The first rule of networking is to understand that it’s not about what you can get, it’s about what you can give. With that in mind, you should constantly be looking for ways to bring value to the people in your network. Once you’ve built strong relationships, it becomes easier to add value because you’re more familiar with your contacts’ likes, desires, and goals. But when your relationship is still relatively new, it helps to have some go-to ideas for establishing yourself as a person who can bring something to their table. Below are ten simple ways you can bring value to the people in your network.
- Listen. A master networker recently told me, “If you’re talking more than they are, the conversation is not going well.” Most of us are not very good listeners, only remembering about 25 to 50 percent of what we hear. Participate in active listening, in which you make a conscious effort to not only hear the words but understand the complete message of what the other person is communicating. It takes patience and practice, but if you can train yourself to actively listen, that act alone adds value and enable you to develop more authentic relationships.
- Make Connections. The first time you meet a person you would like to add to your network, try and think of a couple of people they would benefit from knowing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a professional contact. It could be a hairstylist, a dog walker, or a babysitter if you glean those to be relevant contacts for them. Everyone knows someone who could be valuable for someone else to know, so don’t think you need an arsenal of CEOs to add value through connecting people.
- Find a Mentor. You’ll find that most successful people truly want to help others be successful too. Find people in your industry that you admire and set up a meeting with them, ask them to be your mentor. This sounds counterintuitive because you’re asking them for something, but you’re also giving them the opportunity to serve. This ask should come after you’ve interacted with them a few times or met them in person, but it’s a powerful way to build a relationship with a person that can help open doors for you.
- Be a Mentor. When you’ve reached a point in your career when others value your time or advice, give it them. Being a mentor gives you the opportunity to give back what others have given to you and expand your experience through service. In addition, teaching others is one of the best ways to learn about yourself and reflect on what you’ve done and what you want in your career.
- Be Present. This goes with listening, but it’s more than that. A simple way to give to the people in your network — and everyone in your life — is to show up for them with both body and mind. The same technologies that have given us such productivity, information access and communication potential are also chronically distracting us, preventing us from gaining those very things through human interaction. Put your phone away, and keep your focus one-hundred percent on the person with whom you’re speaking. The more present you can be in a conversation, the meaningful and memorable it will be to both parties.
- Give Feedback. If someone in your network asks for feedback on a project or presentation, be the first to review it and reply with constructive feedback. This is a good way to get the attention of higher-ups within your network or company. It’s also a good way to start a conversation with a person you’d like to know. If they’ve worked on something you appreciate, mention it when trying to connect with them.
- Ask for Feedback. Asking for feedback from your network is a great way to let them know what you’re working on and include them in the process. Obviously, you will want to choose people to whom your project is relevant, but asking them for feedback communicates that their opinion matters, and that’s valuable.
- Share Content. We consume content all day, every day. You can become valuable to your network quickly by writing or sharing quality content. Being a content producer, not just a consumer, helps you become known. The more valuable the content you offer, the more valuable you are to your network.
- Engage on Social Media. Acknowledging and positively reacting to what people post on social media is a low-commitment way to show up for the people in your network. Most people are looking for engagement or validation when posting on social media, giving it to them adds value.
- Keep in Touch. So simple, yet so not done. Connecting with people on a regular basis will set you apart from ninety percent of the people they meet. Figure out the appropriate cadence to connect with your contact, and create a system to do it consistently. Keep them informed about your life, your career, and your company. Ask them to keep you informed as well. The more known you are within your network, the more valuable you are.
Networking is not connecting with people who you think might be able to help you when you need a favor. It should be constantly happening and centered around how you can meet new people and add value to their lives. It takes time, effort, and patience, but it’s not difficult. Everyone can add value; you just have to decide what, how often, and to whom you will.