Always prioritise helping and giving to others ahead of taking and receiving for yourself.
You must give in order to receive.
Be helpful to others and you will be helped in return.
Networks of people are highly complex - often it is not possible to see exactly how and why they are working for you, so you must trust that goodness is rewarded, even if the process is hidden and the effect takes a while.
Use the principle of 'what goes around comes around'.
You could think of this as Karma in business.
A possible explanation of how Karma (or whatever you call it) produces positive outcomes is found in the rule of 'cause and effect', or the scientific law (loosely speaking) that 'every action has an equal reaction'.
Good deeds and helpfulness tend to produce positive effects. They are usually remembered and often repaid. The giver builds reputation and trust. Referrals tend to result.
Imagine yourself having lots of personal connections like this. You become known as a helpful person. Word about you spreads, and your reputation grows.
People who give are seen to have strength to give. Followers gravitate to strong giving people.
Helping others extends far beyond your personal specialism or line of work. Networking is about working within a system (of people) enabling relevant high quality introductions and cooperations, which get great results for the participants. These enabling capabilities transcend personal specialisms.
Cybernetics provides one interesting and useful way to understand how best to approach this. In adapting cybernetics for business networking, the technique is two-pronged:
- interpret (especially what people need and what will help them)
- respond (in a way which those involved will find helpful)
At a simpler level, always try to ask helpful questions. These typically begin with 'what' and 'how', and address an area of interest to the other person, not you.
Open questions (who, what, how, when, etc - also "Tell me about...") give the other person opportunity to speak and express their views and feelings:
"How can I help you?"
"What can I do for you?"
Closed questions (requiring a yes or no answer, or another single response, for example "Is this your first time here?") do not offer the other person much opportunity to talk, although at certain times a good relevant closed question can be vital for clarifying things:
"Do you mean X or Y?"
"Do you want to do X or would you prefer that I do it?"
The communications concepts of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and TA (Transactional Analysis) also contain useful techniques for helping others, and for understanding the underpinning psychology.
Be creative and constructive in how you regard others and how you might help them. Being defensive and making assumptions tends to limit options and growth.
For example try to see your competitors as potential allies. There is a fine dividing line between the two behaviours, and positioning too many people/companies in the competitor camp can make life unnecessarily difficult. When you talk to your competitors you will often surprise yourselves at the opportunities to work together, in areas (service, territory, sector, application, etc) where you do not compete, and even possibly in areas where you do compete. This is particularly so for small businesses who can form strategic alliances with like-minded competitors to take a joint-offering to a market and compete for bigger contracts.