“When you’re in the position I’m in, you have two options: you can either shut yourself off from everybody, from the world, and not live a full life. Or you welcome everybody into your life and occasionally somebody will try to take advantage.”
~ Daniel Radcliffe

On more than one occasion in my presentations, I’ve had people raise their hands and ask some variation of “But what if I give someone a referral and they don’t do anything in return? What if they take advantage of me?” It’s a fairly common concern. After all, we have to put effort into helping those in our network.

Here’s what won’t work: Waiting for them to give to you first or, on those occasions when you can help them out, telling them that you expect something in return. The first simply isn’t likely to happen (and what if you can’t help them?) and the second is just you being an imposing jerk.

So, what’s a great networker to do? Here are seven ways to approach the situation:

  1. Focus on the relationship, not the sale. You are giving the referral to connect two or more people in your network because it will be of benefit to each of them, not because you have an expectation of some immediate return. Basically, it’s the right thing to do. If you are keeping score, you are in a game where someone has to lose.
  2. Remember, response takes time. I know this might shock you, but not everyone has a client or a potential new career they can pass to you. They certainly aren’t holding on to one of these opportunities until someone comes along to give them a hand first. Sometimes (almost always) this process takes time and all you can do is hope to stay top of mind, which leads to…
  3. Stay top of mind with the people you connect. Not only when you make the initial connection, but when you follow up to make sure things are going OK, you get an opportunity to maintain the relationship and stay on their radar.
  4. Give to the individual. Receive from the network. In his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, author Adam Grant, PhD points out something that apparently Millennials are starting to understand: The more you give to members of a particular community, the more you get from the community as a whole. Not everyone in your network can give to you even though you are able to give to them. Conversely, you aren’t able to give to every member of your community, even though they might be able to give to you.
  5. Review your own behavior. Do you give referrals to everyone who gives one to you? No? Then why be surprised when someone else follows that same behavior? The reason you aren’t doing it has nothing to do with whether you are a good person. You simply don’t have the capacity to give back directly. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t help them in other ways.
  6. Review your behavior again. Did you tell them you need help? Do they know the specifics of what you want? Did you make it easy for them to refer you? It could be that they simply don’t know how to help and it’s up to you to correct that situation.
  7. Know what you need. To be successful, you need more than just more business. You need the capacity to service that business. You need vendors, employees, team members. You need strategic partners, contractors, sub-contractors. You need training, advice, mentors. Not everyone can connect you with a client, but almost everyone can connect you with some resource you need.

In general, your network is not trying to take advantage of you. True, some may be more skilled at the networking process than others, but as long as you maintain the right attitude — networking is about building the relationships, not making the sale — then you quickly realize that the referrals you give out are simply the gifts you give friends. Sooner or later, it will repay you many times over.

Photo by Wikimedia user asenat29