Most of us associate the word currency with money. But informal nonmonetary currencies are still flourishing. Exchanges of this kind have taken place for centuries. Probably most cultures across the globe incorporate favor exchange in their trading practices.
Nowhere is this more useful than in the business world, where a favor from the right individual can completely change the trajectory of a company.
There is, however, a catch: Pursue too many of these asks without granting any in return and you risk “defaulting” on the favor exchange and jeopardizing your credibility. The following dos and don’ts will help you reap the benefits of the favor economy without bankrupting your credibility:
1. Meet with anyone and everyone. Having a diverse network is especially handy in the favor economy. Every time you feel exhausted and want to bail on a networking event, remember that happy hour could lead to a lifelong business connection.
The more you work to establish and maintain connections across continents and sectors, the likelier you’ll be to have the right person in your corner when it’s time to turn outward for help. Show up to that happy hour for 40 minutes and you’ll be glad you did.
2. Follow up and check in. Maintain a connection with contacts through coffee meetings, lunches and occasional emails. Try to always be helpful when corresponding, whether recommending new software or the next epicurean hot spot. Remember there’s a fine line between politely checking in and wasting someone’s time. Keep the message short and sweet.
3. Don’t ask too early. In the same way that you wouldn’t ask a new workout buddy to help you move across town, don’t ask too much of a brand-new acquaintance. It may be hard to think past the urgent action item of the moment, but waiting until you’ve established some credibility will lead to a more positive long-term relationship.
4. Be strategic with your asks. Know that you have a limited quantity of favors, the exact number being roughly governed by the extent of your relationship with the individual, how you have helped that person in the past and the amount of time and energy that each request requires.
Be cognizant of the circumstances and weigh the pros and cons of cashing in on a particular favor, especially if it requires a contact to tap into his or her network. Likewise, be strategic with your time when helping others and recognize when a relationship turns from a “give-give” situation into a “give-take” dynamic. The former is beneficial to all. The latter is toxic to anyone trying to succeed.
5. Be considerate. Try to empathize with the person you’re asking a favor of. What is this individual’s opportunity cost for helping you? Would you accommodate the same request? Is it a particularly busy time for this person?
Be sure to express appreciation for the time spent in helping you and think thoroughly about the request beforehand to be sure it is framed to be as convenient as possible for your contact.
6. Don’t be shy. Once you’ve built a few relationships and come through for your contacts more than once, don’t be shy about asking for favors in return. Even if your contact is Ryan Seacrest-level busy, you have the right to make the ask as long as you’ve properly laid the foundation. You may have to follow up more than once. Be politely persistent and always give a person the option of an out, allowing for the fact that the person may not want to oblige.
7. Be specific. Always know exactly what you need, and communicate it clearly and effectively. Run your request by a colleague or friend to help ensure the request will be interpreted correctly. Fail to do this and you risk the possibility that your contact misunderstands the request and presents you with the wrong outcome: an awkward situation at best or a wasted ask at worst.
Adopt these strategies and you’ll be amazed at the kind of value that you can generate sans actual cash.
A version of this article originally appeared at Entrepreneur.com on June 26, 2014.