Generosity is the watchword of all my networking activities. Adding value to the lives and endeavors of others is the fuel that gives my network life.
Patience is key to growing my network properly. A 'rush to get returns' approach is a Hunter mentality that will break my network apart. My approach is more like a farmer - busy planting seeds, helping them grow and enjoying the fruits of that labor at some point in the future.
Increasing familiarity with my connections makes it much easier to add value to them and thereby strengthen my network. I continually work to learn more about each person, not only professionally but personally - their goals, accomplishments, passions, interests and problems.
Just because anyone has the potential to be a valuable connection or lead to other valuable connections does not mean that I am obligated to connect with everyone or keep every business card I get. Ultimately, I have the right to communicate or not communicate, to build a relationship or let it fade. And pruning my contact list from time to time can be quite therapeutic.
I don't keep score with my connections, and never require or otherwise imply a "tit-for-tat" attitude when it comes to helping them. In fact, I do my best to OVER-balance the scale in terms of me helping them.
I recognize that the simple act of networking with someone in itself does not give me permission to add them to my marketing lists, and that includes any kind of mass mailings made to look like personal messages. (besides, those messages aren't fooling anyone anyway.) Better to respect someone's contact info, and avoid these questionable shortcuts to relationship building.
In networking, I value QUALITY over QUANTITY. While having a large network can be a great thing, a small network of strong relationships beats a large "network" of mere acquaintances. That's why I keep my focus on improving the quality of my connections, moving them from being acquaintances to trusted contacts, and better still, friends.
I always keep in mind that developing TRUST with my connections has many facets. And among these are a) confidence that I am competent at my job, b) certainty that I will deliver on what I promise, and c) assurance that I operate in a ethical manner.
One of the best and most often used methods of building my network is helping others to build theirs. I take care to not only make introductions for others, but make THOUGHTFUL introductions that are truly win-win for the people being introduced. I don't waste people's time. And the same goes for when I'm passing referrals (potential clients) to others.
To the best of my ability, I try to operate in an ACTIVE rather than PASSIVE mode when it comes to finding opportunities for the people in my network. I don't simply wait for referrals or introductions to "fall into my lap". I put the effort in to be curious, stay alert and ACTIVELY LOOK for chances to add value to the lives of my connections.
I make a point to NOT think of my networking contacts as prospects unless they express an interest in becoming a customer. Until that happens (if it ever does), I think of them instead as a potential professional partner. I still make a point to inform them thoroughly about what I do and offer, but ONLY in the context of WHO ELSE THEY MIGHT KNOW that could benefit from my services.