The right way to network

“Networking” and “connecting” as most people attempt it is a waste of time. [1] As most people with large networks know, focusing on helping others is the best strategy. The more people who ask you for help, the more connected you actually are, and the more able you will be to use your network to accomplish your goals in the long term.

pagerank

Why is it important to have a network?

Networks create tremendous value through access. All of the best things that have happened in my life have happened because of access to the right people. Whether it is finding a job, starting a company, selling a company, angel investing, or finding my future wife — all of the best things in my life have been a result of having invested in a robust group of friends and colleagues over the years.

None of these outcomes were my goal. They happened as a side-effect of helping others in a large and valuable network.

What is the right networking strategy?

Too often people focus on trying to “connect” with others in the hopes of being able to accomplish their ends through a connection. This is a flawed strategy.

The right way to “network” is to focus on helping others in your network. Generating value for others makes you worth being connected to, which creates greater and stronger inbound connections, and a greater willingness for others to help create value for you.

One simple way to think about influence in a network is PageRank. A webpage is more important if more webpages link to it. And a page is more important if other important webpages link to it. Thus the measure of authority and influence is a function of both quality and quantity of inbound links to a webpage.

The same applies to human networks. If people route requests to you, you are more influential in the network because you are more capable of helping others get things done. And the more influential the people routing requests to you, the more influential you must be because of your ability to help these more influence people. Then, when you make an outbound request you will have more influence (PageRank) that flows out over your outbound request, which increases the likelihood your network will help you.

Where do you start?

1. Figure out how you are uniquely able to help someone. Call this your “unique asset.” Everyone is an expert at something, has proprietary access to some group of people, or has time they can turn in to value for others. For example, if you are a student, companies want to recruit on campus so you can be a conduit to the campus.

2. Find people you can help and actually help them. Don’t just ask how you can help — figure out how to help. Don’t just offer to help — actually help. This is effectively finding product-market fit for your unique asset.

3. If/when people you’ve helped ask how they can repay your kindness, tell them to pay it forward. You now have someone in your network with a different unique asset than your own. This broadens the set of people you can help to those whom you could help directly + those you could refer to someone in your network.

Rinse and repeat until you have a massive, useful network that will help you and everyone else you know.

[1] – The way most people “network” and “connect” feels extractive to me. This is different than asking for help with a clear ask. Asking for help is great and more entrepreneurs should do it.

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