Image via WikipediaHarvey Mackey is one of the best authors on networking, and I don't mean between computers, but between people. And one of the concepts he promotes is you should consider networking as having four elements, with the acronym R.I.S.K, which are
Keeping at it
Reciprocity is about giving something, and get something in return. It is a mutual exchange, in an ongoing basis. It is utility power at one of its purest forms: quid pro quo. You don't need to like everyone you do business with, you just need to network with them. And often, you need to give before you can receive. People *do* remember you helping them, thanking them, informing them, and so on. However, do NOT do anything immoral or illegal. That's bad, bad, bad. Just remember to actually let them know when you did do them a favor, if it's not obvious, like with a third-party. (i.e. "Oh, I mentioned that your son is looking for a job to banker _____. He's looking for an intern and will be in touch."
Think of it as an "old boys" network, except you are helping out all those who are in the same boat, so they will do you a favor in the future. Imagine this: in a restaurant chain, every branch has a manager. If someone comes checking from high above, you can be sure that the news of this "inspector" will be be spread to every branch within 100 miles, to almost every employee, as well as any sister properties. Everyone would be on alert, keeping the nicest table "reserved", assign extra waiter to the table, manager will go polish the most recent sales figures, and so on. If you don't join the network, you can't benefit from it.
Sharing of information is meant to bypass bureaucracy. The more rigid the organization, the less networking it actually does. In the miltary, the sergeants have their own informal network, no need to go thru his lieutenant, and pass the paperwork up and down the chain. The flatter the organization, the better the sharing of information. If a lowly sales drone needs to get in touch with the CEO for some emergency information, he should be able to do so without jumping through too many hoops. Getting the right information to the right people helps make good and timely business decisions. You can't act on information you don't have, and having it "stuck" in the bureaucracy is unacceptable.
Keeping At It
You don't know when you will tap your network, so you have to maintain your network, even if there doesn't seem to be any use of it just now. Keep up with your high school buddies doesn't take much... just a Christmas card every year may be enough. It's better than cold-calling them 20 years later and trying to remind the contact that you two went to high school together. After all, people's fortunes rise and fall. Who knows that goofy kid you knew may turn out to be someone you desperately need to seal a deal or help you on some project?
R.I.S.K. it or lose it
Mackey's Maxim: the really big networking mistakes people make in their lives come from the risks they NEVER take.
If you don't establish your network and maintain it, you won't be able to tap it later.