Mike Vestil, a successful entrepreneur and personal brand unto himself, recently sat down with me and offered his best tips for goal-oriented networking. His perspective on networking is truly disruptive, much like most of his other work. His best tips and themes will help anyone get their networking game up to the next level, regardless of whether the goal is finding connections for a post-grad job or finding funders for a startup idea.

Before you start networking, you have to know what a network is and how it can help you. According to Vestil, a network is something of a crowdsource resource that can solve problems for you. A network is a resource that might answer questions or point you in a different direction, or offer an objective take on a personal or professional situation. Yet this is not to be confused with an army of people at your beck and call, or hordes of followers on social media. Vestil emphasizes that a network can help build a personal brand, which is an important step for an enduring career and even a satisfying life.  

Another tip of Vestil’s is not to robotically network with everyone, but rather to simply start by saying hi. “People are there for either a lesson or a lifetime,” he notes, underscoring that even people with negative “vibes” can teach valuable lessons. Instead of seeing people as potential resources that you can reap for self-gain, it is better to flip your perspective and see networking as organic. That is, each person, no matter the situation, can potentially lead to a mutually beneficial situation. Instead of taking from the new person, “Focus on staying present with the person and adding value to their lives.” Sincere, genuine care goes a very long way with everyone, so sincere acts of kindness and giving will allow a network to grow spontaneously.

The lesson within this one is not to focus on a large network, but instead on creating a meaningful network filled with positive connections that synergize all parties. In other words, this vision of a network is more of a community than a collection of LinkedIn connections. One of the biggest mistakes people make when networking, Vestil cautions, is thinking of “me” instead of “we.” The network is not a universe of planets revolving around you, but instead an interconnected and highly interdependent set of nodes.

Even for those who do not aspire to live off a personal brand, it is critical to think of your personal brand and how it is communicated to the people you network with. A personal brand is established by a vibe and how you interact with people, so it is critical that networking is authentic, but also positive. By achieving this, Vestil is confident that most people can organically build a network of people with similar interests, values, and goals. Since nothing keeps people accountable better than a network of those who know their values and goals, it is clear that the ideal network will be self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, and ultimately, enriching to all of the selves that constitute it.

For the curious, Mike offers many more networking tips on his site.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.