The Best Way to Network: Serving People

Ugly Betty - The Best Way to Network
Ugly Betty hates networking. You should, too.

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.

You can’t grow in your influence if you don’t get to know more people and make more friends. But perhaps, we’ve been going about it all wrong.

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:

  1. It feels good. Can you believe that? Helping people actually feels good. Novel concept, huh?
  2. 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.

156 thoughts on “The Best Way to Network: Serving People

  1. as a missionary on home assignment in the U.S, I think one of the best things that I can do to create a stronger connection with supporting churches doesn’t have much to do with missions. I just plug in and contribute to the body life of the church in whatever way I can – taking an interest in people’s lives, taking part in a Sunday school class, preaching (a non-missions related) sermon, and so forth. At the end of the day, people support people, not personality-less face attached to a ministry logo.

    1. You’re right, Adam. It’s totally fun to surprise people by paying it forward, not asking for anything in return.

    1. Jason – my belief is that the community is naturally built as a product of the serving. Keep up the good work.

  2. Great post Jeff, you are right, networking, however that is done is a great thing. Hmm, you even gave me the chance to write an article, I need to get on that. Much love Jeff

  3. You hit the nail on the head, Jeff… again! Thank you. Imagine what a world we’d live in if we all implemented this way of thinking and interacting!

    Are you familiar with Tommy Spaulding? He has a NYTimes bestselling book, “It’s Not JUst Who You Know” that speaks the same language as your post.

  4. Really good stuff Jeff, thanks for offering a glimmer of hope through the curtain of selfish, ego driven bs. It is no easy task, but there is no doubt that your suggestions produce way better results than the alternative. Cheers!

  5. Insightful post. I think there should be a web tool for recognizing the people who give most favors.

  6. I could share about 200 tips here since Ive built my entire brand through relationships. But I’ll share one of the most effective ones. Introduce two people who could benefit from knowing each other.  I’ve been able to refer work to people that way and it always seems to come full circle in some way. 

  7. This is refreshing. Thanks! I used to sometimes find myself commenting on blogs just for the pressure of networking, and I hated it. Now I only comment if I really have something to say that contributes or encourages the writer.  

  8. This post reminds me of my dad- he never said “no” to someone, he would always go that extra mile and he expected nothing in return- however God blessed this.  Everything is either a seed or a harvest!

    I hope I am someone like this, that being said, if you ever need anything…

  9. Great write Jeff.  I would say that now, in a time that is easy to inflate one’s own importance via social networking, we all need each other more than ever.  It gives us perspective, connection, and influence. 

    Serving someone truly reveals your heart, and remains one of the most endearing acts one can witness.  We are all in this together, and it is much more rewarding when we act like it. 

    Thanks for the time you’ve spent serving me.

  10. I personally don’t expect that a favor will be reciprocated. If it is, great, if not that’s alright. I’m just trying to help people and form relationships. 

  11. Great post Jeff. I’ve had this attitude all my life and it’s a pity when people don’t understand why you do it and view you as naive. People applying this can’t help do otherwise. Help only for the reason to help. 

  12. I am an average (at best) networker.  I am more relational than social.  (Meaning I like small groups over crowds.) However,  I would have to say what comes easiest to me is encouraging others. Helping others to see that “one thing” in most situations that is amazing. 

    By the way your post rocked! (see what I mean?)  

  13. These are the words I’ve been looking for! I, like you and Betty, am not a fan of traditional networking. I would much rather volunteer and meet people that way. I never thought of this as serving people – but it’s pretty much the same thing. I love finding an organization I can be passionate about and donate my time. Not only do I meet people and help the organization, but I also am building my resume and fulfilling my goals (of serving others). 
    Thanks for your great post, Jeff! Always a pleasure reading your thoughts!

  14. Don’t just serve people who can pay you back. Serve for the sake of serving and being generous. If the serving becomes about reciprocity it devolves back into the sleazy side of networking. 

    Ask for help when you need it. Once you’ve served and developed a reputation for being generous, then people want to serve you. You’re actually being generous again when you let them help you. 

  15. One of the easiest first steps to take toward networking is to #FF (Friday Follow) people on Twitter. 

    I do this religiously every week and have gotten tons of thank yous from folks who appreciate this small gesture of goodwill. Little things DO matter and they do add up….

  16. So true. I help people simply because it makes me feel good, it feels right. It led me to meet and create some really nice relationships. It also is a great real friend filter – eventually you find out who only takes but doesn’t give back (of course it depends on the relationship, the situation and all).

  17. I help others and connect others because it is in my nature to so…without expectations. In fact, I have a hard time asking for any help from anyone I’ve helped in the past, because I am sincerely interested in their success, & don’t want them to feel like I just connected with them because I want something. 

    Wondering how to make that transition…I am truly genuine in my interest & help, but since I am also still learning social skills for adult conversation & relationships (lol) I am not sure how to bring anything up if the need arises. My first goal is relationship, and I tend to put MY hopes/dreams on hold at the sake of that. 

    Interesting thoughts to reflect on 🙂

    1. Lindsey, I think you should just keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re being generous, in my experience, people usually find a way to be generous back to you.

  18. You have to give first. If you’re sharing someone’s stuff, if you connecting with their post and adding value with your comments, they’ll notice you.

    I think one of the best ways for people to connect is through their stories, a lot of us are struggling through the same things or have overcome the same things.

  19. I cannot agree more. I’ve been blessed with more connections than I can say by offering the skills I have to help others succeed. It’s a universal principle, sowing and reaping, giving and getting. One thing’s I’ve noticed is to be sure and choose who and how YOU give, as people may start passing your name around and you get a line of moochers rather than other servant minded people. Been burned here.

    My solution, keeping it secret and being able to say no.

    Great post Jeff!

  20. I was thinking about this the whole day ie how to network, where to network, who should I ask for help etc as I am just starting my new little business. This is just so timely Jeff. Thanks very much for this!

  21. You’re right on it! I was shocked when you said “ok” to coffee. To this already you have inspired me and changed my mentality about being available to people.

  22. First, thank you for the Ugly Betty reference! I miss that show.

    I find that I naturally look for ways I can help people. It’s a form of connection. I’ve never viewed as networking but I definitely see how it’s an evolved, more authentic way to do that. One of the easiest ways I’ve given back was to open my blog up for guest posts. I’ve gotten to know more of my readers as a result, as well as their readers and this has opened up a whole other avenue of connecting.

  23. Jeff, I really enjoyed your post. It  always amazes me to see how man’s  brilliant discoveries are simply the uncovering of divine principles like,  “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve….”  We’ve got a lot to learn…and to practice.

  24. Well said Jeff! 

    I feel that a lot of people are concerned with increasing their number of followers and likes instead of forming meaningful networks! 

  25. Those who lead must also serve.  You are so so so right.
    One way to connect with others is to be a good listener, and ask other’s about themselves first, then find a need you can supply, be it information or advice. The problem with ‘networking’ like twitter and the like is that it seems like gossip, and there is no time to reflect before you have to answer.  So you are reacting to a reaction which is a reaction of a reaction and so on. It is gossip, but if it is positive then all good.
    Treat others as you would be treated, and look for the positive in everything, as each connnection is either negative or positive. Give hope to the hopeless, strength to the weak, etc.  The people who look for affirmation and validation from other’s first will never find it, it has to come from your faith and belief in the good, and people gravitate towards the positive.  I like the ‘going the extra mile, it is a good feeling, as that re-affirms your faith that you are doing good.

  26. So true. People pay attention when you are genuine and sincere about something you can offer them, especially when its done selflessly. An eye for service, not personal gain, almost always sets you apart from the crowd. People always need help, while a selfless act of aid with another’s interest in mind goes way further than anything. Selflessness wins loyalty as well.

    Great post.

  27. Jeff, you’ve been a great model of this. I have asked you a few questions and you always helped. Thanks again for hooking me up with a great editor for my book! You are shaping my thinking on this by both words and actions

  28. I had trouble with this. The wayvI do it now is I try to find one thing I have in common. It may be easy or it may take a while, but I can usually do it.

  29. Ahh this a timely post as I hate networking also. I agree with you 100% on the value of serving others but I also think we need a new approach to networking and social networking in particular. I think one of the problems is we have all been taught that we cannot come right out and ask for what we want. We have to “lead” people there, which leads to a great deal of pretense and fake sincerity. I don’t believe most people mean to fake. They just don’t know what else to do since being direct (yet still sincere) is some sort of sin these days. 

    I wrote a post over on UpMarket where I suggest a different and somewhat radical approach to this crazy game. The bottom line is we all want something. I think we need a new type of networking.

    Here’s the link:

  30. Love it! My writing career would have never gotten off the ground if I hadn’t started volunteering for someone else. That relationship has blossomed, and I really owe all of my success to being willing to volunteer my time and writing skills way back then. 

    1. Awesome to hear Heather. At times I truly wonder whether volunteering always ensures good afterwards as I remember certain gold-hearted people that volunteered sincerely for a year somewhere, but not getting a job from it or not such leads as expected leading to a job?

      How can we address the unspoken reality when one person volunteers sincerely going the extra mile somewhere, but suddenly and unclearly is terminated as he/she not a good fit with such never seeing coming and told nothing wrong was done? Or when one is kept on but doesn’t land a job despite such effort and networking?

      How can one ever be turned away from volunteering while even though “fit” to be determined at the beginning or unfortunately later matters?

  31. Jeff, I think the most effective way to network is by doing favors and building a relationship. You don’t come off as using people either. It’s a win-win.

    When I network, I do favors for people — most times without them even asking for a favor. I’ll send follow-ups such as a card or email just to see how they’re doing.

    I’ve noticed that when people feel comfortable with you, they’ll feel comfortable with your brand, product, etc. They start recommending your work not necessarily because your products are great, but because they recommend the person behind the product: you.

  32. This reminds me a lot of something I thought about and wrote about recently…except I was thinking about sales…in both cases, people want to be helped, they don’t want people pushing stuff on them that isn’t helpful because it is so obvious that the salesman/networker is trying to get you to do something for them instead of the other way around

  33. Jeff, 

    I am the best and worst networker. I love talking with stranger, people I know, people I can help, people who can help  me, etc. Also I think people are naturally attracted to me because I am  in a wheelchair and I SMILE.:) Apparently this is a weird concept. You know what makes me the worst – I rarely bring business cards or any other identification to events. I am trying to get better about this! Also I am super awkward about introducing people. I don’t know why I just am. 

    Love your post about serving people, rather than serving self. Right on!

  34. This is very timely again! How I love reading a post that has connections on what I feel for the day. I hate being the salesperson too. I’m bad at persuasion. But recently, I encouraged a sad and down person and it made me feel good as well. His simple Thanks is way better than enough. Let’s keep on doing good to others coz it feels even better than closing a sale. 😀

  35. I guess there are different ways of networking. I find traditional networking superficial. I prefer something like your approach; it is much more valuable because you create value; you give something.
    I like to create meaningfull relationships when networking. I have been very much inspired by “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg. I can recommend reading it.

  36. I believe that serving others with no strings or expectations attached for reciprocation is the greatest way to build relationships.

    1. With that being said, where do you draw the line and maintain the boundary of getting the basic respect and acknowledgment deserved after you going out of your way to reach out to someone and lend a hand? Most importantly, how do you build a relationship even without expectations, when hurtfully and unclearly the other party won’t respond back to you nor acknowledge your email with any link you shared? Wouldn’t it be much simpler, decent and clear with courtesy after contact information is exchanged and you have put trust in the other party after emailing?

      1. I’m not quite sure what your alluding to. However, when I choose to help someone, serve another person, I know I am taking a chance that my efforts will not be recognized, appreciated, or acted upon. I personally believe that just because I help someone, or lend them a hand they are not required to do anything for me. The purpose of my help is because I want to do something for them, I believe in their efforts, or I think there is some value I can add to that person. If you’ve done that several times for a person and they never react or respond, it can be frustrating. From my experience, when that happens I simply choose to spend my time helping others who are receptive. But again, it’s based on helping them – not trying to force them to later help me because I did something for them.

  37. So – what are some examples of favors you could do for someone? I really struggle to come up with ways I could help influential people without it seeming shady.

  38. As I like to put it, if I help you bail out your boat, both of our boats shall rise.

  39. I went to the unemployment office and attended a workshop by a man named Andre Johnson. He said the exact same thing you’re saying, Jeff. Then, he connected me with a publisher. I’ll also be interviewed on blog talk radio about my talents, my book, and what I can offer prospective clients.
    You’re so right, Jeff. Being kind and helpful has such positive repercussions. It gave me hope and courage to move forward. I hope this is a new chapter in my life.

    1. One of the most hurtful and unbelievable instances I have encountered is doing kindness from heart and then at worst feeling exploited, taken for granted or not reciprocated with goodwill from the other person or group.

      Seriously, wonder how true the law of karma is?

  40. Such wisdom, Jeff. There really is not quick-fix to networking. It takes time and genuine effort and until we realise that, we will continue struggling in our attempts.

  41. I believe that networking must be meaningful. I try to connect with authors of books I enjoyed reading, or which helped me see something from a different perspective. I begin with an email complimenting their work and sharing how it helped me in my research, or my writing. While it doesn’t usually create a long-lasting relationship, I have had a few that have, and whereby I could connect to others researching the same families as I, and in turn, connect them to others in the network.

    I have had business cards printed several times, but the number I give out are insignificant in comparison to online networking contacts.

  42. Marketing is the pits. But I’m slowly learning to believe that I have something to offer. I love to encourage, I have a heart of mercy and I’m creative. I don’t know how to market that, but it’s what I have.

    And you’re right it’s all about serving and being generous. Where do I start? 🙂

    Thanks for the challenge.

  43. Wow. I absolutely love this article. 
    Since I am trying to break out into the writing world, I’ve been struggling with that whole “me, me, me” approach. It is fake and I don’t like it because it is not a representation of who I am. 
    Thank you for sharing that there IS a different way. 

  44. Thanks for this post, Jeff. I have been plugging away at getting my blog off the ground for four years, and trying to build relationships. This idea of helping others and serving them is excellent, but I don’t even know where to start. As a pastor, counselor, and university instructor, my life is about helping and serving others, and I love doing it, but it doesn’t seem to translate into more readers and followers, which is what publishers count as a platform. Really discouraged today, but I appreciate the simplicity of this post and the reminder that continuing to invest in people and relationships (things I already do) for their own sake is so important.

  45. I totally hate small talk, too. Definitely feels phony. Your ideas of connecting through sincere efforts to serve and bless and encourage are fabulous! It’s a shift in perspective. Thank you!

  46. Love your thoughts on this! I’ve always hated “networking” due to the mainstream attitude of helping yourself. Going at it in a self-less manner is very refreshing and something I can totally do!

  47. I love your blog! So far, I’ve read four posts…and so far so GREAT! Thank you so much for Being authentic YOU Jeff. ^_^

  48. You got me with this post. I signed up for your blog a while ago and initially read each and every word. Unfortunately, as a writer who publishes weekly I have very little time now to read anything that is not essential research or related to my work :(. However, I had a few minutes to sit today and read your post. If I had to describe it in one word I’d say POWERFUL. If I got two words I’d say GENEROUSLY POWERFUL. It’s simply the truth. I sometimes run to get my pediatrician’s coffee or I’ll cook a dinner and cart it over. Thank you cards after my baby was born with some cute pics on it got lots of people coming over to say hello at my brother’s engagement party. Giving just works for every reason you mentioned. Thankfully, I have a platform to publish all my work and not enough time to meet my editor’s demands but blogging has always been my dream and I may just force myself to do it thanks to your generosity. I have also been an educator for almost fourteen years now and that’s a lot of fun giving!

  49. Jeff,

    I have to agree with you completely on this article! I have always enjoyed serving others throughout my life, and have realized that is the *only* TRUE way to build a network. I will say, however, that even with having a giving heart and enjoying helping others because it makes me feel better all around, there have been the rare few who never reciprocate (even after numerous times of you going out of your own way to help them because you WANT to), and it’s really sad. On one end, I never expect anything in return from the other person; however, on the other end, over a period of time, you would like to think there would be some form of reciprocation or them going out of their way for you, but no – not once. I found out later, through some mutual people, one person in particular was just of the mentality of “What’s in it for me?” or “What am I getting out of it?” – and had no care or concern of the fact that she operated that way. She was a “taker” – 100 percent. She’d be nice and polite whenever I would do something for her, but never, not once over a few years, was there any form of reciprocation or her initiating anything. She took and took and took, but would always come across very professional, polite and courteous – to my face. Talk about SHALLOW people!!! What a lesson to be learned!!! Not everyone is a giver, and that’s the lesson I learned from that. She lost a wonderful friend, and I didn’t need her anyways!! 🙂

  50. Absolutely agree with you! Giving should just come naturally. It should always be about “what can I offer?” In ANY type of relationship rather than “what will I get?” Giving from a sincere, loving and generous heart brings you abundance like you wouldn’t believe BUT it has to come from a place that is pure, genuine and unselfish. When you realize who ‘the takers’ are, you simply just move on. Love your blog! 🙂

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  61. How do you battle the #1 frustration and injustice which is still seen such as when you or one in general is truly gold-hearted with an interest in serving others, but unfortunately after exchanging contact info the other person doesn’t ever reply back despite you reaching out 1st with an interest in helping and building a relationship? What is the point of others offering their information or cards if they very rudely and indecently won’t take the time to reply back to your email thanking them for meeting and after you expressing your interest? Also, why must one party dare act cold, unwelcoming and not even give a chance to the other person when the other person shows interest and may be valuable?

    Are instances of the the one party not replying back and creating hurtful one-sidedness leaving one hanging “burning a bridge unprofessionally with indecency and bad karma”?


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  68. Thank you for the great article on networking. In such experience, I see how Networking has mainly felt like drudgery due to the hurtful, unfair situations noticed amongst and I others how even after going out of our way to reach out and build a relationship,
    certain people never responded back as they least expected and seen replying to others. The other hurtful scenario is even after mutual touch kept with former bosses, colleagues, clients or underlings certain ones unexpectedly and immaturely stopped responding and worse FB unfriended with no clear reason after nothing done and worst is this was seen by a former boss with whom there was good relationship???

    Also, I have observed such instances that have created some mistrust and hurt when certain people have sincerely volunteered at a nonprofit and still didn’t get a job there or certain leads as expected after sometime leading to a job?

    Also, most hurtful is instances where we have made time for others with sharing links, yet hurtfully are left hanging wondering when nothing wrong done?

    It is these cases making networking drudgery reducing trust and effectiveness. How simple and decent would it be if these other people just stayed in touch as expected and with karmic decency and professionalism.

    Thanks for listening to my email and perspective. Would be great to stop receiving false hope from networking attempts even in the right way.



  69. I have totally taken a back seat to networking after the leaving the corporate world. This is a great reminder that there is still work to be done and will still need each other. Thanks Jeff!

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