Identify the Best Approach
Here are the three most important aspects words in networking: Provide, provide, provide.
In a few cases you’ll ask for what you want, but most of the time you will only provide. (Whether or not you ask depends on how you categorized the target.)
We’ll use the wedding example again. When we photograph a wedding our sole focus is to create beautiful images for our client, but later we can leverage the work we’ve already done for networking:
Easy: Brides love their bouquets so we work hard to create striking photos. We don’t need to, but it’s okay to ask for what we want when we reach out to a florist: “We’re going to send you images of your awesome bouquet… in return all we ask is that you credit us and provide a link.” No florist ever turns us down because our photos are always better than theirs. The total cost to us is a phone call. Will we receive anything in return besides an inbound link? Probably not, but that’s okay. Sometimes being nice is its own reward.
Medium: Every wedding planner needs help keeping their portfolio up to date. We don’t ask for anything in return (although occasionally we could); we just offer photos. Because we’re on the same “level,” great wedding planners almost always say, “I would love to get images from that wedding… and you guys did such a wonderful job I’ll definitely refer my clients to you.” When you provide something of value to a connection at your level, most will automatically offer to help you out in return. If not, cross that person off your list.
Reach: Never ask for anything in return. And make sure what you provide is something they could not easily get themselves. For example, The Carlyle in New York City doesn’t need our photos. While they have used several striking and unusual images, offering anything less would waste their time and ours. We didn’t ask for anything in return because contacting Reach targets requires a very delicate touch: Just plant a great seed and leave that seed alone. (Reach targets always water and cultivate their own gardens.) If you later come up with more great seeds you can plant them too, and in time maybe a relationship may begin to bloom.
Easy: Feel free to ask for something in return. But make sure what you provide has real value.
Medium: You shouldn’t need to ask for something in return so the classy approach is to simply provide something of real value. Consider the response you receive and proceed accordingly.
Reach: Never ask for something in return, and make sure what you provide is not only valuable but also unique. Otherwise your attempt at a connection is just one of thousands.
Speaking of value, let’s determine what you can and should provide. Fortunately, providing is easier and cheaper than you think.