Grow Your Network Without Being a Greedy Narcissist
It’s not all about you, but you can still get what you want
Networking, marketing, creating a mailing list, promoting — these all have one thing in common: people. Sadly though, as a society, many people and companies have dehumanized the most human of almost all of these parts of business relations.
In trying to reach our “audience” of thousands of followers, we have forgotten about the individual.
If you don’t do it correctly, working to grow your network and/or promoting a product or service can even feel . . . icky. And guess what? If it does, you might not be approaching your business promotion in the most organic way.
How many of you have been approached by a person via social media that wants to sell you something? Arbonne, juice cleanses, Rodan and Fields, fitness supplements, Mary Kay — they’re all sold by individuals who depend on their network to generate revenue.
Here’s the thing, though (and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me) — I’m most likely not interested in purchasing a product from a person who hasn’t first asked how I’m doing. The whole idea of the business models of these companies is that their salespeople will build relationships with people and then offer up the product. That doesn’t always happen.
Whether you’re looking for people to follow your writing, you’d like people to listen to your new single, or you are looking for people to sign up for your class on how to turn ear wax into holiday ornaments, the key is creating genuine relationships.
Relationships are two-sided. If you want something from someone else, you had better be able to offer a significant amount of value to that other person before you ask for it. It’s not all about you, what you want, and what you can get from the other person.
Whether it’s lending an ear to listen to stories about their kid, offering information on a topic in which you’re well-educated, or even simply liking and sharing their social media content, your relationship with your customers must be reciprocal.
So, without further ado, here are my suggestions for how to network without being a greedy narcissist:
Share Your Mission
No matter what you want from an audience or client base, if they know the story behind what you are trying to do, they will be more likely to help you. If you don’t have a mission or vision statement, you need to get one. Even if you’re a solo entrepreneur or a writer, people should know why you do what you do. And the more compelling your reason, the more people will support you.
Why do I write? I want to inspire people to believe they can succeed in any vocation they choose. When I was 13, my mom took me to a Russian ballet master to see if he would allow me to take his dance classes. He watched me dance for two minutes and then told my mom not to waste her money because I would never be a professional dancer. I was devastated.
My mom wouldn’t let me give up, though. I took lesson after lesson at other dance studios and eventually became a professional dancer and choreographer. And I did it for 20 years of my life. If my mom had allowed me to give up, I don’t know where I would be today. So, I want to pay forward the inspiration I got from my mom to as many people as possible. And I plan to work every day to help people believe in themselves and their dreams.
Now… that’s my story. Hopefully, you feel more connected to me as an individual, you understand why I do what I do, and perhaps you want to support me because you believe in my mission. I took the time to tell you my story to demonstrate the point. Stories are important. Do you feel like you know me a little bit better as a person and understand why I write? Great! Again, that’s the point.
In Fast Company, William Arruda is quoted as saying, “A personal mission statement is a critical piece of your brand because it helps you stay focused.” So, not only does your mission tell others why you do what you do, but it also can help you remember as well. (Incidentally, once you have a powerful statement, I recommend putting it in places you can see it every day — your bathroom mirror, on your desk, etc.)
Creating a personal or company-wide mission statement will help you in any profession to create a relationship with any individual. It can be a sentence, a paragraph, or a short story.
Again, though, the point of networking is creating a genuine human connection. If you genuinely share the reason you’re doing what you’re doing with as many people as possible, it’s highly likely that they will support you. Because we’re all humans. We’re not one more number added to your followers or mailing list. We connect to stories. We connect to individuals. And we connect to the shared human experience.
One of my favorite resources for learning to provide value to a client base is Gary Vaynerchuk. Just… everything Gary Vee — his social media accounts, his YouTube videos, and his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. While the book is a little dated technology-wise, the concepts still remain the same.
In the book, Vaynerchuk also talks about sharing the story behind why you do what you do, but he also says, “A story is at its best when it’s not intrusive, when it brings value to a platform’s consumers, and when it fits in as a natural step along the customer’s path to making a purchase.”
In other words, if you can make the lives of your customers/viewers a little better, they will be appreciative. And, eventually, they might be compelled to reciprocate by either sharing your work, purchasing your product, or signing up for your mailing list.
One of the best books that apply to the art of networking is Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. One of the six principles of influence that he details in his book is reciprocity — exchanging things in a way that benefits both parties.
There’s a reason the children’s hospital sends you free cards around the holiday season. It’s because when you receive them, you’ll likely feel compelled to reciprocate their generosity with a donation.
Cialdini says, “Reciprocity is part of a healthy ongoing relationship. Nurture it by giving before asking for a request.” Here’s the thing, though. You can’t expect anything in return when you request something. It’s simply a request. You can hope, but like asking a friend to help you move after you helped them a few months ago, reciprocity is not a guarantee.
However, providing value to your clients, customers, readers, or followers is absolutely a great way to build a relationship. Whether they engage with their dollars, provide their feedback, or simply click the like button on your content, you have a relationship with the people you engage with online.
At the end of the day, just don’t be greedy with the folks in your sphere of influence. Relationships with clients, followers, friends, and family inevitably break down when they become one-sided. You can’t successfully repeatedly ask for someone to do something unless you have (or will) do something in return.
This is important because the sole purpose behind creating a network of individuals is to have a (good) relationship with them. Otherwise, you just have a list of names and emails of people who don’t care about you or your content.
People are exceptional bull$h!t detectors. They know if you want something from them. And that’s okay because once you create a relationship, they will understand you, why you do what you do, and they’ll likely be happy to support your efforts. However, the worst thing you can do is to be shady about the relationships you have with the people in your network. Transparency is everything.
It’s like that app you download that you think is free but you can’t really do anything with it at all unless you pay the $2.99 per month to get the “premium” version. Am I the only person that gets extremely frustrated with this kind of thing? Why not be upfront about the fact that the app will cost $2.99? I’m the type of consumer that is significantly more likely to shell out the dough if I know the company is transparent about what I’ll be getting.
Transparency fosters trust. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying something like, “I am selling this thing and it’s a little pricey, but I really do think it’s a good product because of X, Y, and Z. I thought you might be able to use it because I know you like A and B. Do you have any interest in it?” That’s real and that will inevitably make someone trust you more than trying to be sneaky about your approach.
I believe that one of the main reasons people tend to shy away from being transparent with their network is that they have not solidified points one and two of this article.
If you don’t have a relationship with a person and a good reason behind why you’re reaching out, it will be awkward to ask for something. If you have not already helped to make that person’s life a little bit better, then you might not have earned the right to ask for something.
That, though, is when you know you need to work to build stronger connections.
Networking has unfortunately become a business concept that, in some places, has strayed far from what it should be. Networking should be the act of creating true and respectful relationships with people. Not adding a name and an email address to your Mailchimp.
When you ask another person to buy your product, sign up for your mailing list, or follow your blog, you either begin or continue a relationship with another human. A living breathing human being. This is a person with whom you should share your mission, provide value on a regular basis, and always be honest and transparent about how you will make the world a better place.