Next month I’m making a keynote speech at a pharma marketing professional networking event. The topic, interestingly enough, is networking. Since not everyone who reads this column will be able to attend, I decided to share my best tips on networking in this month’s column.

When it comes to creating a successful career, networking is like breathing. If you don’t breathe, you’ll die. If you don’t network, your career will die.
In my favorite Eagles’ song, “Desperado,” they sing:

And freedom, of freedom, well that’s just some people talking. Your prison is walking through this world all alone.

These lyrics are spot on. You are putting yourself into a self-imposed prison if you choose to go it alone. We all need other people in our lives if we’re going to grow, flourish and succeed. That’s why networking is so important. But networking doesn’t just happen at events. It should be part of what you do every day.

Some people think that networking is all about what they can get. In reality, it’s the other way around. Networking is all about what you give, with no expectation of return. You shouldn’t think about what you can get when you meet someone new, rather you should think: “How can I help this person?”

It seems that relationships these days are all about “quid pro quo,” and there is a fundamental problem with such a mindset. First, it’s reactive, not proactive. Second, it comes from a scarcity mentality—if and when you do for me, I’ll do for you—which is not conducive to effective networking and building strong relationships because you are focused on holding on to what you already have. This prevents you from receiving what you might possibly get.

On the other hand, when you pay it forward—give with no expectation of return—you come from a proactive abundance mentality. You are demonstrating faith that the good you do will benefit others, and that good things will come back to you.

Here’s one humorous example to drive home this point. While in New York City about a month ago I was entering the subway when I saw a homeless man standing on the landing. I usually don’t give money to individual homeless people, preferring to support a Denver organization that provides services to the working poor. But there was something about this guy that made me pull out a dollar and give it to him. After he thanked me, I smiled and continued down the steps.

All of a sudden I heard, “Psssst.” I looked up and he had opened a gate. He said, “Come on, you can get in for free through here.” I had my MetroCard in my hand, but I went back up the steps and through the gate he was holding open. Instead of paying $2.25 for the subway ride, I got it for the dollar that I gave to the homeless guy.

I know that I displayed some questionable ethics in this case, beating the NY Transit Authority out of a fare, but that’s not the point. I did something for someone who, I thought, could do absolutely nothing for me, and I got an immediate return of over 125%.

My best advice on networking is in Tweet 128 in my career advice book Success Tweets: “When meeting someone new, ask yourself, ‘What can I do help this person?’ You’ll build stronger relationships by thinking this way.” Put yourself out there and do what you can for others and you’ll become a strong networker. Find someone for whom you can do something—then do it. You’ll be surprised at what you might get from a selfless act. It may even be a free subway ride.

  • Bud Bilanich

    Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy, is a success coach, motivational speaker, author and blogger. He is a faculty member at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver where he teaches courses in Organizational Dynamics and Human Capital Management. Bud has written five books on career and life success, which are the basis of his Common Sense Success System.

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