It’s no surprise that people like to do business with those they know and like. As they say, it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.
The thing about networking that folks often miss, though, is that it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for others. As Adam Grant argues in Give and Take, “if we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.”
Networking works the same way. By becoming a giver, you’ll naturally build your network—and hopefully make a positive impact on those around you along the way. Here are three steps to building your network by being a giver, rather than a taker.
Step one: Turn strangers into peers
To be able to help someone, the first step is actually connecting with them. Everyone you meet is looking for something to help achieve their goals, so be the one that can help achieve them. Doing so will open up new opportunities you would never have thought of before.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, everyone feels the nerves of networking. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and approach someone at a mixer or development event who’s standing alone because odds are they are looking for someone to chat with just like you.
Networking isn’t exclusive to in-person interactions, either. If a friend of a friend posts something compelling, invite them to connect with you and thank them for their ideas. (Don’t forget to back that up with sharing it on your social channel of choice as well). Or if you’re taking an online class, like I did at HBX, Harvard Business School’s online platform, treat it just as you would an in-person event. I met people from as far as Australia and India—and with the platform’s technology and a little bit of time zone finagling, I was able to work through class subjects with my newfound peers completely remotely.
Step two: Turn peers into friends
Once you’ve made a connection, turn the weak tie into something stronger. With social media and online interactions, that’s easier than ever. If you’ve just met someone at a conference, find them on LinkedIn and send a quick thank-you note and connect.
Here’s a template to help you get started:
Hi [NAME], it was great to meet you at [EVENT]. Thanks for advice on [TOPIC]. I hope I get a chance to see you again at another event soon. If you’re ever in [YOUR LOCATION], let’s get coffee! –[YOUR NAME]
Then, follow up on a regular basis. That’s as easy as liking or retweeting a post or sending a quick DM to congratulate them on a new position. Spend time on those you meet; you’d be surprised how far a little empathy and interest will take your relationship, and it will certainly help turn someone from a peer into a friend.
Step three: Turn your assets into resources
Treat yourself as an asset, because whether you know it or not, you have a lot to offer someone else. Even if you’re not a seasoned professional, there’s probably someone you know that can open a door or provide some advice. What you may not consider a skill or ability may be exactly what others are looking for. Be in tune with what others say they need and if you fit the mold, offer yourself up. If you don’t, don’t hesitate to offer yourself as a resource for future endeavors.
Ultimately, business is about people. You have to put yourself out there and be willing to make connections and understand how you fit in the big picture. Step outside of your comfort zone and let yourself have some fun meeting new people. You never know who you’ll meet and what adventures you’ll have.