When it comes to relationships, I firmly believe in karma. What you deposit affects what you withdraw.
We see this at the micro-level all the time. We invest in our spouses’ success, so they invest in ours. We offer to help a friend move, so they show up when it’s your turn.
This is a powerful social norm called the rule of reciprocity: If someone does something for you, you then feel obligated to return the favor. We develop this rule during childhood, but it plays a key role in all of the relationships throughout our life.
But we rarely think about our professional network in these terms. We think of our network as a self-serving asset from which we extract as much value as possible.
What if we approached it from the other side? What if instead of harvesting value from our network, we focused on infusing our networks with value, thereby leveraging the rule of reciprocity?
There’s a word for people who adopt this mindset: Super connectors.
A super connector is someone who maintains a large network and works to bring them together. He/she collects data on each colleague and finds ways to create connections, effectively building a spider web of relationships.
Most importantly, super connectors look for ways to add value to their relationships without expecting anything in return.
How do you behave like a super connector?
- Use an organization tool. You need a tool to store, categorize, and filter the people in your network so you can sort and search for them. Store more than their name and email, however. You need to know what they do and what they’re working on.
- Ask interesting questions. Ask penetrating questions about their work, goals, and problems. Most importantly, ask how they need help.
- Look for opportunities to connect people. If you notice two colleagues working on similar projects, offer to bring them together. This is especially impactful if you can help create successful partnerships.
- Make time for your connections. Don’t ignore their messages just because there’s no immediate benefit to you. Offer as much advice and guidance as you can (without charging money!).
- Reestablish contact often. Don’t let those relationships erode over time. Use your CRM to log your last connections and reach out often.
James does a great job of boiling this down to something actionable:
Leading with value could be as simple as…
- Sending client referrals
- Introducing people who are “kindred spirits”
- Providing feedback on work product
- Connecting someone with a great tool, product, or service provider
- Offering career advice
- Writing a testimonial or recommendation
- Leave positive reviews on their book/podcast
- Using your expertise to help someone solve a problem in 30 minutes instead of 3 hours
Yeah, I realize that’s a lot of work. But the value flows back to you eventually. It really does. Over time, your network grows to see you as a resource they can’t afford to lose, so they “pay” you with the same kinds of value that you gave to them. It’s cyclical, just like karma.
As freelancers, we tend to live and work in little islands, only peeking into our networks when we need something (like, you know, income). But if we nurture our networks proactively, we’ll all rise together.
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