What habits have the biggest impact on someone's career? If you asked 100 people, you would likely hear answers like hard work, reading, learning, or daily meditation. While all of those things are good practice, there is one thing that makes more of a difference than any other, and it isn't always the most obvious answer.  

Adam Rifkin, a three-time co-founder of venture-backed startups, knows about this career best practice. He was highlighted by Adam Grant in his book Give and Take as the top connected person. Turns out Rifkin knows the importance of networking. He has built his professional network over decades with the simple mindset of doing small things every day to increase his connections to others by having a genuine desire to help them.

Rifkin builds his network by using the "five-minute favor" principle. "You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody," he says.

The stories about Rifkin and all of the positive things that have happened to him and his startups because of his network are endless.  

Make networking an everyday habit

When you begin to make networking an everyday habit, you will see that meeting people should not be for the purpose of meeting an immediate personal need. When I asked Mandy Menaker, head of brand for the emerging professional networking app Shapr, about the importance of networking, she said, "The best time to build professional relationships is when you can be helpful and share a great conversation without a transactional purpose. Spend time connecting over shared interests and focus on building meaningful relationships with no favor in mind, so you have a strong network in place when you need it down the line."

Chris Manley, a partner at Skookum Digital Works, is one of the best and most effective networkers I have ever met. He is constantly connecting people without any benefit to himself or his firm. When I asked him how he got so good at this career-advancing skill, he said, "Originally it was all about me and meeting people who could fill my pipeline. I learned this approach didn't work. So I started going to events and connecting with people with similar passions and interests as me. I stopped thinking about how it could benefit me and started thinking about who I had in my network to help others. The truth is, the magic doesn't start until people truly care about each other's success."

The best part about making networking an everyday habit is that it's easier than ever to build a professional network that matters. Thanks to powerful platforms like LinkedIn, apps like Shapr and Meetup, and industry conferences in every city, there are endless opportunities to meet others and create real value-based relationships.  

Here are a few tips about networking from someone who has gone from no professional network to more than 30,000 contacts in five years.  

Be an active participant on LinkedIn

LinkedIn has become a must-stop place on the internet to showcase your résumé and personal brand. Ensure your profile is updated, send personalized connection requests, and contribute to the platform by writing articles, commenting on posts, or uploading a value-added video. If you stick with it, people will take notice and you will build real human connections.

Use the five-minute favor

Take a page out of Rifkin's playbook and be willing to do something for anyone if it takes you five minutes or less. It could be as simple as sharing a blog that you found interesting and letting the person who wrote it know how much you liked it. 

Make introductions for others without being asked

In many ways, it cheapens or makes networking feel dirty to ask someone for a referral or introduction. There is nothing I hate more than a financial adviser bringing a list of my LinkedIn connections to a meeting and asking if I would be willing to make introductions. Instead, be proactive in offering introductions and helping to elevate those in your network through connecting them to one another.

Meet people outside of your industry for a call or a coffee

I have begun using the Shapr app to meet people I wouldn't normally meet. I have yet to feel like it's a waste of time to share my expertise with others, learn something new, or meet someone I would never have met otherwise. 

I will leave you with a quote from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, host of the Masters of Scale podcast: "The more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship. If you set out to help others, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities."