Coin-operated networking is like a vending machine. You take some coins, stick them in the slot, push the button, and your candy bar pops out the bottom of the machine. That’s transactional—and a transactional process is great for vending machines, but not for networking. If you’re trying to network by saying, “I will give you this, now you have to give me that,” you’re going be sorely disappointed.

Instead, the proper mind-set is, “Let me help you out. I’ve got some ideas. I have a referral for you.” And over time, they’ll give back to you. If you try to make networking transactional instead of relational, it doesn’t work because there’s always a scorecard. There will always be that businessperson who doesn’t get it and says, “Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. I’ve given you two referrals. I expect two referrals back.” It may not always work that way. For one thing, the value of the referrals may be different. You can’t simply go by the numbers—“I give you two; now you have to give me two.” Two referrals to a florist are vastly different from two referrals to a real estate agent. By the same token, we don’t think it’s realistic to expect $1,000 worth of referral business from someone just because you passed them referrals of that amount.

If you try to make referral marketing a transactional process, it will absolutely, categorically fail. You have to enter into it understanding the whole concept of Givers Gain®. By working with other people over time and by building relationships with them, it will come back to you.

How do you apply the Givers Gain philosophy? Here’s the proper way to apply it in the beginning of a relationship with somebody. Let’s say there’s somebody you don’t know well, but you want to know that person better and build a referral relationship. You think this person may be able to help you, and you know you can help him. You don’t start a referral relationship by asking the person to sign a contract stating that for every referral you give him, he has to give you one in return! The way to start the process is to give.

The best gift you can give is a qualified referral or something else that will help a person succeed. Now, you may not want to give a referral straight out of the gate because it could hurt your reputation if something goes wrong. So before we give somebody a referral, we really get to know them first. If either of us meets someone, and they express a need or a problem that’s gnawing at them, we may say, “Gee, you know, I just read an article on that very subject. Give me your business card, and I’ll e-mail it to you. You might find that of value.” Now, that may seem small, but now we’ve opened the door to deepening that connection because we’ve taken the time to help that person. Using this approach, you’ve haven’t asked them for anything, other than their business card! Instead, you’re giving them ideas or information that will help them in their business. In our experience, many of those people have come back later and said, “Hey, thank you so much for that article. That really helped me—it really addressed the issue. You know, I’d love to get together sometime and learn more about what you do.” Now, that’s the beginning of building a relationship.

The referral marketing process is much like fishing, but it can also be likened to farming. You begin by sowing seeds of helpfulness into the lives of others. It won’t be long before those seeds begin to sprout and eventually blossom into fruitful relationships. It’s hard to build relationships with a transactional process. If you do, you’re constantly “checking the contract” to make sure that the other person is living up to the letter of the law, and that’s not the way to make this work. Referral relationships require nurturing and patience.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (, the world’s largest business networking organization. His new book, Avoiding the Networking Disconnect can be viewed at Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company (