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I am regularly asked for things from connections to advice. Rarely, extremely rarely, do people lead with what they have to offer me. When this happens, I am a devoted ally. I see those who contribute to my success as driven by a bigger vision than their own short-term success. They are seeking to build a relationship and value me beyond a transaction.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m BIG on asking. I think asking is critical to happiness and success, but you have to earn your request. You cannot buy quality referrals with a single cup of coffee. You have to earn that business.

Evaluate how often you connect people, write recommendations, and offer meaningful support. If you find that you’re always asking and never offering, your perceived value might be low. This compromises your currency in the marketplace. Your role in the ecosystem cannot be sustained if you are only depleting rather than contributing resources.

Social capital is built by investing in others. If you haven’t invested, you don’t have much capital.

Business is a community. Be a good citizen and actively invest in the success of others, not merely your own. I work hard to connect my colleagues and clients. I sing their praises without being solicited and do my best to actively advance their business. Why? Because investing in others is my job as a citizen of the business community. We all benefit from one another’s success. When someone is paid that individual is able to pay me or you or some other member of the community.

If your business is struggling consider what you have to offer to your community. Don’t just ask for opportunities; create opportunities for others. Connect people; don’t merely ask for introductions. Write a recommendation on LinkedIn – write an excellent recommendation, the kind you hope someone will write for you, and then, eventually someone will. Be the support you seek in the business community and your business will reap the rewards of your contributions.

Providing an excellent product or service is not a unique contribution to the community, it’s the baseline to being a good citizen. To build meaningful relationships with those you wish to conduct business with you must bring more to the table than a pretty brochure and a request. You must be a champion of others.

I am a passionate unpaid salesperson for those I champion. I proselytize their virtues with extraordinary dedication. This sort of generosity breeds ferocious loyalty. I have my own unpaid sales force – others who have generously praised me behind my back. I cannot list all of them, so for now I will acknowledge one of them. Tom Luhnow, CEO of Greater San Diego Business Association goes around town talking about me as if he gets a salary. He doesn’t just do this for me of course. He does this for others as well. Tom is the example by which we all should live. Tom has made requests of me, but he offers without expectation much more than he requests, which is why he is so successful and admired. Look around the business community and become a student of excellence. Pay attention to how Tom introduces people with such passion, respect and unbridled enthusiasm. It is what Tom offers not what he requests that defines his personal brand. Go out and make an offer today. It will change your entire business.

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