Networking is building mutually beneficial, professional relationships. It only sucks when you think it’s glad-handing and throwing your stupid business card you got discounted from VistaPrint in the face of everyone you meet. Doing favors is real networking.
Here’s your rule of thumb: networking should be fun.
What’s one way to make it fun? By meeting worthwhile people in interesting, private, high-ticket events.
Okay, I’m in. What’s next?
Amateurs and desperate college students immediately try to ask for favors, investments in their startups, or jobs. Pros start asking themselves how they can be useful to the person in front of them (or at the very least, ask the person explicitly how they can help).
What does help look like? Simple stuff.
- Connect two people who can help each other. This is your bread & butter.
- If you have a relationship with a venue or restaurant owner, bring your friends along with you
- Always buy the first round of drinks
- If you havve a skillset that doesn’t take a lot of time, do some free work (e.g. you’re a copywriter and your friend needs a tagline for a new campaign)
Favors should be fun. You shouldn’t begrudgingly be buying dinner for someone or they can sense it. Don’t do a week’s worth of work for free either, because you’ll be annoyed that you’re giving all this work away and aren’t getting compensated. That’s not networking.
It’s the little things and the consistent things. It’s the stuff you’re going to do anyway (a trip, a hike, a dinner) where you invite people to come along with you anyway. Even if they can’t come, they’ll appreciate the invite.
Give Warmth to Anyone
“This guy is the janitor. He won’t be able to help me.” That’s small-minded thinking.
Yes, if a powerful person wants something from you, that’s a good opportunity to demonstrate your competency. But when (not if) you get the opportunity to help out a “weak” or unknown individual, your character really shines through.
Besides just being someone with a soul dripping with gold, you also don’t know who that person may be connected to. Maybe that janitor is the uncle of the CEO who got him the job as a favor, and when will be the best reference you could’ve asked for.
This isn’t bloviating. True story: there were 10 people interviewing to become Disney Imagineers (this was back around 2000). When they came into the office to interview, only one was kind and engaged with the receptionist. After the interviews, the boss talked to the receptionist about her impression of each candidate. Guess which one got the job?
Yes, it’s a very “forwards from grandma” kind of story but it makes the point.
On a more practical level, become friends with the assistant to the boss at your job or client’s business. Send them food, flowers, or whatever it takes (just not too obviously). The best thing you can usually offer them is warmth and a conversation.
When the time comes where you really need the boss’ or client’s attention, you’ll have an open door thanks to your (real) friendship with their assistant. They will do everything they can to prioritize their own friend’s success.
It’s not lying if the relationship is genuine.
Do Favors with No Expectations
You need to do 100 favors with no expectation of return. How do you do that without getting frustrated when you’re getting very few favors back? Give with no expectations.
You give because of who you are—not because of what someone else will do for you in return.
Covert contracts are when you do something for someone else, secretly hoping they do something for you in return. It’s the quickest path to disappointment and bitterness you can have.
I have a friend who hustles like no one else. His main job is doing favors for other people. This got him in the door with politics, which got him connected to city leaders, which gave him a way to introduce business leaders to those city leaders. Eventually, five years after the fact, one of those people he helped offered him a job making multiple six figures. He was patient and never demanded he be paid back for his help. This is what makes him such a force in his world.
My friend knows networking is a series of exchanged favors. Therefore he has patience and character to keep giving ad infinitum.
The Dark Side of Favors & Networking
There is a dark side to this: some people trade favors unscrupulously. AKA that’s what corruption is. – the unscrupulous exchanging of favors.
If someone isn’t doing their job because they’re expecting a “favor” (whether that’s access to a group or deal, or a job later, or a good old-fashioned bribe) that’s unacceptable.
The way to make sure you never become someone like that is to never do or accept favors for people that you are supposed to be keeping accountable (e.g. if you’re a regulator, you don’t accept gifts from banks) or give away favors to neutral parties using your constituent resources (e.g. flying your friends down to Cancún on the corporate jet that you aren’t paying for).
Basically, if you have to convince yourself an action is okay, odds are it’s not okay. If you’re a sociopath though, you probably won’t care and will manifest your dark triad anyway, so this warning isn’t for you because you’re already lost.
To end of a lighter note: do favors liberally. Expect nothing in return. You will become everyone’s favorite person to get an unexpected call from.