Businesses are built on relationships. We hire, expand and grow by finding, meeting and engaging with new people. Then why is networking such a burden? Time.
As an entrepreneur, I often struggle with how to make it work. I hate saying “no” to any networking request on the premise I can either help someone or they can help me. And often you don’t know if it’s valuable until you’re well into the call or meeting.
But I still try to be a giver. I respond to every networking request on the “you never know” premise. Until I realized it was getting in the way of growing my business.
Help them or help me? The eternal business struggle. Adam Grant illuminates that struggle in his book Give and Take. Seems I’m not the only one trying to balance altruism and capitalism. I want to help everyone. But if I don’t continue to grow my business, I can’t help anyone.
Seems my struggle isn’t unique—as an author, professor and consultant, Grant told me he faces the same challenge. His advice? It’s all about balance.
“I'm always happy to be as helpful as I can as long as it doesn't compromise my service to my clients.”
When Grant has to say ‘no,’ he’s clear about why. “People may like me less but [they’ll] respect me more.”
Achieving that balance requires some focus. Here’s how to be a giver and network better:
1) Determine the litmus test for what aligns with your business.
Let’s be honest: giving doesn’t mean much if it isn't in line with your organizational goals. Be clear about who you can give to and how, and vet requests before giving that automatic yes. Sure, you can give when it feels good. But don't help every student that calls--help the ones interested in your line of work for example.
2) Look for business partners with opposite styles.
“It’s really useful for a giver to have a business partner to be a matcher and someone who will fight the fire,” says Grant. If you're an entrepreneur or leader, look for team members who complement the way you network.
3) Plan your giving.
Allot time for giving each week and when you’re out of time, you’re out of time. Be honest when someone reaches out about how you network and when the next available time exists on your calendar for that purpose. When you can’t offer an immediate response of assistance, provide alternative resources or words of wisdom in the short term.
4) Group your giving.
If you find groups of people—students, entrepreneurs—who all want your advice, try grouping them together. Use Google hangout or similar tools to offer mini networking sessions. You'll learn more and they'll make contacts and connections with each other.
In the spirit of giving, Grant’s made the opening chapter of his book available for free download. Take a look and rethink your own giving style. I’m still teetering on one foot, but beginning to find my own balance.