This is a question that is often forgotten in networking. Like the proverbial neighbor who borrows one too many cups of sugar, your relationships will suffer if the giving is always in one direction.
I've found most people are more than willing to help when they genuinely like you and value what you are trying to do. And I have to remind myself that if it's not mutually beneficial, eventually, the relationship will run out of steam.
That's when that simple question, asked at the end of receiving something wonderful from someone else, gives an energy boost to both parties. I feel good that I'm respecting the relationship. The other person feels good that the spotlight gets moved to what they need, if only for a moment.
Our Gremlins may insist that we have nothing of value to give back. Don't believe them. Case in point. I recently contacted Jeremiah Owyang, one really smart blogger about all things related to using the web to connect with customers. The guy runs rings around anyone else I know of in this domain (okay, maybe that's not saying a whole lot given who I run around with.)
The one thing I could offer him is feedback on his blog. As a newbie to his blog, I told him what I really liked about it and why and what I thought was missing, from a reader perspective. I also gave him feedback on specific postings--what worked and what didn't, what was most fascinating and what was distracting. He thanked me more than once for the feedback. Now, we aren't best buds, but there is some connection, with an exchange of value. That's the key.
How does this all fit into A Bigger Voice? We never do anything big by ourselves. The most successful people, the ones who make their mark on the world, have plenty of help. Allies, mentors, advisors, collaborators, friends. And where do those people come from? Yes, that's right. Through networking. Establishing and nurturing relationships that have the potential to be mutually beneficial.
When I look at my own network and who I've tapped into over the years, the thread starts out tenuously. A fellow participant at a conference or a training class. Someone who is playing in the same space that I am and we click over the phone or through the Internet. A guest speaker who I invited to a brown bag seminar that I was holding. A book author I interviewed for a podcast. This doesn't even count people who I was introduced to by others already in my network or those who I had working relationships with as a collaborator on a project or as a vendor to a client.
It's not enough to make the connection. You must nurture the connection, over time. And one of the best ways I know how to do this is to ask the question, "How can I support you?"