The Best Way to Network: Serving PeoplePosted: January 28, 2011
My tip for the best way to network is simply this: serve people. In a world of self-congratulation and a growing obsession with celebrity culture, we need more of this ethos of humility and generosity. Networking is a funny concept. In business, you’re supposed to network with peers in your industry to stay fresh in your trade, grow in your field, and keep a healthy list of prospective clients (depending on what you do).
Not too long ago, I saw an episode of Ugly Betty in which the main character Betty is forced go out and network. She hates it. It seems disingenuous to her to walk around a bar, having trivial, three-minute conversations that conclude with a quick exchange of business cards.
No real connection is made, and no one is looking out for anyone but themselves. I think a lot of people feel that way about networking — whether they are salespeople, ministers, or entrepreneurs.
Almost everywhere you turn, there is someone telling you that you ought to network. And they’re right. You can’t grow in your influence if you don’t get to know more people. But how networking is often portrayed (how Ugly Betty saw networking) isn’t the only way.
I’m not a very good salesman, I’m initially shy, and I hate small talk. This means that I’m not your typical networker. But I’ve learned to do it another way that makes me feel like less of a sleaze: I network by doing favors for people.
If I see someone with a need that I or someone I know can meet, I try to help that person. I may offer some writing services for free, give away a great idea, or introduce someone. This way of networking does two things:
1) It feels good. Can you believe that? Helping people actually feels good; it’s its own reward.
2) It eventually leads to people doing favors for you. Remember that old adage, “what goes around, comes around”? Well, it’s true. Now, keep in mind that you don’t do favors for people, expecting something in return. But if you help enough people fulfill their dreams, they’ll eventually help you with yours. Generosity is contagious.
The truth is that we can’t succeed without the help of others. We need each other. But perhaps, we’ve been going about how we ask for it the wrong way. Instead of a “me first” approach to networking, I submit that we begin with a “you first” approach.
Maybe it begins with just a few of us paying it forward and seeing how that can be multiplied. Don’t you want to be known as the kind of person who does favors for people, who puts others before his own needs? I do.
The best way to be a networker is to be a servant. Try it.