Lisa, Kaylie, and I spent a good amount of time this afternoon out planting the vegetable garden. Turning the soil, edging, marking off the beds, planting the seedlings and the seeds, and watering it all down. It was a lot of work and we still have more to do tomorrow. In the end, though, it will all be worth it.

Now, I know you’re expecting another comparison between networking and gardening, and how in both situations you have to plant and then be patient, etc, etc. I’ll skip it this time. This time I’m reflecting on how reciprocity plays a role in both processes.

The tricky thing about reciprocity is that people often get it backward. They want the output first and then promise to give the input. My neighbors would probably look at me askance if I told them that I was waiting to harvest some tomatoes and then I was going to plant the garden. Gardening certainly doesn’t work that way.

Nor does networking.

Signing up to be in a group is a great idea, but it’s just like buying some seed. Waiting for the referrals to start rolling in before you dedicate time to the group makes just about as much sense as my crazy gardening plan. That’s putting the output before the input. Believe me, though, I’ve heard more than one person complain to that effect.

Just as important, what I put in will define what I get out. Planting pole beans seeds and expecting them to produce a bumper crop of cucumbers would be recipe for frustration. Expecting your network to help out with your goals, whether it be referrals or finding a good school for your child, before you help them with theirs is similarly an unlikely harvest.

Remember, what you put in defines what you get out. And it only goes in that order. So if you aren’t getting what you want out of your network, don’t blame the seeds or the soil.

It’s the gardener who’s at fault.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks