Networking: Everyone tries to do it, and few do it well.
That’s too bad, because we all need help. We all need guidance. We all need help opening a door. (That’s definitely true for me.) No one does anything worthwhile completely on his own.
So, if you’re trying to create a genuine and mutually beneficial network, here’s a better way:
1. Quit trying to take before you give.
The goal of networking is to connect with people who can help you make a sale, get a referral, establish a contact, etc. When we network, we want something.
Forget about what you can get, and focus on what you can provide. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship.
Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection, and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections.
When you network it should be all about them, not about you.
2. Quit thinking that other people should care about your needs.
Maybe you’re desperate. Maybe partnering with a major player in your industry could instantly transform red ink into black. Maybe you really, really need a job.
No one cares. No one should care. Those are your problems. Those are your needs.
Never expect that other people will respond to your needs. Other people may sympathize—but helping you is not their responsibility. The only way to get help is to help others first. Ask what they need. Ask what could help them.
Care about other people first; then, and only then, will other people genuinely care back.
3. Stop asking for something specific; let other people offer.
Every week a number of people ask me to share their posts with my followers. Most don’t say, “Hey, I wrote this and think it’s right up your alley.” Most don’t say, “Hey, I just wrote a post that one of yours inspired—thanks!” Most don’t say, “Hey, I’ve been reading you for a while and feel sure this post is one you’ll find interesting.”
Nope. Instead they say, “I just wrote this post and would like you to share it on LinkedIn. And Twitter. And leave a comment on the post. And maybe mention it in one of your Inc. articles.”
Imagine how often I do any or all of those. (OK, probably more often than I should.)
I will do that, sometimes, if I like what they wrote—and the choice feels as though it’s mine. Then I might share it or leave a comment or whatever.
When it’s my decision, I’m often happy to do all that.
When you tell me to do something (and we don’t even know each other), I’m not.
The same is true with almost anything. Never ask for much. Try not to ask for anything. Let other people offer, and they’ll often do much more than you would ever have considered asking for.
4. Quit taking the shotgun approach.
Some people network with anyone and everyone, tossing out business cards and connection requests like confetti.
Networking isn’t a numbers game. Find someone you can help, determine whether they might (someday) be able to help you, and then approach them on your own terms. Always select the people you want to network with.
Keep your list relatively small, because there is no way to build meaningful connections with dozens, much less hundreds of people.
5. Quit assuming tools create connections.
Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections are great-if those connections are in some way active and engaged. In all likelihood, though, your Twitter followers aren’t reading your tweets. Your Facebook friends rarely visit your page. Your LinkedIn connections aren’t constantly scanning for your updates.
Tools provide a convenient way to establish connections, but to maintain those connections you still have to put in the work.
6. Quit reaching too high.
If your company provides financial services, establishing a connection with Warren Buffett would be great. Say you need seed capital; hooking up with Mark Cuban would be awesome.
Great, awesome and almost impossible.
The best connections are mutually beneficial. Take me. What can I offer Buffett or Cuban? Not much. So what’s in it for them? Nothing.
Same with you: You may desperately want to connect with the top people in your industry, but the right to connect is not based on want or need. We all must earn the right to connect—and that means finding people who can benefit from our knowledge, insight or connections.
Forget the “status” level of your connections. All that matters is whether you can help each other reach your goals.
Those are the best connections of all—and the only ones that truly matter.
Now it’s your turn: What are the most effective ways that you network?
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.