I was talking to a friend a couple of weeks ago who wanted to break into and meet people within a specific vertical of startup tech companies. His approach was to feign interest in their offering and take a pitch from a salesperson. The thinking being that although there was zero chance of him becoming a customer, he could get time with a rep, learn about the offering and “build a network”. I told him this wasn’t a good use of his time, and certainly not a good use of their time. The founding premise of the interaction would tarnish the reason for getting together in the first place.
I then shared a lesson my mother taught me about friendship which is; “to have friends, you have to first be a friend”. My professional version of this is the title of this blog post; to build a network, you have to help a network. You see it’s less about getting on a persons calendar for coffee or a meeting and more about finding out what you can do to help them.
A lot of people reach out for “informational interviews” or to “pick your brain” on stuff and the value exchange is lopsided from the start. I hear of many of my friends/colleagues/CEO’s who simply decline by not answering. This doesn’t help either side as the people writing the emails just figure they have to send more, be more persistent, or add more people to the top of their funnel. This is a mistake, and instead they should think about the what I call the coffee equation which is putting in more time/energy into the ask before asking for something in return. You should give more first if you ask someone to have coffee so they know the agenda and feel good about spending the time.
Going back to the macro point, many people want to build a strong network. To do this first by helping others you will not only understand their pain and problems first, but be someone that the person doesn’t mind connecting with in the future – especially after knowing you understand their world view and potentially help solve some of their problems.
To build your network, first help a network.