The Secret to Networking That Most People Never Get

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the marketing mantra “jab, jab, jab, right hook”, right? The idea is that you shouldn’t try to make a sale off of someone right away, but instead, you should give, give, and give before you ever make that ask.

It’s an easy concept to get behind — we all know what it’s like to be inundated with “BUY NOW!” buttons from advertisers who clearly are just interested in us as cash pinatas. But what’s really amazing to me is how so many people who are totally committed to idea of jab, jab, jab, right hook in marketing will turn around and totally disregard it in their networking.

If I had to choose between my house and my network, I’d be on the street in seconds.

I’ve always said that my network is my most valuable asset, and in fact, other than my amazing son, there’s not a lot that I wouldn’t give up to keep it. When done right, your network is your support group, your pension, your next level of business, and your safety net.

But so many people come at the concept of networking thinking about what they can get out of it. And fair enough, no one’s asking you to be a doormat and just constantly serve other people!

But the big secret to networking that they’re missing out on is that to build that network that will put money in your pocket, help you when you’re at your lowest, and make sure that you succeed, you first have to give. A LOT. And what’s more, you have to give in the right way.

How to give

It’s not enough just to give people lovely gifts or drop them a friendly email now and again. You need to tangibly add value to their life in a personal way. This doesn’t have to be some grand, sweeping gesture — it could be as small as a little get well package if you read on Facebook that they’re feeling poorly. Or it could be something that’s really big for them but small for you, like introducing an unknown graphic designer to your friend who happens to run a huge company.

Of course, a big gesture can be good too. I’ve always said that I’m a demanding person to be around, but the absolutely crucial thing to know is that I never, ever ask anyone to do something for me that I’m not happy to do for them in return. That’s why my friends always say that I’m on the top of their call list if they’re ever in trouble at 3 AM in a foreign country — they just know I’ll come through.

The other key to this is that you have to be consistent. Everyone can tell when someone’s trying to butter them up as part of the build up to asking for something, but if you keep making those gives with no expectation of return over time, you’ll build up a great relationship.

How to make the ask

When it finally does come time to make an ask from someone, it’s really important that you do it right — otherwise you could end up throwing all of your hard work (not to mention the relationship!) in the bin.

So when you ask, first make sure that

  1. it’s something they can do
  2. there’s a benefit in it for them as well
  3. you make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.

The first one is obvious — if they can’t help you, they can’t help you and you’ll have wasted an ask. You also need to make sure that there’s a benefit in it for them, whether that’s a financial benefit if you’re asking someone to be an affiliate for you, or something like a relational benefit of you making an industry connection.

Finally, make it as easy as possible for them to say yes — spell out exactly what it is you’re asking from them, exactly what you’re prepared to give in response, and exactly what they need to do next.

So tell me, what's your best piece of ‘networking' advice?