This is a paraphrased title from a great blog post by Jeremiah Owyang called "Build Your Network Before You Need Them" and he says it best here:
Those who ignore the party/conversation/network when they are content and decide to drop in when they need the network may not succeed. It’s pretty easy to spot those that are just joining the network purely to take –not to give. Therefore, be part of the party/conversation/network before you need anything from anyone. Start now, and continue to build relationships by giving now: share knowledge, help others, and become a trusted node and connector, not just an outlying ‘dot’ of a comet that swings in every 4 years or so.
When we build a network of connections, if you just join as a taker, you will be exposed as the opportunist you've been flagged to be. This is not what networking is about. Why do so many people get this wrong? (I can't tell you how many people on LinkedIn ask to connect then immediately send me a solicitation through private messages. Wrong.) But it also explains why networking is viewed as an intimidating chore by some, those very people who see it as 'asking' or 'begging' for something first rather than offering genuinely and generously first.
Networking is about letting others know what you can uniquely offer to them and sharing freely, positioning yourself as a resource, a sphere of influence or one who can direct others to those who can provide the information or services they seek. We are remembered best for those things we give freely without asking for anything in return. And without fail, the rewards come when we least expect it.
When you think of your next social and/or professional networking opportunity position yourself as a giver. Think first of what you can bring to the party rather than what you can take home in a doggie bag. The experience may be less intimidating because you are not asking for anything. This is no different with social media connections. So much conversation and connection takes places online, migrates off line and into positive experiences. But it starts with giving first. How can you 'give' online to someone you've never met? Here's a way. If you are following someone on line and you would like their attention, why not find an article of interest (not a self-serving promotional piece) this person would enjoy seeing. If you're on Twitter, provide the link in a tweet directed to their handle. If on LinkedIn, send them a message with the link or share in an update to their attention. It's a simple and effective 'give'.
This philosophy will not only help you to enjoy those 'networking events' online and off but also make you a better professional and a better human being.
Susan Cartier Liebel is the Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University®, the only educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students designed for those who want to create and grow their solo or small firm practices. A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, an Entrepreneur Advisor for Law Without Walls, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, the Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous online publications such as Forbes.com, legal publications and books on this topic as well as the issues facing women in the workforce. She speaks frequently to law schools and professional organizations around the country on issues facing solos, offering both practical knowledge and inspiration.