Open your inbox on any given day and it's obvious few people follow the first rule of networking.
For most, the goal of networking is to connect with people because they want something. They network in hopes of connecting with someone who can help them land a sale, get a referral, make an introduction, provide advice or guidance, etc.
They want something. So they ask. Usually overtly, sometimes subtly, but still.
Even though the first rule of networking is to give, long before you consider asking for something. (In fact, you may never ask for anything.) The only way to build meaningful connections is to forget about what you can get and focus on what you can provide.
Approach it that way, and occasionally you'll meet someone who approaches building connections the same way.
Put together two people who give before asking and the result is a meaningful, mutually-beneficial relationship.
In fact, giving without asking doesn't have to be networking-driven. Doing something nice, just because you can, is just as beneficial to the giver as the receiver. And then, if a professional or personal relationship develops, that's a bonus.
"As I've gotten older," Reynolds says in this article in The Athletic, "I've really grown into a place where, when I see someone doing something that's amazing, or something that I just love and appreciate, regardless of outcome, I just like to let them know. Rob had done a sequence on Sunny that I thought, pound for pound, was one of the most beautiful three minutes I'd ever seen, on this show that he'd obviously created and worked on for so many years."
So he let McElhenny know, and the two became "text friends."
Then one day McElhenny sent Reynolds an email detailing his plan to buy a soccer team.
"I just saw the path that he laid out," Reynolds says, "the phosphorescence in the water so to speak, and I was in. I just thought it was so unexpected and so interesting, and I love building businesses."
The two paid 2 million pounds to purchase Wrexham AFC, a fifth-division Welsh soccer team that for 15 years had failed to earn promotion. Unlike American professional sports, English soccer involves a series of interconnected leagues where, at the end of each season, the best performing teams are promoted to a higher-level league, while the worst performing teams are relegated to a lower-level league. (For example, if the Major League Baseball season ended today, the Washington Nationals would be relegated to AAA, and the best performing AAA team would take its place.)
Under that system, a small club like Wrexham has the opportunity to rise to the top league in their system, the Premier League.
Promotion typically brings more revenue, especially at the higher levels where significant broadcast revenues are shared, and more sponsors. A bigger budget to pay for better players.
Leverage your success, keep getting promoted.
(Of course the reverse is also possible: Relegation, and the resulting dip in revenue, can create a downward spiral. For example, in 2010 Blackpool FC was promoted to the Premier League; six years later, the club had fallen to the fourth tier, and three years after that went into bankruptcy.)
McElhenney wasn't just interested in owning a professional sports team, though. The English system of promotion and relegation creates rich storylines, and telling stories is what he does for a living.
So why not buy a club with a rich history -- Wrexham FC is one of the longest continually-operating soccer teams in the world -- and produce a documentary that would bring attention and hopefully revenue to the club?
And while he's at it, why not enlist the help of Reynolds, who not only brings serious business chops -- Aviation Gin, Mint Mobile -- but has also quietly become of the best marketers on the planet?
The result is Welcome to Wrexham, a documentary series that just premiered on Disney+, Hulu, and FX.
(If you're wondering, it's really good, even if you don't happen to be a soccer or sports fan. As McElhenney says, "The show, at its core, is more of a love letter to working class people and their devotion and love for the beating heart that is the club that's associated with their town or community, and I think everybody can identify with that.")
Will Reynolds and McElhenney build Wrexham into a more successful club?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But they wouldn't have had the chance to try -- together -- if Reynolds hadn't sent a short note of praise to McElhenney.
The first rule of networking is to give before you ask, without ever hoping to receive.
But take it a step further. Don't think of it as "networking." Just give, simply because you can.
You'll feel a little happier in the moment -- and once in a while, you will spark a meaningful connection.
Give, without hoping to receive, and even if it doesn't turn out to be a win-win...you still win.
Can't beat that.