Networking is Not a Dirty Word
If someone asks for help, first ask yourself if helping them will hurt you or your family. If the answer is “no,” then help away. Networking is just a fancy word for helping. Some business gurus have convinced a whole generation of people to end lunches and emails with “how can I help you.” This is too canned and insincere sounding for my taste, but I like the sentiment behind it. To establish a relationship with anyone, it is great to be generous. Generous with your help, open source with your contacts and giving with your expertise.
Now I don’t encourage you to go overboard. There was a time in my life just a few years ago when I realized that half of my work hours were being taken up by coffees, lunches and phone calls where I was giving advice and helping people with problems. Now I limit those to a couple a week. So set boundaries on your time but help when you can. And one last thing, don’t be eye for an eye about help. The same person you help might not help you in the future, but I assure you that the helping karma you put into the universe will come back to you in spades.