Never Eat Alone: The 4 Key Networking Principles

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to improve your networking skills? What are some networking principles that can help you master the craft?

Networking gives you the opportunity to meet like-minded people with whom you can build mutually beneficial relationships. In Never Eat Alone, entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi shares his key networking principles to help you maximize the chances of your networking efforts being successful.

Keep reading for Keith Ferrazzi’s networking principles.

Networking Principles: Network Your Way to Success

According to author and entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi, developing fulfilling and mutually beneficial professional relationships—in other words, successfully networking—is crucial to career success. Becoming a prolific networker will give you a reputation for having good people skills, making it easier for you to gain positions managing others. Likewise, if you already know and get on well with company leaders, they may choose to do business with you rather than people they don’t know. 

In Never Eat Alone, Ferrazzi shares 4 key networking principles (or core beliefs) that helped him develop fruitful professional relationships.

#1: All Networking Should Be Reciprocal

Reciprocity is the first and foremost of Ferrazzi’s networking principles. When seeking to connect with someone, don’t just think about what they can give you, but also what you can give them. If you take a lot from your connections without giving anything back, you’ll gain a reputation for being selfish and taking advantage of people. 

There are various things that you can offer a contact to keep your relationship reciprocal:

  • Your services: For example, if you’re a skilled event planner and your contact is looking to arrange a conference, you could offer to help them.
  • Your expertise: For instance, if your contact is looking to start investing and you’re an expert in that area, you could advise them. To make your expertise as useful as possible, keep your knowledge up to date by reading news articles, white papers, and academic studies about the latest developments. 
  • Material help: For example, you could offer money to a contact looking for investment in their startup.
  • Career help: For instance, if your contact is out of work, you could offer to critique their resumé or help them with application forms. 
  • Friendship: For example, you could offer your contact a listening ear if they’re going through a tough time.

An essential element of developing reciprocal relationships is giving to other people simply because you want to help them—not because you expect something in return. If you don’t do this, you may fall into the trap of “keeping score”: closely monitoring how many favors you’ve given to and received from a person. You may even refuse to help others if they don’t immediately offer something to you to “even the score.” Withholding assistance in this way will severely harm your relationships, as it demonstrates to people that your motivations for helping them are only selfish. 

#2: Goodwill Isn’t Finite

While the previous core belief focused a lot on the “giving” aspect of networking, this belief relates to asking for help from your connections. Specifically, it’s a reminder that people’s goodwill isn’t finite. 

Many professionals believe that they can only ask a contact for assistance a limited number of times before they grow tired of being relied upon for help and consequently seek to end the relationship. Therefore, while they’re happy to keep giving to the contact, they resist seeking anything in return. 

However, people won’t ever get sick of you asking them for favors. In fact, repeatedly asking someone for help strengthens your relationship because it’s a demonstration of how highly you value that person. By requesting their assistance, you’re implying that you see them as capable enough to solve your issue—which will make them like you even more. 

#3: Networks Should Be Created Before You Need Them

The third core belief about networking is that networks should be created before you need them. Don’t wait to reach out to people in your field until you desperately need their help—for example, if you’ve just lost your job and need to find new opportunities. They’ll be disinclined to help you because you’re a total stranger to them—why should they assist you? 

Instead, start to build your network long before your time of need. Gaining your contacts’ trust and goodwill first will make them more likely to help you later.

A common excuse that professionals cite when they wait until a desperate moment to build a network is that when their working life was going well, they were too busy to spend time fostering new professional relationships. 

However, Ferrazzi argues that networking doesn’t have to be time-consuming. He outlines five relatively quick things that busy professionals can do to make new connections:

  1. Ask your employer if you can start or join a work project that puts you in contact with new people. That way, you can network while being busy at work.
  2. Take up a weekend hobby that involves being with other people, such as joining a sports team. Alternatively, assume a leadership role in a hobby group you’re currently part of to strengthen your current connections.
  3. Attend high school or college alumni events and talk to people who work in your industry (or in the industry you aspire to work in).
  4. Enroll in an evening class in a subject related to your field (or the field you want to work in) and get to know your fellow students.
  5. Look to expand your existing social networks. For instance, ask a family member if they can introduce you to their friends or colleagues, or try to get closer to someone you regularly talk to at the gym. 

#4: Audacity Is Key

The last (but not least) of Ferrazzi’s networking principles is audacity. In a networking context, “audacity” means being bold enough to network with total strangers. If you limit yourself to networking only with people you’re already somewhat familiar with—for example, people who work at your company, or friends of friends—you shut yourself off from the opportunities and insights that strangers can provide. 

One of Ferrazzi’s greatest networking successes came from boldly introducing himself to a stranger at the World Economic Forum, back when he was an unknown businessman. That stranger happened to be Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. While Ferrazzi and Knight didn’t speak for long, the former’s audacity made an impression on the latter. Later, when Ferrazzi set up his media and marketing company, Knight became one of his first high-profile customers. 

If you’re shy, introducing yourself to strangers may seem like a nerve-wracking (or even impossible) thing to do. Here are five pieces of advice on how to become more comfortable with this process:

  1. Choose an audacious role model. Pick a confident friend or colleague and observe their bold behavior in social or professional situations. In time, you’ll naturally start to replicate their confident mannerisms.
  2. Hone your public speaking skills. You’ll feel much less shy when reaching out to strangers if you have confidence in your ability to speak eloquently.
  3. Join a club that’s relevant to your hobbies and interests. Yes, you’ll have to introduce yourself to a lot of strangers, but you’ll already know that you have an interest in common with them, so the pressure to find something to talk about will be off. Once you feel confident enough, become a leader in the group. This will allow you to meet even more new people (for instance, the leaders of similar local groups).
  4. Seek therapy. Speaking to a professional may help you to overcome your social anxiety.
  5. Set yourself small targets. For example, aim to talk to one new person each week. The more of these small targets you meet, the more confidence you’ll gain. 

Other Important Points About Networking

As well as the networking principles outlined above, there are three other things to remember about networking:

  1. It’s a constant process. Always be on the lookout for new like-minded people to connect with. If you stop searching for new contacts prematurely—for example, after you’ve made 10 professional connections—you’re shutting yourself off from other people’s friendship and expertise.
  2. Don’t keep your contacts to yourself. If someone you know is looking for skills that you know another of your contacts has, offer to introduce them. If you help people to grow their networks, they may introduce you to new contacts in return.
  3. Not everyone will be open to networking with you—and that’s okay. It’s unrealistic to expect to “click” with everyone you meet, so don’t get disheartened if some of your attempts to connect are unsuccessful. Pick yourself up and try again with someone else.
Never Eat Alone: The 4 Key Networking Principles

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  • How to build and maintain a successful professional network
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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