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If you’re in business, you’ve probably done a lot of networking. Entrepreneurs especially focus on building and consistently growing a strong group of other like-minded people. It provides many benefits to the entrepreneur, a profession that can often feel and be lonely.
Although networking benefits both parties, constantly networking can impact your mind. You can start to view the world through favors and balances. You may begin to always ask yourself, “What can I get from this person?” anytime you meet someone new. It may be ugly to admit, but sometimes intense networking can be a slippery slope to an almost greedy mindset.
But what’s the alternative? Every entrepreneur needs to network. It can bring you mentors, expand your mind, grow your company or even save it in times of crisis. You can’t be a good businessperson without being good at networking. So, is there even a way to engage in networking that doesn’t feel so calculating?
There is. You can network generously and selflessly.
I know what you may be thinking: What does that even mean? How can you network and be entirely selfless in the process? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of networking? While we all like meeting new people, we want networking to benefit us at the end of the day. And that’s okay because so does everyone else.
In being a serial entrepreneur who has conducted hundreds of interviews on my podcast, Making Bank, I have found that some of the greatest lessons sound counterintuitive. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard — and one that has been repeated by many guests on the show — is that you get the most when you give.
Time and time again, I have heard from senior entrepreneurs that their most rewarding work is mentoring young entrepreneurs, supporting their local community or helping their fellow entrepreneurs reach a goal. So, when it comes to networking, the same applies. Often, the most rewarding networking is when it’s done to help others.
Generous or selfless networking happens when you help someone without expecting something in return. For example, making an introduction, sending over contact information, all without expecting that person to do you a favor in return. Additionally, you don’t hold onto that favor, keeping score and waiting to be repaid. This is extremely difficult to do, but it is possible.
Once you let go of keeping score, it frees you. You no longer have the mental burden of waiting around for that person to do you a favor in return. You won’t be upset when they aren’t able to do you a certain favor. Keeping that mental score only harms you and ruins the relationship on your end. Besides, you don’t always need something at the same moment the other person does, so why force a favor out of them?
But what’s the point if you keep doing favors for others?
One of my favorite aspects of generous networking is that it rewires your brain to stop asking yourself, “Will I get anything out of this person?” The truth of the matter is that when you’re meeting new people and always asking yourself this, you shut yourself off from friendships. You miss out on the possibility of a real connection. You might deprive yourself of a real champion of your work or a possible mentor.
Simply by giving everyone a chance, you can build more friendships, connections and possibly business relationships. You never know who can help you, or even better, befriend you.
Once you open yourself up to more connections, you may be asked more favors. Sometimes it is something small like sending an email. Other times, it will be big. If you are able, do the favor. I’ve noticed that people are eventually thanked or returned the favor, even if it’s down the road. You may be thanked sooner than that. Either way, you will grow a reputation for being a good person and someone others want to work with. Not only is it typically the “right thing to do,” but you may see the power of this reputation come back around, directly or indirectly.
Now, won’t people take advantage of you? How can you be generous but still protect yourself?
Here’s the thing. Although we tend to believe everyone would take advantage of us, I have found that most won’t. There will always be that one person who does, and you must protect yourself. But if you help 100 people and half of them can’t return the favor, that isn’t necessarily a loss. If one person you helped at the beginning of their career gets big, they could provide you with a favor down the road that’s so impactful, it is worth more than the power of the other 99 people.
If you ever hit a roadblock in your career and need to start over, all the people you have helped along the way will remember that. And I promise you, some of them will help you — and help tremendously.