This article is by staff writer Honey Smith.

I recently started a new job; and while I didn’t know anyone at the company prior to applying, that doesn’t mean that everything was one giant coincidence. A few years ago, one of my grad school friends mentioned that he was doing freelance SEO (search engine optimization) work for attorneys. Curious, I asked him to teach me. His response was to conference me in on a client call and have me start producing content immediately.

Where curiosity leads

That tiny side gig (I think he paid me a hundred bucks) led to introductions to additional clients, and before I knew it, I was averaging a thousand dollars a month in addition to my day job. During that time, I also referred work my friend’s way. Ultimately, the SEO skills I gained as a result of his generosity were one of the reasons I was a good fit for my new day job. He also served as a professional reference during the hiring process.

What is masked by this retelling is that I had known him for almost 10 years before it “paid off” in terms of that first freelance assignment (though I would argue it paid off long before that in terms of friendship). It was another three years between that initial assignment and when I got a full-time job that used all the skills I had gained.

Lesson No. 1?

When it comes to forming personal networks, you can’t engage in short-term thinking. It’s important to play the long game.

What’s on the menu?

But leveraging personal relationships is about more than professional networking. For example, I used to have a diabetic cat and, when I went out of town, paying to board my cat or hire a professional pet-sitter to give insulin shots every 12 hours was often not financially feasible. I trained several of my friends to give the injections.

This basically meant that I was at their beck and call the next time they needed something, whether it be a ride to the airport when they went out of town or pet-sitting for their fur-babies.

And remember the days when you could convince your friends to help you move simply by offering beer and pizza? While offering alcohol and junk food probably didn’t hurt, you also knew that you would be called upon to help them carry boxes and furniture the next time a moving truck was in their future.

Lesson No. 2?

Just because your professional connections aren’t useful in a particular circumstance doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to offer.

The fine line for favors

Finally, think about what all these anecdotes have in common: quid pro quo. While you (probably) don’t keep a spreadsheet of all the favors you have done for friends and loved ones for the purpose of extracting an equivalent favor going forward, odds are you have a hazy accounting in your head. Maybe you choose not to ask a particular friend to babysit your kids because she’s done it the last three times, or maybe you offer to clean her house and cook her dinner in return.

And I think most of us have been tempted to decline the call of a friend who only reaches out when he needs something. Maybe (probably) you’re a better person than I am, but I have definitely had moments when I saw the caller ID and thought, “Ugh. I don’t have the time/energy/patience for this.”

Lesson No. 3?

When leveraging personal relationships, you get in proportion to what you give. Pay it back, and pay it forward. After all, giving makes us happier.

Has leveraging your relationships helped your career? How has it saved you money and how do you pay it back/forward? Are there more lessons to learn? Share your stories in the comments below!

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