Today, networking is one of the biggest buzzwords being tossed around. From “Networking Mixers” to “Speed Networking” events to LinkedIn, anybody and everybody is trying to get in on the action in one way or another. On many levels this makes sense. In the face of a stuttering economy, many people are relying more on personal relationships to get a foot in the door for a new job or business opportunity. After all, it’s not so much what you know as it is who you know, right?

With that being said, I think many people on the networking bandwagon have the wrong idea of what networking actually is. People understand that networking involves meeting new people, and they understand that these relationships can help them throughout their career. What they sometimes fail to understand is that networking is only effective if your immediate goal is to find ways to help others. Yep, I said it. In the long run, you can reap serious benefits from networking, but you must first develop relationships.

While networking may eventually lead to opportunities (jobs, sales, business deals, etc) you can’t view everyone you meet as a prospect. The quickest way to annoy someone is to treat them as a prospect. Michael Goldberg, a networking expert who developed a whole list of rules for acceptable networking etiquette, makes one point about networking I found to be very valuable. He calls it the “chickens and eggs” rule.

In short, he compares eggs to the end goal. New jobs, business opportunities, and new sales are all examples of “eggs”. Goldberg argues that networking isn’t about hunting for eggs. He asserts that successful networking is about developing relationships with what he calls “chickens”. A chicken represents a relationship that can eventually yield eggs. If you feed, that is look for ways to help, chickens they will eventually deliver eggs.

This brings me back to my point that successful networking must be rooted in an earnest desire to help others. Networking is not a spot sell or a short-term goal. It is the ongoing process of developing, tracking, and nurturing relationships. The more you focus on planting seeds, and the less on harvesting, the higher your end yield will be. So, I urge you to start networking today. Whether you meet someone new, or already have someone in mind, take a second today to help someone else in your professional network. It may not be tomorrow, or the day after, or the year after, but, in all likelihood, that relationship will pay dividends in the long run.
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