The Best Way to Network: Serving People
I hate networking. Maybe you do, too. The good news is there’s another way.
People often ask me how to connect with influential people or what it takes to get a lot of people to know you.
First, I tell them what doesn’t work: forcing yourself on people who don’t know you and trying to get them to do something for you.
In a selfish world obsessed with celebrity, we need more generosity. We don’t need more rock stars; we need more servants. It may be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.
So my best tip for networking is this: serve people. Do you want to make a name for yourself? Start by helping someone.
When networking feels sleazy
In most fields, you’re supposed to network with your peers. This allows you to stay updated on what’s new in your industry and helps you keep a healthy list of friends and prospective clients.
Not too long ago, I saw an episode of Ugly Betty in which the main character is forced go out and network. She absolutely hates it. It feels phony for her to walk around a bar and have trivial, three-minute conversations concluding in a quick exchange of business cards.
And it is phony.
No real connection is made; no breakthroughs occur. No one is looking out for anyone but himself. It’s a futile exercise in self-promotion, leaving everyone feeling sleazy.
A lot of people feel that way about networking — whether they be salespeople, pastors, or entrepreneurs. They know that they need to reach out, but the way we’ve been taught just feels wrong.
Why you still need people
Everywhere you turn, there is someone telling you that you ought to network. And they’re right. You can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
We can’t succeed without the help of others. We need each other. And that’s all networking is: connecting with people whom you can help and who can help you.
Thankfully, how networking is often portrayed — how Betty saw it — isn’t the only way.
An alternative to networking
I’m shy and hate small talk. I’m not a very good networker. But I’ve learned a way of doing it 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 can meet, I help that person. I may offer my advice or writing services or just my time. I may give away a great idea or connect two people who need to know each other. ‘
I try to do more than is expected, to go the extra mile. And for some reason, this surprises people.
You can do this, too
Here’s a thought: Instead of a me-first approach to networking, try a you-first approach. It’s not passing out business cards, but it does the job.
This form of networking yields two results:
- It feels good. Can you believe that? Helping people actually feels good. Novel concept, huh?
- It leads to people doing favors for you. Remember that old adage, “What goes around, comes around”? Well, it’s true. You don’t do favors for something in return. However, if you help enough people fulfill their dreams, they’ll eventually help you with yours. Generosity is contagious.
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.
Maybe it begins with just a few of us paying it forward and seeing how that can be multiplied. All I know is my arm is tired of patting myself on the back. I need another way.
This makes you a better person
Some people believe you have be selfish in order to succeed. That in order to be a good networker, you have to look out for yourself. I disagree.
The best networker is a servant. Everything else is just sleazy self-promotion, and in the long run, it doesn’t work. Zig Ziglar once said:
You can have everything you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.
The fruit of this approach speaks for itself. If you build a reputation as the person who helps people, what do you think that will do for your business or your brand — and how people think of you?
But if you’re known as the guy or girl who’s always name-dropping and speaking in the first person, what do you think that will get you?
In the end, this is the most pragmatic way to network. But it’s also the most fulfilling way to live. So if you’ve grown tired of networking, try something else. Try serving someone.
It’s its own reward.
What are your best tips for networking? Share in the comments.