Since I’ve become an entrepreneur, and especially since taking over a large women’s organization locally, I am constantly baffled by people who contact me with veiled “opportunities.” What do I mean by this? It's usually something they want me to get involved with that has no mutual benefit — something that benefits them and not myself or my organizations. In my opinion, this is a sure way to sour relationships. This does not mean you shouldn’t ask those in your network or community to help you. It also does not mean I or others wouldn’t want to help someone grow their business or gain visibility. It just means you should be transparent with your motives.
1. Bank the networking juice.
Build a relationship before you ask your network to help you. Don’t be a “taker” as defined by Adam Grant in his book, Give and Take. Think about whether you are at the point in a relationship for an ask.
2. Mutual benefit.
Maybe there is a way you can help each other. Consider what would be of value to the other person and how you can help them with their goals and not just your own. Approach from a position of service.
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3. Be Direct.
If it is not a situation where there is a mutual benefit, be direct about it. Tell the person you would like an opportunity to talk to them about their assistance with something for your own project or business. There is nothing I hate more than being ambushed. I know I am not alone in this regard.
4. Accommodate them.
If you have an ask, make sure you are doing it on the other person’s terms. Don’t insist on an in person meeting if they indicate a call is best. Don’t ask them to meet you somewhere you know is inconvenient to them since they are doing you a favor. And don’t take up too much of their time.
5. Establish parameters.
Make sure you are honest with your request as far as how much time this will take of theirs and what it will involve. There is nothing worse than signing up for something that snowballs into much more after you have already agreed to be involved.
Your network can be invaluable to help you get where you want to go. But don’t take advantage of people. Show them that you value the relationship and it will be one you have for life.
Jennifer Lynn Robinson is the CEO of Purposeful Networking. She conducts keynotes, workshops and seminars assisting companies, non-profits, universities and conferences to help ensure your networking is working for you. Jennifer is also the President of FemCity Philadelphia, a women's business networking organization with 1800+ members. Jennifer is a contributor for The Huffington Post and has been highlighted in both local and national media. You can connect with her at @AreYouNetworked on Twitter or Instagram or at purposefulnetworking.com.