It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best way to build your network is to use it as much as you can.
Many people mistakenly think of their personal and professional networks as a scarce and finite resource that must be carefully protected from over-usage, like the limited supply of oil in the ground. They are overly cautious in “tapping” their networks and ask themselves self-defeating questions like:
- Will they really like being introduced to this person?
- Will they be put off if I ask them to volunteer for my group?
- Will they feel I’m exploiting my relationship with them if I ask them to introduce me to that person in their network?
However, this is the wrong way to approach your network. Dwelling on these questions only cuts you off from opportunity—it doesn’t protect it. Your network is actually an infinitely expansive space for continual use and interaction. So instead of second-guessing whether or not to tap your network, ask yourself, “why not?” If your answer is not extremely obvious, reach out.
Think about it: The people with the strongest and broadest networks are constantly using them. Remember the gregarious person in school who was continually tapping you and others in class to help fundraise, buy a gift for a fellow friend, or organize an event? Those are the same people who now often appear in your inbox to say: Could you help me with this?
The key is that these people didn’t aggregate a deep and reliable network by being highly guarded and cautious. Their comfort in constantly reaching out is what actually cultivated such a deep and expansive network in the first place.
Using your network creates this virtuous cycle. The more you share your own needs along with news and introductions, the more people will do the same with you; and the broader and more profound your network will become.