Picture this. You’re out having lunch with one of your close networking connections. You’ve been having a great time catching up and learning more about each other. Then there’s a pause in the conversation and she asks, “So, how can I help you?”

Usually at this point, the limited networker stammers something about wanting to meet people who want to buy his widgets. What a waste of an opportunity. One of the major reasons to build your network in the first place is to have an army of ambassadors who are looking for ways to help you. If you can’t tell them exactly what you want when they ask, then what did you go through all of that effort for?

Before you find yourself in a networking moment like this again, take a few minutes to come up with an answer or two to the question. Your answer may differ depending on who your audience is.

  • A close networking contact in a one-to-one setting. If you’ve already laid the groundwork and built the relationship to the “Trust” level, this is when you can ask for some specific assistance. Ask for that referral (remember to be specific!). Ask for that introduction. Ask for the speaking opportunity. At this point in the relationship, they wouldn’t be asking if they didn’t want to help.
  • An undeveloped connection in a one-to-one setting. You haven’t developed this relationship to the point of Trust. It really isn’t the appropriate time to ask them to lend you their reputation. This might be a good time to ask for a recommendation. Would they recommend any networking groups in the area? Which is their favorite place to meet for coffee or lunch? Which blogs, magazines, newspapers, books, etc do they read and would they recommend them?
  • At a new networking event or group. Ask who they think you should meet. If they recommend someone, they are likely to be one of the better connected people there. You could also just ask them if they’d be willing to get together for coffee since one of your goals is to extend your network.
Notice at no time did I suggest that you should ask them to buy from you. Even if they look like the perfect client for you, resist the temptation. Let them come to the realization themselves.
“How can I help you?” is the question that every good networker loves to hear. It tells you that all of your efforts to build a strong network are beginning to pay off. All you have to do is be ready for it when they ask.
Photo credit: Dimitri Neyt