'd call on you to put him in touch with a key decision maker in your network.
In other words, his favors weren't free. He offered help today, expecting you to help him in the future. At any given time he had hundreds of people in his network that essentially owed him a favor.
THIS is how to network effectively. First you give, then you get. First you help others, then you ask others to help you.
Once I realized this dynamic, I decided to try it out by actively looking for opportunities to help people in my network.
Look For Ways To Reach Out
If I ran into a startup founder, I would proactively reach out and ask if they needed intros to investors. If I heard a colleague was having technical challenges with their application, I would get them in touch with our CTO to see if we could help work through the problem. When I connected with someone new on LinkedIn, I'd send a follow up note offering to make introductions for them to people in my network. I even went as far as to arrange to have the lawn mowed for a business colleague who's son had fallen ill, and hadn't had time to mow it himself.
I did these things not just because it felt good to help (although it did), but because I understood that the best way to help myself, was to help others first.
Since implementing this new approach, my professional network and professional relationships have become much stronger. I interact with new connections more often and build stronger professional relationships, which leads to real, tangible business results.
If you're ready to grow the size and increase the effectiveness of your professional social network, stop thinking about how others can help you and start thinking about how you can help them.
Stop thinking about who they can connect you with, and start thinking about who you can connect them with. Stop just collecting business cards and connecting with people on LinkedIn, and start focusing on building meaningful relationships by first serving others. You'll build your network, your influence, and your bottom line.