Networking can be a difficult process. For some, it can be like going to the dentist; you don’t want to let someone poke and prod you with little swords in your mouth while pleasantly reminding you that you need to floss more. But at the end of it, you have a sparkling smile. Networking is similar, learning how to do something that you may not like doing to help create opportunities for everyone involved.

First of all, I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert at networking. I am more introverted and the concept of small talk with strangers is not appealing to me; I would almost prefer the dentist. However, that’s not to say I do not underestimate the value of doing so and the importance of learning how to do it successfully. The idea is simple right? You network to find out who can do what for you. Wrong. What I have learned is that in order to be successful when creating relationships, it’s about figuring out how you can help others. One of the first things we learn as children is that it is more about giving than receiving. It’s strange how these lessons come full circle to help propel your career onward.

You don’t have to be naturally outspoken to be proficient at networking; like anything else in life, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you will get. But here are some factors to keep in mind the next time you go out to connect.

Lifetime value
If anything, remember this. Networking is not a transaction. If you approach the process with a sales mentality you might get a couple bites but we are in this for the long term. A decision needs to be made ultimately between client and friend. Do you want the short term sale or do you want a potential long term opportunity. Connecting with the right people and building a lasting relationship can get you places that you might not have reached. The call you get a year or two down the road from a nurtured network connection will usually be more beneficial than the call you get in a day or two from a client.

Be yourself
It’s almost like writing a dating handbook; just be yourself! Don’t make it your goal to meet someone that can further advance your career or increase your sales. That might help in the short term, but we are looking for the lifetime value here remember? Your goal should be to be yourself; hopefully “yourself” is friendly, honest, and genuine…if not, try being that person for the time being. Acts of generosity go a long way and is a trait that will be remembered by those you meet. Once you’ve made some connections and have a feel for their capabilities, you can start introducing people to each other. Eventually, you will be the one that is introduced to someone that can help your cause.

Study
If you know you’re being introduced to someone or you’ve managed to schedule a meeting or phone call, don’t go in blind. You only have the first few seconds within meeting someone to convince them that you are trustworthy. If it’s a one on one meeting, try to find some common interests that you can touch base on; it’s eerily similar to a first date. You both like golfing? Break the ice by inviting them out for a round. It is always beneficial to try and connect on a level that isn’t just about business. On the other hand, you may be going to a large conference; your chances of finding commonalities with everyone are about as slim as the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup this year. But you can do your homework on whose going. Pick out some interesting companies and know which delegates are going; LinkedIn is a great tool to reach out to them beforehand. Study up on their company and how you can help them.

Diversify
A successful network is a diverse network. Build connections with people from outside your industry otherwise you may be handcuffing yourself when it comes to opportunities and also limiting yourself in introducing other people to each other. If you stick with people in the same industry, typically, the same opportunities are going to be known by the majority of people you know. What you want to aim for is the unknown. By spreading your wings and expanding your network to include people from dissimilar industries, you have the freedom to explore and create genuine relationships and opportunities of value not only for yourself, but others.

At the end of the day, networking is simply about meeting people, finding people you can have a conversation with, and trying to connect people who share the same desires. Always remember to maintain your network; if you tell someone you should go for a coffee this week, then actually set it up. Small gestures and genuine conversations can go a long way.

Network not for the benefit of yourself, but always for the benefit of others.