Quid-pro-quo means “something for something” and in a capitalist society we’re trained to think about this rule governing almost all transactions, both commerce and personal. Just as we expect to hand over $1 for a pack of gum, the guy selling the gum expects to receive that $1. Most people say “I love you” with the expectation that it will be returned with “I love you, too.” Very few transactions escape the quid-pro-quo “law”: maybe doing things for your children, or working overtime for your employer (but even there, you might argue you’re hoping to keep your job in exchange for unpaid work).
But networking isn’t (exactly) like that. You can’t expect someone to return something of equal or greater value every time you help someone through networking. If someone puts you in touch with a new client that generates six figures of income for you, do you owe that person a six-figure client? Do you owe them anything? No, you don’t, but you do owe someone something. At the risk of sounding like I’m using a movie to establish my point, you have to pay it forward.
If all networks operated on a quid-pro-quo basis, many people would find large networks a full-time job. The advantages to helping out newer members of an industry or smaller businesses would be minimal, because you couldn’t count on them to return your help quickly or easily. That’s not how a network should work, though. You’ll often read in career advice books/blogs/columns that you should give help in a network (or on Twitter or whatever the social media darling of the day is) without expecting an automatic equal return of the favor. That’s true to a point: you should give help without expecting a return of the favor from that person, but you do have every right to expect a return of the favor from the network as a whole. It may not be immediate – and it certainly may not be obvious – but that return over time has to occur to make the network worthwhile.
Look at how you help people in your network, be it social, professional, educational – whatever. If you aren’t receiving at least equal value back out of your network compared to what you put in, your network is broken. There will always be those who take more than they give, but on whole the network has to provide more value to you than you put into it. If it doesn’t, get out.
Of course value can be companionship or fun, not something as quantifiable as clients or services. But value has to be there. If you find yourself putting more of yourself into any of your networks – and I’m including ‘social media’ such as Facebook or Twitter as well as traditional networks like professional associations, churches or friends – then maybe you should consider finding a new way to spend your time and effort. If it doesn’t make you money, then it should be fun. If it doesn’t make you money and it’s not fun, why are you doing it? There are many other activities you could be doing that make you money or let you have fun instead. Go do them.
photo by ** Maurice **