Is “Pay it Forward” The Right Metric in Networking?


I have been networking for many years. Through many recessions. I also speak on networking to companies and organizations across the country.

My original presentation was called “How to Get More by Asking for Less and Doing More For Others.”

Many advocate a philosophy of “Pay it Forward.” But does it work? It’s kind of a Karma approach. Live the right life and the right things will happen to you. But in some ways it is like planting oregano and hoping for pot.

But that presentation was written in 2003 when we were emerging from a recession and entering a period of false boom.  Now it is 2015 and there are 13 million unemployed people out there.

I am a consultant. What does that mean? It means that I have to create a job for myself each and every day. Always hunting. A state of constant unemployment in many ways but I have done it for years and have kept the wolves at bay.

I am also a marketer who knows that today it is all about ROI and the Metrics. Networking takes time and how do you calculate the rate of return? What is the value of my time? What is the value of my diverse networking developed through 10 years of extensive networking? Should it be free for everyone to use? Some people often act like my networking is their entitlement.

I have always networked with people in transition for years because I saw them not just as people needing help but great resources. I have blogged about that before in a post called Why I Network With People in Transition. People are in transition these days because of circumstance not competence.

Here is my net take. “Pay it Forward” works if you network with the right people who get it. Unfortunately many people still don’t.

When people are in transition they often reach out to me because I am well connected and have a reputation for helping people. Unfortunately, many don’t get it at all. It’s like they don’t speak the language. Eventually they land and they go quiet and I never hear from them. They never think about me. I am invisible to them even though I fairly regularly send out updates to my data base. When they are out of work again, guess who gets an email? They order up their job request like I was a short order cook.

I think that some people view my network as a public endowment. Wow this guy is really connected and hears about a lot of jobs etc. I am going to reach out to him. All that is true. All connectors learn about jobs first because they can spread the news.

I am energized by people that sincerely say “What can I do for you?” when it is not rhetoric and they follow through like I try to follow through. People who come to our meetings having gone to my site or read my Linkedin profile. People that introduce me to connections that may be able to use my services versus needing my help. The later are low hanging fruit these days.

I realized a long time ago that there are two paths you can go by in your approach to networking. I can look at my network of over 10,000 contacts in my iPhone and say I should be the richest man in the world which I am certainly not. I have raised my children for over 10 years as a single DAD and that was and is very enriching but certainly not wealth building.

To me it is not about “Paying it Forward”. It is about living a life that you enjoy because you are engaged with the people around you. As I have often said, networking isn’t about going to an event but living a life of engagement. I live in a village of three million.

I went to Vons my local supermarket this weekend and bought a nice hefty 23 pound turkey for Thanksgiving that many will enjoy. The party will create memories for many. Grace my Polish cashier asked me if I wanted another Poppy Seed Cake when she goes to Polksa Deli next time. That reminded me that pay it forward is not for futures but enjoying your life today. The other gifts are a bonus.

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8 thoughts on “Is “Pay it Forward” The Right Metric in Networking?

  1. Hi Hank,
    You’ve got the right approach about networking. Reach out to others and be a connector. That in itself is wealth and a morale booster to you and the person you’re helping. it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills, but it seems like you’ve got what you need to live the life that you want. At times when you least expect it “paying it forward” does result in an unexpected but welcome referral or new opportunity.
    Have a great Thanksgiving.

  2. Hi Hank
    I am a very well connected recruiter here in the UAE, I know what you mean when you say that people reach out to you to get a job: but in return even asking them to introduce you some one or a reference request, they refuse. They treat us recruiters like a social service out there not realize at least call us or email us: thanking for the placement.
    I would like to know how you make you make these individuals realize this

    • hankblank

      Thanks for this. I think it is difficult to get people to change and many are focused solely on their own goals. Take care. Hank

  3. Hank:
    Your analysis of pay it forward is right – there are no guarantees of a return BUT…
    living life right, treating people with respect, being humble are life lessons more people ARE learning now – due primarily to the ever humbling recession and the myriad of natural disasters. For philanthropy giving become the right thing to do regardless of life’s current circumstance – ie; Kiva. THINKPLANET was developed because the CEO, at a low point in her life, felt that she would have to PAY someone just to be nice to her or give her a break. Karma? Thinkplanet will and does devote its time, energy and profits to Thinkplanet Foundation which in turn gives money away to anyone, any project in need that fall into the 3 all inclusive categories – ENVIRONMENT- SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY – CHARITY/LOVE.
    Hank: your life well spent and shared is the best you can both give and receive. Pay it forward takes care of itself. In this moment on this day you live a life of real giving and real meaning. Thank you.

  4. Hank, I So appreciate those (you) who are able to express thoughts so clearly as you do; “To me it is not about “Paying it Forward”. It is about living a life that you enjoy because you are engaged with the people around you. As I have often said, networking isn’t about going to an event but living a life of engagement.”
    You are right, its not just about “Pay it Forward” and encompasses much more, how we live our life. Certainly, I ‘network’ to introduce myself and my offerings to others and yes, in the hopes that they [or someone they know] will need my services. Those that “get it” understand that it may not be you that has a need now, but “Who do -You- know that does?” The idea is that you never know where the next Lead will take you.

    I think being in your position can have its downside. We, your readers & followers assume that; because you have a following; because you blog; because you have a Popular blog; because you have such a large contact list that you must be doing Very Well financially, you must have all the business you can handle. Well, shame on us.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, experience and Your Self with all of us. This is a great reminder to those of us who read and follow you (as well as others who share as you do) that We must to do our part by keeping an ear open and passing on a lead to someone you know at every opportunity. It’s called Connections.


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