The Network Effect: How Community Building And Advocating for Others Empowers Everyone

Recently, I began a multi-part series on the importance of networking (see Part 1 and Part 2). To recap, without a network of genuine relationships, it’s impossible to reach your full potential.

The reason is simple: Talent and hard work will only take you so far. You need to cultivate relationships with people that have your back and actually care about you as a person. If you fail to create authentic connections, it’s only a matter of time before your career hits the ceiling and starts spiraling back down. No one will be looking out for you except yourself.

It’s Not All About You

Think you’re above a little schmoozing? Remember what you learned when you were a kid: It’s just not all about you.

You are not the center of the universe. There’s more to life than you. The world is full of greatly talented individuals. You won’t form great relationships with any of them if you look down on everyone you meet.

The Value Of Networking Groups

Amazing things can happen when you are not self-centered. You meet some of incredibly gifted people, hit it off, and things start to get exciting.

I get a real kick out of putting together small groups of like-minded individuals. These gatherings usually involve 15 to 20 people who can be relevant to each other in some way, shape, or form. I enjoy watching these interactions where people exchange ideas, build trust, and forge constructive partnerships. I see tremendous value being created, and largely because the participants are being authentic with each other.

These events can be incredibly fruitful, but they are not always easy to arrange. The most challenging thing about them is getting people to actually open up in the first place. Some individuals have trouble articulating their needs while others have difficulty explaining how they can be helpful. Such is life.

If you find yourself in either group, consider the following tips:

  • Always be on time and stay for the whole event. Otherwise, people will assume you are a dick.
  • Some people are introverted—and that’s okay. Try your hardest to engage, interact, and learn about your peers.
  • Seek introductions and follow ups when appropriate. Don’t spam anyone. But remember cultivating genuine relationships is how your professional life will grow.
  • Assume you are there to be helpful. Don’t be too important to be accessible.

Most people who attend networking events are there because they want to make money, manage their businesses better, and grow professionally. But many lack the skills to optimize the opportunity that these intimate gatherings present.

In my experience, approaching such occasions with an open, honest, and helpful attitude is what gets things going in the right direction.

Don’t Treat People as a Means to an End

People really dislike being viewed as a means to an end.

In the long run, no one really cares about a social climber. (Trust me, over time, it becomes incredibly easy to spot the social climber). However, people that are helpful earn gratitude, respect, and affection.

If you learn one thing from this article, let it be this: Individuals like to help other people who are helpful in return. That’s a key reason helpful people are more ultimately more successful: They create a virtuous cycle. Remember this.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Some of the most amazing opportunities are inbound. They are ones that come looking for you. Unfortunately, those opportunities are unlikely to present themselves to you unless the people who can help you understand what you are looking for and what your needs are.

People enjoy assisting others, particularly when they know what you need help with. In fact, evidence shows one of the best ways to build or nurture a friendship is to ask someone to do you a favor; it makes that person feel needed and valued.

When you attend a networking event, make sure each and every one of the other people there know what your needs are by the time you leave. Odds are someone will offer to help out.

Advocate for Others

Helping people is important—but you need to be genuine. Don’t offer to lend a hand only so you get something in return. If you want to run your business better and grow professionally, you need to be a giver. Sooner or later, others will return the favor. Take my word for it.

Nowadays—in the era of digital professional networks and social graphs—we all have the ability to connect like-minded and complementary people with each other. There are few things in life as worthwhile as taking steps to help others reach their potential. Introduce helpful people to one another and great things will happen.

Treat Givers Right

Whatever you do, never piss off a giver. Don’t take them for granted, either.

If you can’t find it in your heart to be a giver—that’s okay. But at least appreciate those who do. Rubbing them the wrong way or abusing their generosity is a sure way to push the givers in your life away. And by that time, you’ll probably be suffering personally and professionally—without realizing it until it’s too late.

No one is forcing you to go at it on your own. The good news is you don’t have to. Include other people in your life, and lend them a hand whenever you can. They’ll scratch your back soon enough, and great things will follow.

Perception is Reality and Networking is Everything (Part 2)

Last time, I explained how merit will only get you so far in your career. Without an amazing network, you’ll lose opportunities.

So without further adieu, here’s how to build a career-changing network.

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously

Honestly, nobody gives as much a shit about you as you think they do.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. Did you raise your Series A? Did you get some job and climb the corporate ladder so now you’re the CEO or upper management of some company? Are you a successful VC? Did you invest in Pinterest early on?

Cool story. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else.  

Don’t say things like “I can’t make that meeting because I’m at the White House all day!” Especially don’t say that if you’re a 28 year-old founder of some VC backed company (true story).  

It doesn’t make you better than the person teaching, saving lives, or raising their kids.

Be nice to people no matter what you’ve accomplished and who you think they are. Otherwise, all these people kissing your ass will stay asskissers and not friends.  

And then one day, you’ll die. Sad and alone. With only co-workers in your life.

Okay, that’s a little overkill. But you get the point. Don’t be a douche, regardless of the circumstances.

Be Gracious

Don’t blow people off. If you get invited to a party or a dinner or are offered a speaking engagement by someone you know—or someone who thinks they know you—say thank you.

Even if you can’t stand the person who invited you.

You don’t have to go but don’t be disrespectful. By pissing on them, they know just how much you value them. And who knows, you might need that person one day when you’re not flying high.

Don’t hit send on the email that says “Thanks for the invite [to that selective dinner with people who have accomplished more than me]. I can’t commit until the day before and I’ll likely show up closer to dessert than appetizers.” Again, true story.

Speaking of.

Don’t be a Dick

If someone writes you a long email and you offer a one-word or one letter response, you’re a dick. If you show up late for small events you’re invited to, you’re a dick. If someone’s useful to you then suddenly isn’t (and you make that apparent), you’re a dick.

Think about the dicks in your life. Are you eager to introduce them to friends who can help them?

A little humility goes a long way. Its absence can result in failure.

Be Generous With Your Time

If you’re in a position to help people, do it.

For example, I always meet with entrepreneurs if we get connected through a trusted source. I spend up to 20 hours on these kinds of conversations each month.

Why? Because building a successful business is really fucking hard.

I’m not the smartest guy in the room nor do I have a play book. But I’ve had successes, learned lessons, and I’m going to help if I can—without wanting anything in return.

But obviously, do feel free to give me some advisory shares.

I’ve developed lifelong friendships with some of these people. And we’ve created cool things together. Give people access who you wouldn’t normally. There are amazing people out there who haven’t done anything yet.

Don’t Underestimate People

You never know when someone can be helpful or is a genuinely authentic person you should know — so why would you assume they’re unimportant?

Don’t threaten, bully, or have negative interactions with people you think can’t affect your outcomes. Next thing you know, you’ll be unemployable after “resigning for personal reasons.” Or you’ll find it harder to raise capital for your next fund. Things will magically wind down and you won’t know why it’s happening. It’s happening right now!

The reach and depth of a credible social graph is amazing. The reverse is also true.

Be Nice to the Sell Side

I’m fortunate to have been on both the buy-side and the sell-side.

Buy-side: Deciding where to spend marketing budget, whose services to use for what, and what businesses to invest in or purchase.

Sell-side: Please buy my product, service, preferred shares, or otherwise give me your time and attention for some reason.

The buy-side ROCKS. People kiss your ass, take you out to dinner, and try to get on your calendar. They’re polite and make you feel like this incredible person they’re dying to know.

It goes to your head. You think you’re better than these people and believe it’s okay to treat them poorly.

The sell-side is even more fun, but for different reasons not worth getting into here. It requires a different personality than buy-side, primarily no ego or fear of rejection combined with thick skin and a broad smile.

If someone gets on your calendar or is trying to sell you something or tell you about something they’re doing – be really, really nice to them. Become their closest friend.

They talk about you. A lot.

Be Nice to the Executive Assistant

I’m astounded by how many people think it’s okay to treat executive assistants like shit, whether it’s their own or the EA of someone they work with. If you treat your EA badly, get therapy because you’re a bad person. But there’s a business reason to treat them well too.

Is your ego so large that it bothers you dealing with someone’s EA? Not me. I love working with them because things happen much quicker that way.

People that copy their EAs to schedule a meeting with you? Many of your colleagues hate it. They’d rather schedule it directly and “be authentic” but they don’t have the time. Plus, it’s a pain and they created a job for someone who is quite good at it.

When Todd the EA gets copied on the email you’re having with Michelle about setting up a meeting, move Michelle to bcc and say you are happy to work with Todd directly. Then, while you interact with Todd, be totally fucking cool with him. Even if Todd sucks.

There’s nothing better than having the EA of someone you want to build a relationship with like you. Again, the reverse is true.

Don’t Break Trust

If you call yourself someone’s friend, act like one. Don’t be a liar. Trust and loyalty are everything in relationships. The moment they’re gone, the relationship is over.

Being a top performer is table stakes. If you can’t back that up with a supportive network, you’re in trouble.