Improve your networking position by serving both effectively.

A few months ago (over 7 business days) I had 42 meetings with over 50 people. This is part of a startup community-building project I am doing with Techstars. One of the main thrusts of this project is to encourage startup community participants to spend more time connecting with others in the community.

We are all aware of the necessity to network but most view it more as a chore than an opportunity. What a shame for those of you who hold that belief. Networking – can we find a better word that has less negative connotations – enables personal power.

The fundamental fear or distaste for networking is that some approach the connection as a transaction as opposed to a relationship. The transaction tactic has obvious shallow intent falling on just one person. The relationship approach is more naturally intent to create win/win outcomes for both parties.

Which gets me to the issue of the two sides of effective networking. Implied in the connection is an ask and an answer.

For effective networking, you must be able to serve either or both of the ask and the answer.

The ask can come in many favors such as:

  • Can you make an intro to x?
  • Who is the right person to talk to in company y?
  • Would you be willing to serve as an advisor for my company?
  • Do you have time to review my presentation?

The answer(s) to these and other questions needs to be honest and direct. Great communities make intro’s every day without hesitation. There are exceptions, of course, but to be a good networker you must explain why you wont make that introduction.

Good networkers also give of their time with no immediate expectation of a return. Each one of us has to manage that time in balance with our daytime duties, but carving out an hour or two a week seems like a easy task when a direct benefit to you will come around at some point.

All you need to do is ask.