When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get into a habit of transactional networking (“I’ll do this for you, now you do this for me.”) And that makes sense: You’re always looking out for the best interest of your company, so you only seek out relationships that could have a clear benefit on your bottom line.
But that move always turns into the same dialogue. And, while in some cases, there’s nothing wrong with a two-way street, when that’s the only way you build your network, it's a sure thing that one day you’ll wake up at the short end of the stick.
So, here’s why you should get away from transactional networking:
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1. People will assume you want something.
You know when you see a name pop up in your inbox and you know that person needs something from you without your having even read it? When you’re a transactional networker, it’s easy to become that person. Yet it’s also important to keep communication with people outside of the times when you need something. Share your triumphs, ask about their businesses or send helpful links or articles.
It’s like the scenario of the professor who hears from a student only when he or she needs a letter of recommendation. The professor has no context of the student other than his or her asking for a favor. Not a good start to a recommendation.
2. You'll lose authentic relationships.
When a relationship is built off of a series of even exchanges, what happens when the scale becomes unbalanced? If you base your relationship solely off another person's value to your company, the strength of your relationship will fluctuate based on your positive or negative exchanges.
For example, that person may ask you make a big introduction for himself or herself and be appreciative, but can’t return the favor on a similar scale. Your feelings toward the person might waiver because you didn’t get an even exchange. When your network is built off transactions, you lose authentic relationships.
3. You'll close yourself off to great people.
No matter how successful you are, you can always learn from other people. Even if they’re not entrepreneurs, or they’re not in your industry or not experienced in business at all, everyone knows something you don’t. So, when you only seek to build relationships with people who you feel are "above" you, or people who can clearly benefit your business, you close yourself off to a whole population of wonderful people.
As an entrepreneur in the fashion industry, I’ve been to networking events and gatherings where some entrepreneurs in technology don’t further conversations or ask me questions about my company because they feel that we’re on different playing fields. Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, described in his book, The Promise of a Pencil, what it feels like when business people appear to lose interest in him after he says he has a non-profit.
I understand wanting to build relationships with people who have similar interests, but when you view everyone else outside of those interests as having lesser value, you’re missing opportunities to expand your horizons and meet great people.
4. You forget to just help each other out.
I remember when I was nineteen and trying to start my business how many people offered their guidance and time to help me get started. I think a lot of us have a soft spot for young entrepreneurs and are more willing to put transactions aside to help the aspiring college entrepreneur, which is great and I’m forever grateful for all of the help I received when I started my own company.
But what happens when you get older and more seasoned? Do the favors expire because you’re supposed to know everything? It’s important to remember that none of us know everything and we’re all just trying to be a little bit better than we were yesterday. So why not help each other out?
Entrepreneurship is a lot more enjoyable when you build an authentic network of people in your life that want to see you succeed and whom you want to help them do the same. Just because someone else succeeds doesn’t lessen your opportunity to succeed in your own way.
Related: Networking Is a Contact Sport
When talking about doing favors, Natalie Zfat set a great example for parameters in her article "How To Master Networking" by saying that if something takes less than five minutes and doesn’t jeopardize any of your client relationships, do it.